It’s easy to understand how sailors imagined ghost ships in the fog. We, too, were recently out on the water in a thick early morning February fog. Having thankfully dressed appropriately for the occasion, it didn’t take but two strokes to be quickly cloaked in a refreshing winters mist. The tide was ebbing as we layed in at theGoose Hummock Landing at the Orleans Inn. It swept us down Town Cove, through Nauset Marsh and towards the Atlantic Ocean.
The rising sun quickly lost the battle of supremacy to the fog and within minutes, the shoreline disappeared and we were shrouded in a fine mist. There were no landmarks to pick out. Matter of fact, it was if we were in our own new world – it was as if our kayak, with us aboard, stood still in time, inside a small circle of water, us square in the middle. The water and the fog blend together in this mystical experience. Of course, most of those stories about Ghost ships appearing out of the fog on stormy nights are just legend. But, with so little discernible landscape, I could see how the eyes start to make things up.
Grey forms appeared in the distance. Docks, Hopkins Island, retaining walls. In a fog, the once familiar coastline looks so different. In a dense winter fog everything looks different. We needed to get our bearing. I glanced to the deck compass. You can certainly navigate confidently in fog along Town Cove and on Pleasant Bay if you stay close to shore, with or without a compass. Land along the shoreline lends a feeling of security as it emits sounds of all kinds. It may be the waves of the Atlantic against the sandy shore that designates east, the splashing of tidal current against exposed rocks warning of obstacles, or the reassuring melody of robins and cardinals, in February? Even the swing of my paddle stroke was magnified, with the heavy 40 degree water temperature, so I paddled as quietly as possible.
While there is no way to teach someone how to kayak in the fog in a few paragraphs, a quick review may allow you to understand what to expect. Rule number one: when paddling in an area where total fog coverage converges upon you, search for any signs of anything, and then rely upon your ears. That’s one of those statements that seems to capture the very essence of coastal paddling. But it is true. Fog, more precisely, advection fog, can occur at any time of the year. This type of heavy fog is produced when winds carrying warm, moist air passes over cool waters which chills the air down to its dew point. When you are caught in it, move yourself close to the shoreline, open your senses, and don’t panic.
As we hugged the East Orleans shoreline, the silent running of our gliding kayaks created a mantra-like rhythm of left-right-left-right paddle strokes. We knew we still had to cross to the west side and the Goose Hummock Landing in the dense fog. Maybe it’s not just an attraction to the challenge that excited us, but the process of arriving to our destination safely that motivated us to choose the exact spot to make our crossing. As we began our crossing, I’ll tell you, nothing quite makes you feel as small as being in a kayak when you can’t see in any direction, that is of course, unless a Ghost ship appears in the dew drops. We made it though. After all, any kayaker knows that the place you find yourself when you get into your boat – that connection to yourself, your paddling partners, and your surroundings is as attractive a destination as anywhere you can arrive when water turns to shore in a dense fog.