The Sounds of the Sound

The boat rocked gently in the swells that undulated across Long Island Sound. I lay on the bottom of the boat, protected from the hard fiberglass by a sleeping bag and a few throw blankets. The woolen blankets were a bit damp from the humidity and dew and were beginning to smell like mildew.  The stars were hidden by a layer of thickening mist and only the brightest were shining through. There was no moon out. Off to the east was a fog bank. It was slowly advancing, curling under itself as it traveled across the water.

It arrived ten minutes later and the remainder of the stars winked out and an inky blackness swallowed my boat and I the way a larger fish takes a smaller one. Moments ago I could hear the bell buoys clanking with the roll of the waves, and see their red or green blinking lights, cheerfully beckoning arriving vessels to the harbor entrance at Five Mile River. Now the fog consumed my boat and blanketed away the lights and sounds that were so reassuringly present. I was anchored in place with a mushroom anchor. They worked great when the bottom is sandy and do a respectable job with rocky bottoms, although the rabbit eared Danforth anchors were better in those situations. The current that flowed east to west was tugging at my boat, an 18 foot Boston Whaler, and the anchor line was complaining about the stress. It would hold just fine, it was the new nylon line that was rapidly replacing the hemp rope that had been the maritime standard back as far as my knowledge extended.

Fog can be scary stuff. Greens Ledge lighthouse started its horn, it played a single mournful note, a kind of blatt really, that discarded the romantic two tone calls of popular note. Through the heavy mist of the fog, the sharp edges of the note were softened and added a kind of echo that made the horn sound other-worldly. I was an intrepid kid, used to the sea and familiar with my boat and surroundings, but fog had the ability to mute confidence as well as light and sound. The imagination began to paint pictures of oyster and muscle dredgers plowing through the water as its crew tried to wrest a living from a reluctant sea. I pictured the larger barges pressed forward by tugs and I imagined the cargo ships, their decks stacked high plowing their well known courses. Was I where I thought I was? Had I drifted closer to the channel? Was there an invisible force out there bearing down on my boat?

Fear grows by its voracious appetite for the unknown. Dangerous mysteries fed my fears and grew them like corn in Iowa sun. At the moment, Iowa was sounding like a better place for me to be camping than in a boat as small as mine as it floated in a sea of mystery. A chill followed the fog to my boat and it mixed with the chill of my fear, the product greater than the sum of its parts. I thought to motor to the shore and anchor myself tight to the land and away from possible ships transiting the Sound.

A splash by the side of my craft startled me and I looked to see a fish dive with a frantic wiggle of its tailfin. What else is in the water I wondered. Looking at the surface it appeared black and oily, devoid of the bioluminescence it so often displayed at night. One of natures mysterious beauties and source of fascination. Why couldn’t I see the nighttime glow? What drove the fish to the surface and caused it to dive away in such obvious fear. My mind drew pictures of sharks, the eating machines of the oceans circling just below, calculating a way to investigate my value as food. I thought of large squid grabbing the boat, their tentacles feeling about until they found me and would drag me down into the depths.

Of course, sharks were not common residents of the Sound, their cousins, the dogfish, were plentiful, they were a kind of shark with the same look and attitudes, but they grew to a maximum of two feet, tended to scavenge the bottom, and avoided humans as best they could. Squid might have been worth a worry had I been off the Mexico or California coasts, the hunting ground of the Humbolt, but they tended to frequent the nutrient rich cold waters thousands of mils distant. No, I should have no fear of them. Of course, my mind had to point out that were exceptions to every rule as I sat there blanketed in the fog.

The coast was littered with rocks. Many sat just beneath the surface, ready to play a cruel joke of unwary operators cruising the shores. Or might rise with the fall of the tide to present a problem that didn’t exist at high tide. In answer to it all, I flipped on my position lighting and turned on the portable transistor radio I’d brought along, creating my own little well of activity in the fog. It did little to help, in fact I decided that the music blaring away would hide the shushing noise of an approaching ship and the rumble of its engines. I snapped the radio back off but let the lights burn.

I tried my best to fall asleep. After all, I had spent many nights on my boat, and in places much further away from home than the three miles distance I was at now. I might drift off for a few minutes, but something would wake me. A seagull landing to rest itself as it negotiated its way, also a bit disoriented by the fog. The slap of a sounding fish or the slap of a larger wave against the side of my boat. My senses were too charged with the adrenaline of fear to let me fall away into the embrace of sound sleep.

Light began to permeate the fog as dawn took over from the night shift. As it did, the thick fog began to rise and my range of vision slowly increased from a few feet to a few hundred yards.  Sometime in the night a ketch had dropped its anchor only two hundred feet away. Her captain too cautious to probe for the channel with his expensive sailboat. We saw each other at the same time, each of us showing obvious surprise at the presence of another. But it ratified our mutual caution and we waved and saluted one another for our sea legged wisdom.

After an hour, during which I made a breakfast of eggs and bacon on my Coleman camp stove, making burnt toast by holding it over the open flame, I cleaned up and stowed the gear of the night and morning, fired my engine, and with a wave to the sailboat I carved the water into a wake and piloted myself back to the family beach.