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Chapter 007 The fog is thick as pea soup

I spent much of my first summer at camp on the lake in my little boat. Although Great Pond is a relatively large lake, defined by almost 50 miles of shoreline and containing over half a dozen islands, I learned it intimately – where the shallows were, where the rocks were, where the islands were, and where my friends’ and relatives’ camps were.

I learned that the shoreline was visible at night – even on moonless nights. So when I set out at dusk on a calm evening for a distant relative’s camp half-way across the lake just southwest of Oak Island, I wasn’t concerned about the impending darkness. My good friend, Archie, and my soon to be step cousin, Bobby, accompanied me. We had an uneventful three mile cruise to our destination, visited for a couple of hours, and left on the return trip well after dark. While we were visiting, a fog had settled over the lake – a fog thick as pea soup.

I pointed the bow in the direction of camp and headed out. “No problem, guys. I’d know my way around this lake blindfolded,” I boasted. My little boat had a powerful spotlight, but on that night, all it illuminated was fog. On we went, blind but confident, and judging by our speed and direction, I estimated our position to be well in the middle of open water and about two thirds of the way back to camp. Suddenly, there was a light, high up directly in front of us, where no light had any reason to be. My heart raced. “Oh shit, we’re gonna die!” I exclaimed terrified. It looked like the Titanic was bearing down on us, honest to God it did. I quickly stopped our boat and strained to see through the darkness, heart pounding, but it was no use. “Anyone see anything? Hear anything?” I implored my buddies. But my query got no response, while my desperate attempt to penetrate the fog with my eyes and ears was greeted only by more blackness and silence. Nevertheless, I was comforted by the fact there was no engine sound of another boat, and that the light did not get any closer while we were stopped. I put the boat into gear and edged forward slowly, slowly, slowly, until a flagpole emerged from the fog under the light. “Phew,” I breathed in relief. “It’s OK; it’s just the flagpole on Jamaica Point. I headed more to the left than I meant to and we went to the west of Chute’s Island instead of to the east of it. I know where we are now.” And I turned the boat 90 degrees to the right to take the channel between Jamaica Point and Chute’s Island, as I’d done many times before. Camp was less than a mile east across the open deep water of North Bay. “We’ll be back at camp in no time,” I assured my passengers – NOT!

We traveled much longer than we should have before seeing land again, and when we did, it wasn’t familiar land. “Anybody recognize this place?” Again my query was greeted by silence. “Well, let’s go in and see if we can find out where we are.” As we tied up the boat to the camp's dock, we noticed a sign tacked to one of a pair of shore hugging birch trees declaring it to be “Twin Birches,” and we soon learned an additional reason why it was aptly named.

We disembarked, went up to the cabin, and knocked. A commotion ensued, punctuated by occasional high pitched giggling after which the door opened and we were greeted by an enthusiastic duet of, “Hi,” from two really cute identical twin teenage girls in pajamas. “S… Sor… Sorry for the intrusion, girls, but we… we’re… er… we’re lost in the fog. Can you tell us where we are?” I stammered after partially regaining the ability to speak. “Sure,” they giggled in unison. “You’re on the west shore of North Bay about half-way between Jamaica Point and Bear Spring Camps.” They were so pretty I again became quite tongue tied “Th… Thank… you,” was all I could manage.

We were reluctant to leave them. In fact there was substantial dragging involved where Archie was concerned, and I wasn’t happy about it either, but I was sure my parents were already worried. So we left the girls with a last look backward, and continued on our way. Now that we knew where we were, we also understood how we’d gotten there. With no compass to aid in maintaining our course in the fog, instead of heading due east, we had turned continuously slightly left, made a BIG U-turn and came back to shore again still on the west side of North Bay but a bit further north.

We did the “turn continuously left and make big U-turns” thing twice more in the thick fog, each time traveling further north instead of east. Eventually we arrived at the sandy beach of Bear Spring Camps. By then, we’d had enough of the foggy lake. “Shall we stop here and just call the folks for a ride?” I ventured. “YES!” was the immediate response from both Archie and Bobby. So we pulled the boat onto the beach and were contemplating which building was most likely to have a phone, when a young friendly fellow came up to us. “Hi, need some help?” “Yeah, we sure do,” I replied full of hope. “We’re trying to get back to our camp which is less than a mile over there,” I said as I pointed out into the fog in the general direction of camp. “Well, I’ve got my car here, and I’d be glad to give you a ride,” he responded. “Oh, that’d be great – thanks a million,” I said enthusiastically, and the three of us trooped after him and piled into his car.

Within seconds of heading down the road with our new found friend, we were fervently wishing we were back on the lake, where it was safe. He had a 1961, 348-horsepower Pontiac Bonneville Tri-Power – one of the hottest cars of the day – and he was more than motivated to show us what his car could do. “Check this out,” he exclaimed as he tromped on the accelerator and his Detroit muscle car responded by pushing us back into our seats. We watched the speedometer rapidly shoot up to 80. We were traveling down these totally fog obscured Maine two-lane, windy, roller coaster roads at 80 miles per hour! Now I have to admit I’ve driven those roads at those speeds also, but NOT WHEN I COULDN’T SEE WHERE I WAS GOING! Miraculously we got back to camp alive and undamaged. “Thank you,” I said to our crazed chauffer, quickly exiting his flying death-trap. But those thanks were directed as much to a higher power as they were to him.

“Hi, we’re home,” I yelled. Eskie, Mom, and Dad materialized out of the murky night from the direction of the lake where they’d been staring into the fog for any sign of us. “You’re OK,” my mom exclaimed thankfully, and she hugged each of us in turn. “We were so worried about you,” my dad said, “I’m so glad you’re OK.” Eskie said little, but the fact that he’d driven his car down to the shore and shined its headlights out toward the lake spoke volumes. It was a grand, albeit futile, gesture, due to the thickness of the fog, and to this day I still don’t know how he got his full-sized Ford all the way to the lakeshore through that veritable maze of pine, birch, and oak trees.

So what did I learn from that experience? Well, first, check the weather before going out on the lake. Second, a compass is a nice accessory to have on your boat, although today a GPS would be even better (done). And third, never accept a ride from a manic teenager in a super hot car when visibility is below 15 feet.