One of the delights of living in Halifax is fog season. Every year about this time, and often extending into July, fog descends upon Halifax. This wonderful atmsopheric phenomenon brings with it the greenest of grass and the amplified transmission of noise.
And so it is that ships arriving in fog emit their distinctive signals. Big ships - big deep sounds at regular intervals as they wend their way into port. Smaller ships - more shrill and higher pitched. (Missing of course is the George's Island fog signal, turned off a few years ago because hotel guests were deprived of sleep.)
These sounds do not resemble the steam powered signals still, strangley, dubbed into movies long after the death of steam, but are in fact air horns - cousins of the air horns on trucks and railway locomotives. There are horm afficionados who can identify the horn manufacturer by the sound they make and there are even some web sites devoted to this arcana.
As I wrtite this fog has "descended" once again and the big tanker HEATHER KNUTSEN can be heard on her way in to Imperial oil, with her deep, slightly asthmatic, fog signal booming away.
Earlier in the evening the fog amplified the horn of another ship. For over half an hour from about 7:10 to 7:40 she constantly repeated seven short and one long blast in quick succesion. Telephone lines lit up and VHF radios crackled with concerned citizens and knowledgeable mariners, wondering what was going on, for this is the signal for fire aboard ship.
Eventually the coastal tanker ALGOSCOTIA fessed up as the culprit. While conducting a regular fire drill, the signal button apparently stuck in the ON position and would not stop! It took most of the half hour for the electrician to find the circuit and disable the horn.
The fog transmitted the sound quite nicely to the south end of the Halifax peninsula. But the fog also concealed the source, as it was impossible to see any ships from land. ALGOSCOTIA was tied up at the Imperial Oil, Esso refinery in Dartmouth, but she sounded as if she was right in the backyard.
Harbour traffic carries on, fog or not, day and night, and the fog horns are (usually) a gentle and comforting reminder of our connection to the sea.