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post #13 of Old 12-02-2012
SV Skalliwag #141
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Re: Follow the ARC

"The night brought yet more drama. With Minkey on solo watch, a strong squall hit Pea sending her on a thrilling high speed run. Luckily for us, he held his nerve and kept the boat flying along for a good 30mins until the squall had passed over. Once things had settled down and we'd changed watch we had another moment of high drama. We saw a single red navigational light begin to close our position from our starboard quarter and it quickly became obvious that we were on a collision course with another yacht.

In this situation it is important to know which vessel is the "stand on" boat, as it is a requirement for the vessel with right of way to hold their course and for the other vessel to take avoiding action. Around the cans in the Solent this is easy to assess, but out here in the middle of the Atlantic, at night, it was a bit more challenging. However, having established that we were the Stand On vessel, it was our obligation to hold our course unless we felt the other vessel was not going to take avoiding action. So we stood on while they closed in us.... and we stood on whilst they got closer and closer becoming increasingly anxious. We tried to call them on the VHF radio without success and then signalled them with our search light - to which they responded!. Feeling reassured we stood on again anticipating that they would now take action to avoid us. However they failed to do so. In desperation, we lit up our sails with the emergency search light to ensure they knew they did not have the right of way and that we intended to Stand On.

We should also mention that we were running dead downwind in 30 kts of breeze with a preventer line attached to our boom to hold it in position, and our genoa headsail poled out to windward. Neither of these features of our sail plan made it particularly easy to take quick avoiding action.

We clinged to the hope that the other boat understood their obligation to avoid us and indeed would do so. BUT, sadly not. With what could only have been a couple of hundred metres between us - ironic whilst surrounded by the vastness of the ocean - here we were in a very real potential collision situation. The other yacht was coming straight for us and now we couldn't drop our pole fast enough to harden up onto the wind and sail behind them as were already to close to do this, and we couldn't gybe the main sail because of the preventer line.

So all we could do was leave the sails exactly as they were, and go into a controlled gybe, without releasing the preventer in order to stall the boat and let the other vessel sail past us. Normally this is the sort of thing that breaks rigs but we were lucky, just a lot of shaken nerves. Once our nerves had calmed and we finished sounding off every explitive we could think of, we got ourselves organised and continued on our way. We still have no idea who the other vessel was, or why they seemed content to simply sail into us. However, it kept us on our toes for the rest of the night, and we're happy to report that nothing untoward came of our close encounter late in the night. Pea has continued on her way making great progress towards her destination."

Like they say, you can't make this stuff up!
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