I along with a group of other small boats was entering the harbour on the full ebb tide. About 10 small boats were attempting this, with only a couple (including myself) able to make any headway against the spring tide. At full throttle I was making less than half a knot over ground and several of the smaller boats were unable to make any headway at all. At this time a ferry was approaching the harbour and another ferry was preparing to leave port. The close encounter occurred when against what I believe is normal practice leaving port, the ferry chose to leave – and pass the another ferry in the harbour entrance. The leaving ferry misjudged the tidal strength and when abeam of me (I was still in the harbour mouth at full throttle after several minutes entering the harbour) engaged his bow and stern thrusters pushing my boat and another 40 foot yacht sideways dangerously close to the rocks at the side of the small vessels channel. The ferry captain knew exactly the problem he was causing as he was clearly visible in the bridge window indicating he was going to use the bow and stern thrusters. The ferry captain choosing to pass in the harbour entrance during a period of strong ebb tide caused this situation – tide so strong it restricted the ability of many small boats to manoeuvre. He took no account of the many small boats entering the harbour and the danger he caused in passing the two ferries in the harbour mouth instead of either in the harbour or outside in the channel or over spit bank. Due to the strength of the tide (which was unusually strong) the time taken by most yachts to enter harbour was extended.
Lessons Learned: Vessels using the main channel in and out of port should not (and I believe normally don’t) pass each other in the narrow harbour mouth. This is not necessary and imposes danger to any vessels using the small boat channel. The misjudgment of the navigation of the ferry that necessitated the use of the bow and stern thrusters should have been avoidable by a professional mariner. Captains should have it reinforced that using these thrusters in confined spaces when abeam of small vessels can create conditions in which those small vessels are put at risk. The thrusters create a water flow faster then the maximum speed of many small vessels (including my 35ft yacht!) and we are at the mercy of the ferry captain and can easily be washed onto the rocks that are only 15m distant. We were nearly wrecked by the actions of the ferry.
CHIRP contacted the Harbour Master who then reviewed CCTV replays. In his reply the Harbour Master confirmed the ferry acted correctly but was close to the perimeter of
the ‘small boat’ channel, he discussed this with the ferry company and they issued an advisory note to their ferry captains to keep a wider berth from the ‘small boat’ channel.
The Harbour Master also advised small boat users of the need to be aware of the tidal streams in particular, and plan transits accordingly. A vessel with only 5 knots engine speed should not be trying to enter against a peak ebb rate of up to 5.5 knots, that is simply poor navigation.
Owners of recreational craft are advised to make allowance for strong tides in their passage plans, particularly when entering and leaving port. In this case a simple risk assessment using all the facts known and in particular those available in port information books, charts and tide tales would have revealed, delaying entry into port by two hours would significantly reduce the risk and provide a greater margin of safety especially in the event of mechanical breakdown.