Friday, October 23, 2020

Approaching Norfolk, Foggy Night

08:00 October 23, 2020
40 nm NE of Norfolk VA


It was foggy last night. Hard to tell the visibility as the navigation lights were diffused by the mist so much that I couldn't see much past the bow of the boat from the helm station. From up on the bow, the forestay cast a shadow that told me visibility wasn't zero. When I turned off the nav lights and looked back at our luminous wake, I guess I could see about a quarter mile or so. I'd bet actual visibility was a mile or more. But what matters is how conditions appeared to us and to other vessels in the area.

So, we turned on the foghorn, set the radar to a short range and set the gain for maximum sensitivity, set an alarm to go off if AIS-equipped vessels got with a couple of miles. And we kept a very close watch, poking our heads out frequently into the gloom to listen for the sounds of other vessels. I donned foulies and gear for standing watches outside in the very moist, literally dripping, air. Lisa stood her watches inside, vigilantly staring at the radar display on the iPad for hours and waking me up if anything of concern appeared. We only had one non-AIS vessel to keep track of on the radar all night, so it was mostly staring at nothingness while I caught catnaps between going out to the helm station to maintain my "situational awareness" of not being able to see a thing and being covered by moisture from head to toe.

Thank goodness for modern navigation instruments. It would be very tricky to know our position without GPS and electronic charts, instead relying on dead reckoning and paper charts. It would take a lot of practice to get competent navigating that way, hats off to those who did so in the past and do so skillfully now. And without radar and AIS, nobody could "see" us, nor we them. Some may say it's become too easy, taken the challenge out of sailing, reduced sailors' skills. I appreciate the enhanced safety and relative simplicity of modern navigation, preferring to practice dead reckoning and celestial navigation as a hobby rather than a life-safety necessity.

The sun rose around 07:00, though we can't actually see the big star. It is overcast with patches of fog. The fog will go away as the air warms up. Not sure if the sun will shine, though. The swells from Hurricane Epsilon show up every so often in the form of 6 foot-plus long swells from the southeast. We passed a ship that had turned 180 degrees while we were watching it. I radioed them to find out why and the deck officer told me they were going back and forth, waiting for the hurricane to dissipate before heading out to sea towards Europe.

Not much further to go. Our current ETA to the Chesapeake Bay Entrance sea buoy is 13:08 this afternoon. It's about another hour or so to the Elizabeth River and our marina rest stop in Portsmouth VA for the next few days.