It had been a glorious August day in 1990. I had set out in my twelve-foot row boat around noon. The sun was shining and the water was placid. As usual I was alone, settled in the centre seat with my fingers wrapped around the blue oars. My boom-box sat on the seat in the stern on top of a sweatshirt and towel and beside my sneakers.
Most of the time I sailed barefoot. I loved the feeling of cool wood and salt water on my skin. I could climb in and out of the boat, walking through knee-deep surf, without worrying about wetting my rubbers.
Rubbers…I don’t recall owning a pair back then. I either went barefoot or wore my ocean sneakers. These were old sneakers I wore without socks to places I couldn’t go barefoot.
Barefoot was the best way to travel and each summer the skin on the bottom of my feet grew tough from my adventures. I could easily skip across the rocky shore and through the trees to explore an island or an isolated beach.
So there I rowed, out to the mouth of the harbour, a three or more hour journey depending on the dilly-dallying, and back towards our camp. I enjoyed the salt air, the sunshine, the Great Blue Herons poking their way along the shore and the music softly playing on my blaster.
The fog began to roll in. This was nothing new; I had been in the fog before.
I heard a motor boat approach. It went on for a good five minutes before I could see who it was: my brother-in-law and his son. They had been out fishing mackerel and were on their way back to the camp.
“The fog’s pretty thick,” he said. “You wanna tow in?”
I still had a good hour of rowing left before I reached the skit*, but I declined. “I’m good. I’ll be along.”
They waved and puttered off towards the inner waters of the harbour, leaving me to my peaceful rowing. I could still vaguely see the shoreline as they disappeared into the white puffs of cloud sitting on the water’s surface.
Within minutes, the dense fog swallowed up the rocks and trees of the distant shore. Never before had I seen it pounce so quickly on the harbour my family had lived on since the 1880s. In an instant I was a drift in a sea of white. I could see nothing past twenty feet of my little craft.
No worries. I knew the harbour, the current that took things out to sea, and I could clearly observe the spit from my brother-in-law’s motor in front of my boat. I paddled onward, glancing to where the shore should have been, judging how far I might be away from it and the formation of logs where I’d dock my vessel.
Muffled sounds echoed across the water: a voice from the shore, a seagull crying out and the splash of something in the distance. It was as though I no longer existed. No one could see me.
An inexperienced boater may have panicked. I don’t know. I simply enjoyed the trip with the knowledge of knowing my surroundings—even though I couldn’t see them—and knowing the thin line of spit at the bow led straight to the camp.
Since then I’ve always wanted to write a story about that once-in-a-life-time fog that had moved in so quickly that within ten minutes, everything past twenty feet of me was invisible. The experience in the fog formed the bases for The Ocean Between Them, a short story that takes place off the northern coast of Newfoundland.
Two Nova Scotian women vacationing on the island rent a row boat and paddle along the shore to sightsee. A thick fog quickly consumes their surroundings and, not knowing much about the ocean, boats or the area, they become lost.
Here’s the blurb: Cindy Fletcher and Michelle Purdy have been friends since they met on the playground the first day of primary. For twenty years they hung out with the same friends and together sampled all the activities that make a childhood. At the end of the day, they retreated to their own worlds where they could escape their conflicting differences. These breaks had kept their shaky relationship going through tough, uncertain times, but when they become lost in the fog off the coast of Newfoundland with only the space of a twelve-foot row boat between them, their personalities clash, threatening to end their friendship forever.
The Ocean Between Them will appear in the anthology: Nova Scotia—Life Near Water. It will be released in late summer.
*Skit: a term used on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia that refers to skinned logs set up in a fashion for a boat to be drawn up to the shore or down to the water’s edge during low tide.