I got quite a bit of practice with a variety of navigation techniques while on my recent trip to Maine. Much of it encompasses universal skills – but the Maine location offered some differences from what I need to consider in Lake Superior.
First is the magnetic variation in this area. Unfortunately, a magnetic compass does not point to true North – the North on a map, but to magnetic North. The difference between true and magnetic north depends on where you are in the world. I am spoiled around here, with a variation of only a few degrees. There are places on Lake Superior where the variation is zero. In Maine it is nearly 20 degrees… enough to get severely lost if you don’t do your homework correctly!
Second is the tides – which create currents as the water flows in and out around the islands and headlands. The currents where I was aren’t major currents – and I had been told I didn’t need to worry about them. But, they certainly are significant. When making crossings, I nearly always had set a ferry angle – make a significant correction to my heading (the direction my boat was facing) so I would stay on course (going in the direction I wanted to go).
Third is the boat traffic. There is boat traffic in some areas of Lake Superior – but not much around Marquette. Maine has quite a bit more traffic – in terms of working boats (ferries and fishing boats) as well as recreational traffic – mostly sailboats – some yachts. Most significant where I was paddling in Maine was the lobster boat traffic. I am not sure how boats avoid all the buoys (marking lobster traps) littered nearly every where. It seems props would be tangled up in no time – especially if navigating at night or in the fog. Not an issue for me – the buoys made great range markers so I could tell if I was staying on course during a crossing.
Universally, I have to deal with fog and limited visibility. Complicated in Maine by the tidal currents and boat traffic. The last day of paddling it was foggy most of the day. Sometimes visibility was only a couple hundred feet. But, it was ever changing. Which really messed with my perspective at first – trying to figure out how close the island I was seeing was… did it just look far away because of the fog? With all those islands, I had to be careful.
At one point, I got momentarily disoriented – I could see tons of islands – and boats – at the water level but the fog was thick as pea soup. Thing was, the fog stopped 10 feet above the water in a very clean line – but without much contrast between the water and the fog it was hard to tell at first. As it was, all the tops of the islands were hidden- I just saw slivers all around. Kind of cool. Then, as the fog changed, the island I was approaching was magical – I could see the top and bottom of the island, with a hazy foggy band – a ribbon blowing softly in the wind – around it’s middle. I love fog paddling – always creating ethereal visions.
I made one mistake in all these foggy crossings – and was lucky. I was making a series of crossings – island to island to island. At one point, when studying the chart to set up the next crossing, I looked at the wrong island for the starting point. Luckily, my course took me in the direction I wanted to go – just to a different island (not to nowhere). Though confused for a bit, I figured out what I had done and re-oriented myself. A lesson to check and double check and triple check….. But, I made it back safely!