We anchored in the early evening in squally weather. The wind variable in direction but generally NNE and unstable with gusts to 25 knots and heavy rain showers. Just over half way through the evening 8-12 watch an un-designated GMDSS distress alert was received from a sailing catamaran which was at anchor 0.2 miles inshore of our vessel. The substance of the message indicated that an unmanned yacht was adrift in the harbour and had come into collision with the catamaran, monitoring VHF traffic with local Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre, indicated no imminent danger to life and the alert was downgraded to PAN PAN (Urgency), almost immediately. The crew of the catamaran seemed to have little appreciation of the situation or how to resolve it and responded with an inappropriate GMDSS distress alert. In response I authorised the launch of our rescue boat to assist the crew of the catamaran who seemed unable to deal with the situation.
Our rescue boat launched with three crew and proceeded to the catamaran where they quickly assessed the situation. A yacht had dragged her anchor and set down towards a catamaran; the anchor of the yacht had fouled on the cable of the catamaran which had the effect of bringing the two boats together. The crew of the catamaran had deployed some fenders to prevent damage but took no further action. Our rescue boat crew weighed the yacht’s anchor and started the main engine. They then cleared the yacht from the catamaran and motored her to the stern of our vessel. Contact was established by heaving line and the yacht secured by two ship’s lines. The rescue boat crew replaced the anchor and cable aboard the yacht and considered taking her to a new anchorage for the night. After discussion I recommended the yacht be left secured to our vessel so that she could be kept under observation and to avoid further labour at the end of a very long day.
Just after midnight the yacht’s owner/skipper returned by inflatable tender with a lady (presumably his wife) wearing no life jackets and no shoes on a dark and squally night and, after we had explained that their yacht had been adrift and in collision with a catamaran, the couple decided to slip and proceed ashore. The yacht slipped our lines and motored away soon after.
The Maritime Advisory Board believes the yachts involved in this incident were fortunate to have benefited from professional assistance close at hand, however, it is not safe to assume such assistance will always be readily available and there are a number of learning points the Board would like to highlight:
- In deciding whether it is safe to leave a yacht unattended the weather forecast and quality of mooring should be among the factors taken into account.
- Be prepared for the prevailing conditions; wear a lifejacket, this should be as natural as taking a coat or umbrella because it might rain!
Learn how to use radio communications equipment properly. This is important in all circumstances, but particularly so in the event of an urgency or distress situation; getting it right can save time and lives and reduces the number of “false” alerts watch keepers have to deal with.