Our yacht was sailing upwind on a port tack with approximate speed of 4 knots and 50 degrees to the wind, which was SW 3-4. We were in an area of clear water. Another yacht was approaching also on port tack coming from both upwind and behind us at approximately 6 knots at approximately 120-130 degrees from our port bow. We held our course and speed as best possible in order for the other craft to have space and time to take avoiding action. No action was taken on their part. When it was clear the other yacht was not going to take avoiding action, we tacked and sailed behind her. There was one person on deck of the other craft gesturing for us to get out of their way. It was also clear that this person was well away from the boats wheel and that the boat had probably sailed for some time under “blind” auto-helm. We continued until we had cleared the other boat.
Lessons Learned: As a crew we spoke about this incident at great length afterwards. As such we were happy with our actions; we did however agree that we will need continued vigilance regarding application by other boats of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. As a more general point we agreed on the importance of keeping watch at all times and not to assume that the boat can “look after itself” while under auto-helm.
Rule 13 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea provides that “……any vessel overtaking any other vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken. A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam……….” From the report, the other yacht was overtaking the reporter’s yacht and therefore was required to keep clear.
There is an obligation on yachts, as with all vessels, to comply with the IRPCS and therefore, by implication, that the person on watch should know the regulations and be able to apply them. CHIRP encourages leisure sailors to obtain such competence by training, e.g. through an appropriate RYA course.
We are pleased to note that the crew of the racing yacht subsequently discussed the incident and determined the lessons learned.