Island Living and a Foggy Night

Below is a story, recounted by Tom Ouhrabka, of a recent trip he and his son Eric made to their camp on Poplar Island.  He claims that this is not all that untypical for a fall crossing to The Islands!  

We set out to the island around 8:30 Tuesday night, December 4th, from our dock on Crescent Lake at the mouth of Smith River.  We got out past the first black buoy and then all at once we were in a thick fog and all the lights on the shore disappeared.  Inching along for about twenty minutes we were excited to see some solar lights on what we thought was Skip Oliver’s porch on Sister Island.  Both Eric and I said “we are never going to make fun of Skip’s lights again.”  Moving closer we realized that it wasn’t Skip’s house and in fact we couldn’t recognize whose house it was, but there was a light on.  Two cautious people were looking at us out their window when we called to them from their beach and they cracked their door to speak to us.  I identified myself and asked where their house was located.  It was Holden Shore about 1/3 of the way down the shore from Smith River towards the heath.  I had been telling Eric that he wasn’t driving straight and sure enough we had gone in a semi circle to the shore.

Having regained our bearings we set out for the island and kept driving around slowly hoping to hit the islands.  The fog was so thick that the bow of our boat was not always visible.  It was so eerie. After a while we turned on our boat lights to see if they would light up anything and behold we were next to a red marker that we were sure was the one in front of the Oliver camp.  Not knowing which way to go, we just took a stab and went one way which, if that marker was Skip Oliver’s, must have been in the opposite direction.  We putted around for another hour or so when Eric got the idea to check our position on “Global Earth” on his iPhone.  We could see that we were about half way out between Sister and Camp Bernadette.  We headed in a direction and checked the phone again and could see that we were heading to Bass.  It was now after ten thirty and I had an idea.  I asked Eric if his phone had a compass.  He looked for an app, found a compass, and soon with Global Earth and our knowledge of the lake, we knew we had to head North East to hit Sister.

We hadn’t been using the boat lights because it just turned the fog white and we found we were in white fog instead of black fog which served no purpose.  Continuing on we decided to put the boat lights on low and behold Skip’s front porch lighted up immediately in front of us…about twenty feet away, but no solar lights!!!  Keeping the boat lights on we putted towards Steen’s to navigate around the island to the channel.  Because Steen’s house is a dark color, once we were out of sight of Skip’s white screens we were again in the fog and couldn’t tell where we were.  Shutting the boat light off revealed a tree line to the channel and we soon tied up to our deck.  Uncovering the chimney we started a fire and put the beer on ice to revel in our experience.  It had taken us almost three hours by boat to get out to the island (it usually takes 15-20 minutes), but amazingly we hadn’t hit any rocks.  Walking out onto the porch I could see the fog had gotten denser as now I couldn’t even see our boat tied to the deck.  Another story for the ages.

Editor note:  As someone who is involved with the sport of orienteering and uses a compass to navigate, it might be that a $10 compass should be part of the emergency equipment on boats traveling at night. Phone “aps” may be sufficient in this day and age but the battery never goes dead on a $10 compass.