When I started sailing we had a compass and a VHF. Then we bought a depth sounder and speed indicator. We could now avoid slowly shallowing waters and we'd know exactly how fast we were going when we hit that thing while in the dense fog.
Once we were out on the water, a dense fog enveloped us. I could barely see the bow. It was so dense whatever part of my hair that was exposed to the elements was soon soaked. And it was cold, 55 degrees. A weather forecast onshore said it was 95.
I heard fog horns and imagined tankers or freighters all around us. My eyes were almost popping out of my head as I strained to try to make something out of the fog soup all around us. My ears were tuned to rippling waters and any sign at all we were nearing another vessel. I was on edge the whole time.
At least twice more we had fog incidents, still having only the compass to guide us. I
That was over 30 years ago.
I can see how easy it is to rely on all the electronics available to us today and feel comfortable you know what you're doing. Navigational aids that will tell you exactly where you are. ..
It's easy to become complacent.
But boats aren't made as well as they used to be. The need for speed has reduced the seaworthiness of many sailing vessels. Many buy boats for their interiors and their price without knowing what a bluewater boat is or without ever having been caught in a gale or a squall. And advertisers aren't going to bring that up in conversation unless they are selling a bluewater boat.
Imagine mandatory certifications for anyone who takes the helm of a boat. There would be a lot of screaming. Things won't change until something massively tragic happens. But with the sailing/boating community representing such a small percentage of the population, I don't see even a great tragedy creating changes.
That remembers me the longest 36 hours of my life, on my 80 years'old 22ft wooden sailing boat, a bit more than 30 years ago. I had just a fixed compass a azimuth compass and charts, no VHF but one of those old logs that were towed behind the boat, I mean till a big fish eat the thing
And there I was, coming home alone at the end of my vacations (along the the west Portuguese coast). I was doing the final leg from Cascais to Peniche.
I raised the fisherman anchor and sailed out of the bay at 4.00 AM with some wind, making about 3.0K. Well, I was only going out because I had wind, with no wind I was not going anywhere because I had no engine at all.
I had waited for that wind for three days. I passed the river bar turned North, passed Cape Raso and at dawn near Cape da Roca the mist come in and turned into a deep wet fog. With a very weak head wind and the canvas wet by the mist I sailed the next 36 hours tacking the boat from one side to the other with almost no visibility at all, day and night alike (full moon).
Cabo the Roca is a big rocky cap with a bad temper and it is also the Western part of all Europe. There are there many times a strong south current created by the dominant North winds and at large passes one of the busiest world's shipping lanes.
Without seeing nothing and without instruments I sailed towards land till I head the waves breaking against the rock wall and then turned to the sea till I hear the sound of the ship engines. It is amazing how the mist can propagate the sound. About 30 hours later the mist and fog started to raise and I saw that I had passed the Cape but had only make about 6 NM to the North. Well, no problem, there was a weak wind and I was moving making about 1.5K. More six hours at that speed and I should get to Ericeira with day light to stay on anchor and rest.
But then...the mist and the fog started to close again. I was preparing myself for more 12 hours of sailing by the ears when I saw a small fishing boat. I call them, explained the situation and ask them if they mind to get me a tow after having finished fishing. They said that with that mist and fog coming in they were returning right away to Ericeira (they had also only a compass), maybe 6NM North. I get my lift and they didn't accept any money at all.
I arrived there quickly, went to shore eat like a king and slept (aboard) like an emperor. Next day come up as a perfectly good sailing day and even having a moderate wind on the nose I made the 23Nm back to Peniche in about 7 hours arriving at noon.
Today I make voyages of 2000Nm and I don't fell the same sense of accomplishment I used to fell when I sailed on that old boat along the Portuguese coast and made it to Port. And I had always made it to Port
Of course today is much more safer and I don't even agree with Julie regarding today's boats being unsafer then older boats but to the great dismay of my kids I still don't fell safe sailing at night with the radio playing music, so, no music at night when we sail
. I still trust my ears and fell discomfort sailing at night without hearing what is going on, even if it is the sound of silence broken by the water rushing by the hull.