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Memorable Fogs

fishinginflogA few days ago we had a couple of foggy days. I remembered that years ago the old folks in North Carolina used to say that for every fog you experienced in August or September there would be a snowfall during the winter. Fog is kind of mysterious. In most of the old horror movies, it is included at some point, especially those centered in and around London where it seemed to be perpetually foggy. Carl Sandburg even wrote a very short little poem entitled Fog:

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on

When I was in the Navy our ship pulled into Villefranche-sur-Mer which adjoins the town of Nice on the French Riviera. It is a natural port that drops rapidly to a depth of around 300 feet when moving away from the shoreline. We were told at the time of our visit that Jacques Cousteau was doing research at a site not far from where we were anchored. In most ports, the ships are snugged up to docks with the help of tugboats but in Villefranche, there were no large docks. We anchored out and small liberty boats were launched to take us to a small landing to let us off for some recreation if we did not have duty. There were quite a few other ships from other countries anchored there also. It was a beautiful place.

As the night fell, dense fog began to form and so the word was passed for all the ships at anchor to sound their foghorns. These were set to engage automatically every few seconds in order to offer warnings and prevent collisions in case any sea traffic entered or departed the harbor. I remember standing on the deck of our ship and listening as the damp fog was thickening. There were different tones, different volumes, and all at different distances that made for an interesting chorus. It was almost as if they spoke different languages. Though our ship’s engines were disengaged you could occasionally feel a little motion as marine traffic moved through the harbor and as the tides rose and fell. It was a little surreal when on deck because you could hear and feel but were unable to see what was going on around you. It did make you feel a little vulnerable, perhaps even more so than when we were in the North Atlantic with thirty foot seas that were visible to us.

On another occasion, some years later I was in La Jolla, California which is an affluent area in San Diego, California. I was there to attend a conference for several days and every morning it was very foggy which we discovered was unusual for the area. For most of us, the fog was not that big of a deal because it did burn off by lunch time. However, for the locals it was a terrible shock. I learned that Californians, especially in that particular area, are especially concerned with aesthetics. They want everything to be beautiful and perfect all the time, especially as they show off their surroundings to non-natives. It seems that everywhere we went people were apologizing for the fog as if they had control over it. I felt badly for the natives because they were truly upset.

On occasion, I liked to travel about 90 miles from where I lived to fish at the small town of Belhaven, NC. At certain times of the year, the speckled trout and gray trout moved out of the Pamlico Sound into the Pungo River. Fun to catch and great table fare, I’d collect a friend and head out for an early morning excursion. We’d usually leave in the wee hours, stop for breakfast along the way at a favorite greasy spoon in Columbia, and arrive in Belhaven a little before dawn. On this occasion, we had somehow made better time than normal so it was about an hour and a half before the sun came up. I did not have running lights of my little 14-foot boat so we could not get out onto the river. We did decide, however, that we would go ahead and put the boat into the water and fish a little while sitting in the creek waiting for dawn. We didn’t start the outboard motor but rather paddled over to an area under the bridge that spanned the creek. As the darkness was retreating we were greeted by another detriment to our getting out onto the fishing grounds…fog. It came in quickly, gray and thick, enveloping the area so much that we could not see more than ten feet in any direction.

As the sun rose things were brightening but still the fog was so thick that we could see nothing. We had a color change but not a visibility change. We had not put down an anchor or tied to anything when we stopped under the bridge so we had drifted from our original location. The only question was in what direction. We didn’t have a clue. That didn’t really bother us because we knew the fog would eventually burn off and it really didn’t matter where we had ended up. At least, that was what we thought.

Pantego Creek was where several shrimp trawlers moored when they were not out in Pamlico Sound collecting a catch. We heard one of the boats fire up its engine, and then another….and then another. There was now genuine cause to be concerned. In the dense gray white soup in which we were residing it was hard to tell how close they were to us. These were not huge boats, but they were big enough to tear up and sink my little wooden boat and injure us in the process. We heard one of the vessels increase its rpm’s. heard crew members yelling to one another, and sensed there was movement taking place.  Very soon water began lapping up against the side of our skiff as a small wake was being created somewhere. Before long the other boats were also engaged at preparing to move out of the creek. We heard sounds associated with winches, booms, and shrimp trawls, all peppered with conversation and direction among crew members. Still, the fog lingered, blinding us to what was going on around us.

The fog lifted slightly and we could see a bit of the shoreline on the opposite side of the creek from where we launched. I pulled the cord on my little outboard motor and we moved in that direction. About that same time, the trawler engines got louder as they were departing the creek to head into the river, their gateway to the sound. The good news was that they were headed away from us, not toward us. We relaxed and heard their volumes lessen as the fog continued to lift. Finally, we were able to move out in the Pungo River for a good day of not only fishing but catching as well.

Fog in itself is not dangerous. It doesn’t hurt you if you breathe it in or if you walk through it. It doesn’t give you a rash or produce pain. What does it do? It obscures information you want and need. It keeps us from seeing. So the counsel to us is that we should stay out of the fog as much as possible…. any type fog…that keeps us from clarity.

Tags: fog, Pantego Creek, Pungo River, weather