Couple guides boaters out of fog


By Boni Thibert

After enjoying the picturesque anchorages and solitude of Isle Royale National Park, Phil and I headed to Rock Harbor to catch up on laundry and take on fuel.

In the laundromat, a young woman named Clare mentioned that her husband, Mark, and their two children had been stranded at the marina for several days. Fog-bound, they didn’t have radar, their radio couldn’t reach the mainland, and their cellphone wouldn’t work.

Later I told Phil about the couple’s problems, and we offered them safe passage following us, since they were also heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

We tracked them down and suggested they leave with us the next morning. The husband almost jumped for joy. His compass wasn’t working (likely because of the speakers mounted on each side of it), he owned a fuel delivery service he needed to get back to, and his children, ages 3 years and 14 months, were tired and wanted to go home.

The following morning we agreed on a radio protocol. I would be in contact as we guided them around the shoals outside the harbor, and I would check in with them every hour. Mark would call me if he had problems.

We headed into the fog at 0800. The couple’s 35-foot twin-engine powerboat, Wintersong, lumbered along at 6 knots and stayed within sight behind us.

The fog was thick, so I kept my eyes on the radar screen. Damp but diligent, Phil stayed in the cockpit. I could just see the powerboat’s steering station, peeking out of the fog behind us. Radio traffic was sparse, with only an occasional security call from a freighter departing the grain docks and no recreational traffic.

As we neared the shipping lanes, the lack of freighter radio traffic became more noticeable. Eventually, a blip appeared on my radar picture. A freighter. It hadn’t made a security call when departing Thunder Bay, and it wasn’t in the shipping lane or using its foghorn. It was closing on a collision course. We were using a radar and had a radar deflector hanging from the mast, so we should have made a nice picture on the freighter’s screen, but its course never varied.

I told Mark we were turning 10 degrees to port to avoid a freighter on an intersecting course. The ship must have heard our radio conversation because it began using its foghorn. Within a few minutes, the freighter’s upper structure emerged from the fog, and the ship passed us.

After five hours, the fog lifted. Four miles outside of the main harbor entrance, Wintersong sped by and gave us a toot.

The next day Mark and Clare visited, thanked us for our help and took us to dinner to show their appreciation. Mark promised to get a radar unit for his boat and move the speakers the previous owner had installed next to the compass. We also suggested they add a radar arch.

Boni Thibert, SN, and her husband, Philip Thibert, SN, of Toledo Sail & Power Squadron/29 have sailed Lake Superior aboard Ojibway Princess for more than 20 years. They spend summers living aboard and winters on Neebish Island in Michigan’s Saint Mary’s River.

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