A yacht was on passage under motor off the North coast of France in daylight but with impaired visibility (circa 1.5 miles) due to driving drizzle. The crew had spotted and tried but failed to avoid a seaweed patch which proved not to be seaweed but extensive coil of rope floating just below the surface. The engine stopped. The skipper, who was below at time immediately suspected rope and looked over stern and identified strands of circa 25 mm rope. Jib unfurled but due to minimal wind unable to maintain course under sail. Crew unable to free rope and in poor visibility and rocky coast immediately to south, Skipper concerned at vessel drifting. Skipper called CROSS Corsen using DSC (PanPan not necessary) and notified coastguard of situation. Taking into account the coastline, lack of wind, tide and visibility CROSS Corsen decided to launch a lifeboat with diver aboard. The lifeboat reached the yacht within 45 minutes by which time visibility had improved. Having seen the rope, lifeboat crew decided diver should enter water despite the swell. The diver released substantial quantity of thick rope from the propeller (See photo). Rope so substantial that crew of seven unable to pull rope on board so lifeboat crew decided to take rope in tow. Following check of engine for damage, the yacht proceeded under power to a port. Skipper and crew very impressed by French lifeboat and decided to make donation to SNSM.
Lessons Learned: as reported by the Skipper:
Lesson 1: Skipper should brief crew clearly to keep clear of patches of seaweed. What looks like seaweed in poor visibility may prove not to be seaweed but rope floating just beneath the surface.
Lesson 2: We were not in an immediately threatening situation. However with a rock strewn coast just a mile to the south, minimal wind, strong tides and poor visibility we definitely made correct decision of calling the coastguard before we drifted into a more dangerous situation.
Lesson 3: We were lucky that the engine and bearings appear not to have been damaged. However it is definitely worth carefully checking couplings and bearings following any incident affecting the propeller.
Lesson 4: When sailing in foreign waters, ensure that you know the procedures for contacting the local coastguard.
Comment from Skipper: Further legislation necessary to stop fishermen or other commercial mariners from dumping large quantities of thick rope at sea.
The Skipper’s action in notifying the Coastguard was prudent. (In different circumstances, if the skipper had assessed that he was not in imminent danger but needed urgent assistance, it would be appropriate to send a Pan-Pan signal.)
He has provided a clear and pertinent summary of the lessons learned.
The fouling of propellers by fishing gear and discarded rope is a significant on-going problem which CHIRP is continuing to highlight. This links us to the Editorial; as small boat owners, we know the risk exists. So consider what we would do if it happens, as the reporter has described in his lessons learned.
The reporter has commented on the need for further legislation to stop fishermen and commercial mariners from dumping large quantities of rope at sea. There are already regulations about dumping waste at sea. Reputable commercial companies and their seafarers follow them but others disregard them. In the case of the reported incident, bearing in mind that rope is expensive, it may have been that the rope had been lost accidentally, rather than being dumped.