Staying calm in a scary situation turned potential disaster into a rewarding adventure!

Morning off the dock.

For more than a decade Jocelyn and I have come up to Maine for a two week summer vacation. We stay at Jocelyn’s grandmother’s place on the rocky cost of southern Maine. It is right on the water, 8-10 foot tides, cool air, cold water, the whole package. I absolutely love it up here.

COVID-19 has brought great challenges and new opportunities. My employer implemented a remote work policy and Jocelyn and I are taking the opportunity to bug out to Maine for the month of July. I’ll work for two weeks and relax for two. On top of that, being an early riser, I fully intend to “get out there” before work if I can!

The first week has been very busy at work and I have only been able to look out at the grand view. Wednesday, however, I completed two big work efforts that were consuming my quiet early mornings – and Thursday was my day to get out and play!

I must admit, I am NO big lover of water. Throw me in a pool and I’m fine. In fact I love to swim. But I have an unnatural fear of open water. I attribute this to a few key facts. First, until I was eleven I never saw a body of water bigger than a river. As a young kid my outdoor adventures were in the hills of West Virginia. Second, Jaws. Yes, Jaws. Jaws came out when I was a kid and I must have seen it too young because I’m 100% certain there’s a great white just waiting, lurking… Insane – yes, but humans are, by nature, irrational creatures. Third, one of my first experiences in big water was on a large but shallow lake in Minnesota. I was maybe 12. We were on a boat far out from the shore in what I thought must be pretty deep water. Despite my concern that a Great White had adapted to fresh water, I jumped in. Immediately I could feel the seaweed on my feet and I swear I nearly had a panic attack! Literally – Lost . My . Mind!

Anyway, my fear has subsided over the years (a little), and I do NOT want to forgo the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful morning. The conditions are perfect for a canoe ride. Little breeze, calm waters… And at 5 a.m. I am in the water and off!

After poking around the beautiful sailboats moored in the cove I start out for an island about half a mile away. It is clearly visible.

The air is dead calm, the water mirror-flat, and I am slowly making my way across the open water lost in thought. The fog thickens. After some number of minutes I come to and realize, “I can’t see a thing!” Literally, I can see absolutely nothing in any direction. I cannot even tell where the sea ends and the sky begins.

I stop paddling to take a picture. “Am I in trouble here?” My stomach is churning. I know I need to make a decision here or I may loose it!


I know nothing of navigating water – I’m a lover of mountains! However, I’ve been lost – really lost – dozens of times in my life and I’ve learned to stop and assess. Can I turn around and head back the way I came? Lost on a mountain trail, this would be an easy determination… But on the water I have no point of reference. If I try to turn around I have no way to know if I’ll make a 180 degree turn… Should I continue forward? I can see bits of seaweed periodically, perhaps I can use them to ensure I am heading straight. But what happens when and if I get to the island – how long before I can navigate back? The fog is thick – and it feels as though the walls are pressing in. Overhead – a bird? Where’s he going… Then I saw it, the answer, shining down from the heavens!

Sister moon! I see her! SAVED! The moon is at about a 60 degree elevation angle and at 2 o’clock to starboard. If I can keep the moon at 2 and keep going I know I’ll get to the island. I also know that I can get back by keeping the moon at 8 o’clock. While navigating by moon is probably a horrible idea for open ocean travel, for a one hour canoe ride it seems the risk is probably pretty low.

It worked like a charm – after about 10 minutes of rowing the island comes into sight. I hug the near side for a few minutes, then turn and head home quite confident that as long as I can see the moon, I’ll make it fine – and I did.

Reflecting on the experience – I’m really quite satisfied. While there was a moment where I was really worried things could go downhill – it didn’t. By staying calm, assessing the situation and making a decision, I was able to execute to success. Very rewarding. And on top of it all I got to enjoy it all in the outdoors!

That said, it is profound how sudden fear clouds thinking. When making my assessment I failed to consider two very useful tools right at hand! First, my Garmin watch. It has an integrated compass, and if I had started an activity, I could use the backtracking feature. Additionally, I took a picture… with my PHONE! GPS, maps, compass, you name it. I took the first path available (use the Moon), rather than taking a few additional moments to identify and consider the pros and cons of all paths forward. I’ve been accused of analysis paralysis before – but a few additional moments here could have opened up additional options.