Monday, December 26, 2016

A Collision With A Cargo Ship!

There was a nasty current against us in various place
in the Southern Indian Ocean. Not fun!
As I mentioned earlier, the Indian Ocean is a very lumpy body of water. Even with steady winds in the 15-25 knot range which should be smooth sailing, we were bounced around by the big swells coming from different directions. And there has been this dang current against us the whole way, either moving us north or south while holding back on our Velocity Made Good (VMG). It is frustrating as it is causing us to spend one more day out here!

Several times I called cargo ships to make sure they could
see Trillium on their AIS. They do not always keep good
watches so it doesn't hurt to make them aware of us.
We have daily roll calls with the rest of the fleet at 0900 and 1900 where we report our positions and any issues or concerns. Most of the time it is position report followed by friendly chatting about what we had for dinner or what fish someone caught or wishing someone a Happy Something. It is a nice way to make sure everyone is fine since we are spread out over 300 nm. Knowing the most recent positions allows others to come to assistance if needed.

The first five minutes of roll call is a Silent Period in which emergency information is shared. It is always pleasing to hear nothing during this time. Unfortunately, one evening it was different. One of our fleet yachts had had a mid-afternoon collision with a cargo ship!

The big guys don't always watch for small vessels. It is hard
for them to maneuver so it is better to give way even if you
have the right of way under the navigation rules.
This was indeed unnerving! Our first thoughts were how could that happen? It was a beautiful day with blue skies and just the right amount of wind to move gently over the water. And it happened in the middle of the day! Something happened. It has to be human error.

The captain and owner of that vessel is probably the best sailor out here and we have always looked up to him. Something unusual must have happened. Unfortunately, we won’t know the full story until we get to land. And we were happy to hear he has arrived safely into port while sailing with extensive damage to his standing rigging. Kuddos to his sailing skills!

As a result, our Captain reinforced our watch rules as we had been getting a little too relaxed! If the best sailor out here can tangle with a huge cargo ship in broad daylight, it can happen to anyone. We were able to plot the position of the contact point and have kept track of traffic in that area. It is obvious that we are all crossing a major freighter channel between Cape Town, SA and Asia as most ships have been bound for Singapore or other Asian ports.

This was the freighter traffic one morning during my
watch. We are the little black boat on the screen.
Fortunately, our renewed vigilance has paid off as we have crossed wakes with at least six more freighters in the same area which is quite extensive as they are traveling on a 450 angle and we are all spread out over several hundred miles crossing their path at various points. As I write this, there are two freighters on our AIS screen. I am not on watch so I can do something other than “watch.”

We actually had to change our course last night to avoid a collision. Even though we have the right of way for two reasons: 1) we are a vessel under sail and 2) they are approaching our port side, we believe in the laws of mass and speed. They are just too big to challenge! And they don’t seem to care – or perhaps even keep a good watch – as they steam forward to their destination!

This looks like the same photo, but it is a different day in
a different location. You must keep a good watch for them.
Here we are the little white boat and the straight white line
is our rhumb line between two destinations.
Our friends who had the collision we able to contact the freighter to let them know they had been hit. At least that way the freighter has to record the call in their log book.

It won’t do much good except perhaps for an insurance claim. It will be interesting to hear how the collision happened and what the yacht’s crew was doing at the time. It can look like there is no one for miles and all of a sudden they are on your AIS screen and moving at 12-20 knots right at you. By the time they come over the horizon, there is little time to adjust sails and your course. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

Some days are so calm you must motor sail.
We are working on another Hat Trick! That makes it a Triple Hat Trick on this passage! Here goes:
1) The gudgeon that holds the Watt & Sea water generator on the stern broke – again! I think they need to reengineer these things for long passages. Since it is a French company, we are hoping we can have parts set directly to La Reunion. 

2) The fresh water pump decided it had had enough and retired its service half way across the Indian Ocean! That was fixable with a spare after the swells settled down some, but for a couple of days we could only use the foot pump which gave us fresh cold water directly from the tank into the galley only.

3) Don broke a tooth on a hard crust of bread!

From one extreme to another: too calm or too rough!
All in all, it has been an interesting passage. I had expected much worse in terms of sea state and weather so I am happy. I only had one bout of seasickness the first night and have been fine ever since. That is a huge improvement!
Note: We later learned the full story on the collision and it was due to a crew member falling asleep or reading or ... and not keeping watch! The boat has AIS so the ship would have shown up there for someone to see. And the sailboat should have shown on the big ship's AIS as well. Mind boggling! The crew member was dismissed as soon as they landed.

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