We set out from a UK South coast port in our yacht on route for the Channel Islands. The course chosen was to pass two miles West of the Casquets. This course would bring us close to, but clear of, the Traffic Separation Scheme.
15 miles into the journey we ran into fog which quickly closed in to less than 200 metres visibility. Whilst we were concerned by the conditions, we had the benefit of a shipping forecast that had referred to fog patches and we had fully expected to come in and out of fog for the rest of the journey. This unfortunately did not lift until we had passed the Casquets. In any event we have had plenty of experience of sailing through fog and my yacht is very well equipped for such an event. We have onboard AIS, Radar, VHF, two excellent chart plotting devices and an excellent radar reflector.
As we approached the West going shipping traffic we had several large ships clearly plotted on our equipment and it was relatively simple for us to establish if any of them were to pose a danger to us. We had VHF conversations with several ships, checking that they knew of our position and confirming our view that they would pass either North or South of us and more importantly would not change course towards us. Our conversations were cordial and business like and on several occasions to our surprise the reply would be to the effect that they would alter course 1 or 2 degrees to port or to starboard to be safe.
At about 1000 hours, we noticed a vessel some 12 miles to our East that was clearly heading directly for the centre of our AIS and our Radar screens. At 10.9 miles we called up the merchant ship as is our practice, only to be told that we must have the wrong ship as he could not see us on his radar. Before acquiring our AIS Plotter this would have been highly likely but not now we have the benefit of viewing the ship’s information, this most definitely was not the case. At 8 miles we again called up the merchant ship who this time confirmed that he had us on his Radar and rang off.
At 6 miles we considered the situation as becoming urgent and we needed to know what to do to best avoid a collision. Clearly both boats in dense fog had a duty to make an early decision to avoid contact. We being a relatively slow moving boat had far less opportunity to take effective evasive action than a ship travelling at three times our speed. With other vessels around us and us being the stand on vessel it seemed to be unwise to do anything that would be unpredictable, so we called the threatening ship again and got no answer.
At 2.9 miles we eventually made contact with the captain of the ship who on this occasion made it quite clear that he had no intention of either altering course or reducing speed and that what we did about the situation was down to us. We were then completely shocked by his retort that “If you don’t understand the regulations the consequences are down to you”.
We turned our boat around and continued on a reciprocal course until the ship had crossed our intended track. Whilst doing so we duly reported this incident to Portland Coastguard less there should be any mishap.
I would like to take this opportunity to state that this incident has not changed my view that for the most part the captains of merchant ships are very reasonable people. On the same journey we had skippers telling us that whilst we might be clear of them we should possibly watch out for the ship following on the other side. We even had one ship call us up because he had lost our radar image in his wake. We were able to confirm his safe passing and thank him for his concern.
CHIRP is pleased to note that the yachtsman’s experience with mariners on merchant ships has been generally favourable. However, the attitude of the Officer of the Watch on this bulk carrier appears to have been cavalier. The ship should have been proceeding at a safe speed, as per Rule 19 (Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility.) Furthermore, as per that same Rule, once he detected the yacht by radar, he should have taken avoiding action in ample time. Fog signals should have been sounded.
We sent a disidentified copy of the report to the manager of the ship in the Middle East. CHIRP receives responses from 90% of the managers with whom we communicate, but as yet we have not received a reply from this one. However, as some months had elapsed between the incident and the report, it is unlikely that the ship would still have an electronic record of the incident and the officer on watch at the time may no longer be on the ship. In general, it is better to report such incidents to us as soon as possible.