Confession: Compass navigation stumps lost fisherman

In this month’s Confession column we hear how one fisherman was ensnared by a sudden change in the weather

I am lucky enough to own a very small boat that my family and I use for either sightseeing or fishing trips. Early spring a few years back, I was desperate to go fishing after a long hard winter.

The sea was calm, there wasn’t much wind and it wasn’t too cold, but it was foggy. I could still make out the harbour entrance of the village I’d set out from a quarter-of-a-mile away, and could just make out the breakwater piers to the major fishing port about a mile-and-a-half distant from me.

It’s a popular place to fish and on this particular day I caught a large cod. Having fought a while to pull it in, I’d failed to notice that the fog had got drastically thicker, reducing the visibility to a matter of yards.

I couldn’t see the harbour entrances, but remained fairly calm about the situation. “No problem,” I thought, I’d head to the fishing port to the north with its larger entrance, fog horn and navigation lights on both breakwaters towers.

In the past I have always made for this safe haven, finding it through the gloom without a problem. This time things were to turn out very differently.

Recommended videos for you

I was aware of the jagged rocks just below the surface of the water between myself and where I was heading, so held a straight course for a few minutes to clear the obstruction before making a turn to where I thought the port to be.

Normally this trip would be a five-minute run at half throttle. About 15 minutes later and it occurred to me I should be there. A quick glance at my Fish Finder revealed I was in more than 200 feet of water. Where I was fishing was only 65-feet deep.

It was then that I could feel the sudden panic set in; I had no idea where I was, in fact I couldn’t recall ever having been so far from shore that I was getting a reading of more than 200 feet deep!

I turned off the boat engine in the vain hope of hearing the blast from the fog horn. I drifted to
a silence and heard nothing. I tried peering at the sky to make out where the sun was, but the fog was too thick. It was just flat grey even light in any direction I looked.

‘What now?’ I thought. I did have my mobile phone with me but had no idea where to tell anyone where I was, and I really wasn’t keen on starting a major incident.

I carry a small compass on board but have always had my doubts about its accuracy. When I bought it, I laid it together with several compasses on the shop counter and noted that they all seemed to be pointing in slightly different directions so I didn’t know which one I should trust?

Time to find out because it was now I had to it to the test as it pointed me westwards towards the coast. I set off praying that I’d got this right, and that when I came ashore the locals weren’t speaking Norse or Danish.

After what seemed an age I suddenly saw the stern of a trawler through the gloom and hoped I could catch up with him. As I approached the stern, I could see one of the crew leaning on the rail smoking.

I shouted up to him, “Are you heading into port or have you just come out?” “Are you lost or something?” he called back. I had to admit I was. “We’re heading back in” he shouted and told me to follow him.

After about five minutes, I asked if he knew exactly where were we? He said we were a mile-and-a-half north east of the port. Lord knows where I was, but I was never so glad to make it home and fully appreciate the danger I was in.

Afterwards, I made it a matter of urgency to buy a hand-held GPS. I never go to sea without it.

More recently, I have been given a chartplotter, but still carry the handheld GPS as a backup and just in case. The compass still lives on the boat and when I did check it against the GPS, it was quite accurate in spite of all my doubts.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


Latest videos