Into the Fog: A Fisherman’s Tale
Dense fog is one of the greatest challenges faced by west coast fishermen. Just ask Dave Holland, who shares this harrowing tale of navigating blind through the waters off Port Hardy, B.C.
Photo: Grobler du Press/ShutterStock
Fog is quite common near Port Hardy, B.C., especially from late July through into early September. It is caused when cooler ocean temperatures collide with warm summer air. Here on the west coast, when there’s no wind, the fog can settle in thick for days on end; at times it persists even with a breeze.
It did not create too big of a problem if you had an item called “radar,” but during my first season on a small 28-foot fishing boat, I did not have this feature. A brand new radar system in 1975 cost about $4,500, and that was almost what I’d paid for the Antique.
My friend John had radar and when fog became an issue I would follow closely behind him to Duval Point or Masterman Island. Here I trolled close to the beach I could usually make out the black rocks of the shore through the fog. The problem was, however, both places had lots of vessel traffic, coming or going. From within the mist there seemed to be a constant swell and steady hum of boats moving by alongside of me. This would often be the only evidence that they were present; the fog visually swallowed them up. It was all very stressful and at times the fog was so thick that I would completely lose sight of land.
Fog can play tricks on your eyes. Sometimes you see a shadow of something that isn’t there; it can tug at your mind. A low flying cormorant or a small flock of sea birds could appear suddenly and then be gone in a split second. I’d often jump at these moments, and my nerves would be strained further.
As the end of July neared the fog remained a constant challenge. On days when the wind was from the south the air seemed a little cooler and fog was not usually a problem. However, when the sun was out, due to a more north westerly weather pattern, fog could be present.
I was anxious to get back to my favourite spot, the Deserter Group, halfway across Queen Charlotte Strait. Spring salmon runs heading for the Nimkish River, Knights and Kingcome Inlets would be building and it was probably a good time to move there.
One morning I awoke to a sunny day; it was clear right across from Hardy Bay to the Gordon Group where, like a line had been drawn, the fog started. It was a low lying fog. The bank was seventy feet high and the air above was totally clear; mountains on the mainland were visible in the distance. How bad could that be? I thought to myself.
And so I set off from Hardy Bay with The Deserters as my destination. All was fine; no wind, and a beautiful day until I rounded the bottom end of the Gordon Group where I was suddenly enveloped by fog. My “not that bad” mindset quickly dispersed.
Upon entering the bank, the mist was thin but the fog quickly thickened as I moved further along. When I looked up I could see blue sky: it was the strangest thing. Relying on my compass, I stubbornly moved on even though I could hardly see the bow of my little vessel.
Then over the sound of my motor, I heard a distant blast from a horn somewhere off my starboard side. There are no lighthouses in this general area, I thought to myself, it has to be a boat.
I was now nearing the middle of an open stretch of water frequented by very large ocean-going vessels heading either up or down the coast; this was their preferred route. I went outside the cabin to better listen over the constant drone of my diesel engine and the horn sounded again, warning others of its presence. It definitely came from east of me and, back at the steering wheel, I idled the motor down. This cut back my speed but also reduced the engine noise so I could better hear. Again the horn sounded and this time it was louder. I took the Antique out of gear, then went outside on deck and closed the door behind me.
The air was very still. My eyes strained and my ears listened intently but there was not a sound. I felt a knot slowly growing in my stomach. Abruptly there was a louder blast; whatever it was sounded very close.
There are times in a person’s life when you become totally gripped by fear and this was one of my moments. My heart was in my throat. Then I heard something. A faint rumbling sound broke the silence, adding further to my inner panic. Suddenly, another loud blast seemed to come from directly in front of me and the deep rumbling grew louder. I stood frozen, my eyes straining to detect movement of any kind. It was then that something caught the corner of my eye and when I looked up it came into view. Probably no further than two hundred yards away, the upper deck of a cruise ship went past, blocking out much of the blue sky above. Lifeboats and the huge exhaust stacks were all I could see. The rest of the massive vessel was hidden in the fog. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Moving at twenty knots, it was swallowed back up by the fog in seconds.
As if in a bad dream and like nothing had happened, I eased my boat back into gear and turned to idle into the large swells that would inevitably be arriving from its stern. After about five minutes of bobbing up and down, and when the sea once again was calm, I turned the Antique around and headed back to port. It did not take long before I emerged from this foggy nightmare. The sun shone down and it was clear sky all around me once again. Looking through the wheelhouse window I thought I saw a flash of something in my reflection and, no, I do not think I was imagining this, it was my first grey hair.
Excerpted from: Tide Changes: A True West Coast Fishing Adventure (ISBN 978-1-927056-08-0), published by Dave Holland via WebbPublishing.ca and available for purchase on the author’s website. For more information please contact Dave Holland at [email protected].