A large sail training vessel under sail on the port tack in position Lat 49 57.8N long 001 56.8W bound from Cherbourg to Swanage steering 005 at 5-6 knots variable with wind speed. Navigation lights and AIS were configured correctly. At 2020 bst a power-driven vessel “XXX” was observed visually and by radar close to the port beam with a CPA of zero in 30 min. at range six miles. This was confirmed by AIS.
After monitoring the situation for several minutes I became concerned that XXX was not apparently taking any avoiding action. I spoke with the vessel on VHF Ch6 and explained our status as a sailing vessel. The OOW on XXX asked me what action I required of him. I asked him to take action that would result in him passing clear of my vessel and preferably astern. XXX became quite excited and admonished me for asking him to take action at such an early stage. He stated that he was “under orders”, a “commercial vessel”, that my vessel was a “leisure vessel” and he further stated that he did not wish to “waste fuel” and that he would close to two miles before taking action. I spoke again with XXX and reminded him of the requirement to take “early substantial action to avoid a close quarters situation”, I further informed him that we were a low speed sailing vessel with consequent lack of manoeuvrability and that he was deliberately contravening the International Collision Regulations. The VHF fell silent and XXX stood on. Our engines were on instant notice. I called XXX again on Ch 16 and we spoke on CH 6. Again XXX asked me what action I required of him. I again asked him to alter course to pass clear astern and added that I was going to report the incident. XXX then altered course and passed 1.4 nm astern of us. Shortly after this incident I reported to Solent Coastguard by VHF, XXX had obviously monitored my conversation with Solent and called them himself soon after. XXX launched a further verbal assault referring to commercial superiority, excess fuel consumption and added again that two miles was a perfectly safe distance at which to take avoiding action.
I am concerned as to whether XXX intended to take avoiding action at all and, of course, his judgement in stating that closing to two miles should not cause concern to the stand-on vessel.
Just as “road-rage” is a problem with land transport, the statements from the other vessel may be an unfortunate example of “sea-rage”. It should go without saying that the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea contain no reference to “commercial superiority”. Rule 16 does state that “every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.”
In this case, if the give-way vessel had taken early action, rather than waiting until two miles distant from the sailing vessel, he would have given a positive indication of his intention and avoided the tension generated by the VHF communication.
As a general comment, it is worth remembering when using the VHF that we have a wide audience so our comments should be calm and professional.