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  #1  
Old 10-15-2007
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Close encounter with a large tug- in fog

Moved the boat from San Juans to it's winter slip in Lake Washington last weekend. Thick fog (100'-200' vis)most of the way and no wind( I have lot's of radar experience). While motoring south past Port Townsend I noticed a large hit on the radar about 4NM ahead of me moving north in the shipping lane. I was east of the northbound shipping lane and I immediately moved further east to give more room while maintaining a parallel course. The more I moved east the more the target moved east to put us on a collision course. By the time we were 1.5 NM apart after I had changed course 2 or 3 times I called on 16, no response. I was blowing the fog signal by this time and moving continually further east. No matter how much I turned to give more room they would soon turn so we were on a collision course again. I estimated their speed at app. 10K and it was obviously a large steel ship of some kind by the large return I was getting on the radar. By this time I was getting seriously concerned and turned further so that I was heading directly towards the Whidbey Is. shoreline( a full 90 degrees from my original course). The other boat corrected so that we were still on a collision course and we were less than 1/4 NM apart. I had slowed down to about 4K during this whole thing and when we were app. 1/8NM apart I went to full speed and turned hard to starboard about 125 degrees, 5 seconds later a large Foss tug (estimate 80-100' long) came partially out of the fog on my port side approx. 200' away still doing 10+K and in the process of turning hard to port(towards me) but I was past him by then. I checked to see if there was a tow line off his stern even though nothing was showing on the radar and didn't see anything (thankyou sea Gods). He just kept on going and was back in the fog as fast as he had appeared. I have no idea what he was thinking or doing. At the time I saw him he was at least 1/3 Nm outside the shipping lane. I called again on 16 addressing him as "Foss tug northbound near Pt Townsend", again there was no response. After my heartrate returned to near normal I thought about what I should have done and if I was somehow to blame. First I should have contacted Seattle Traffic and informed them where I was and asked if there was any traffic approaching when we were 3-4Nm apart( I was monitoring it on ch.05) but assumed that since I was outside of the lane and moving further away I would avoid any conflict( I did contact them after this). Second, I should have sounded the danger signal when we were very close, although I was sounding the fog signal and never heard a signal from them the whole time before or after(and I was a bit busy at the end and I was alone). I don't know what else I could have done other than not be there. This just reinforced my rule that you should never assume the other boat sees you and that they probably don't know what they are doing anyway. I would have hoped for better from a professional driving a multi-million dollar tug for one of the largest tug companies on the west coast though. Anyone have any ideas about what he could have been thinking? Be careful out there everyone. John

PS- in case anyone is tempted to say I should not have turned to port to avoid this initially, turning to starboard would have put me directly into the northbound shipping lane going south and there was traffic in the southbound lane as well.
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Old 10-15-2007
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he was out to get you!
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Old 10-15-2007
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Scary situation, John! Imagine if you had been stuck in that situation without radar!!

We had a similar close encounter in fog a couple of winters ago, but fortunately it was a tug and log boom moving at a knot or 2, and even more fortunately we came across the boom itself, not the towline in visiblity of approx 50yds (and this without radar..) They, too, made no signal and there was no indication they were aware of our presence. But given the speeds it was not a case of avoiding being run over, more that of being the runner-over ourselves....

You did well to avoid a serious incident.
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Old 10-15-2007
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Yes - thank you Sea-Gods. I've been in heavy fog in the NE of the US and sometimes using 16, 13 and 09 don't bring a response. I swear some of the big guys get perverse pleasure out of not responding to non-commercial vessels. Anyway - you did every thing by the book and the worry is just why the bastard kept turning into you? I had an experience like that in the NY shipping lanes with a pulling tug and I almost believe he was out to scare me. Does make me think of installing AIS receiver and transmitter. I hope you had a nice healthy drink immediately after the encounter.
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Old 10-15-2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimmalkin View Post
I hope you had a nice healthy drink immediately after the encounter.
The Drink right after the shorts change.
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Old 10-15-2007
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jrd22...I think ya did good. I also think that you WERE the target not some unseen object given all the course changes. He was messing with you and that is a good argument for getting one of those new fangled AIS devices that can tell you xactly who is was and be able to report him and call him by name.
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Old 10-15-2007
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jrd,
From your account I would say that you made a number of mistakes.

Probably the first was having your radar on too short a range scale. A distance of 4 miles is simply too close to not end up in a close quarters situation. The tug, at ten knots, covers a mile every six minutes and you will cover substantially less. Thus you will be limited in how much you can get out of the way. Early detection with radar is everything. You did not mention the sea-state, you may have been lost in the sea-return on his radar.

Secondly, you violated the Colregs to the extent that you altered course to port and you did it in small increments. You were in danger of contributing to what is known as a radar-assisted collision. At the distance you detected him, if you decided that an alteration to port was the only option, you should have made the alteration very large-perhaps ninety degrees. We used to call this, "showing him a green" (or red). At the distance involved, both he and you were no doubt operating on bearing drift. Especially with an alteration to port, it is your obligation to make the course change substantial and therefore readily observable. Again, that brings us back to the radar scale your were operating on-too short range.

The danger signal is for vessels within sight of one another. (this matter was discussed at length in the seamanship thread under 'signalling' I believe) A more appropriate signal in fog might have been "uniform" or other signal that cannot be mistaken for another signal.

It is quite common for tugs to use the outer edge of the shipping lane, leaving the heart of the lane to larger, less manoeuverable ships. As he was not constrained by draft, and you probably appeared as a small vessel making little way-possibly fishing, he altered course to starboard as required by the rules. Your proper action at that range would have been to alter course to starboard as well. Which brings up the point of being too close to the shipping lane to make such an alteration safely. If you look up in the Colregs the paragraphs on Traffic Seperation schemes you'll see that sailing vessels and vessels under twenty meters are not to impede the traffic of vessels in the scheme and are to keep well away from the scheme.

I know I'm really working you over here, and your heart has already had it's stress test for the annum (g). But, when you determined that your only safe, albeit late, action was to go to port you really had only two viable actions you could take. Take all way off and sound "U" and perhaps shone a spot light straight up to attract attention. Or, if you were to alter to port, do so in a radical fashion and increase speed so as to make it obvious. another old dictum regarding altering to port-make it big enough and if, while still turning, it is apparent that the other vessel is not observing your turn, keep on turning. If he's going to hit you, you want it to be in the stern while running away from the collision. Sometimes this manoeuver results in your making a "round turn", but at least you are alive.

And I am glad to hear you are alive. It could have ended very badly. Reach out further with your radar, make early and substantial changes to course, and stay right away from the traffic seperation schemes. (let 'em run aground before they hit you!)
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Old 10-16-2007
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Sailaway- I appreciate your thoughts on the incident. I know you are trying to suggest what I could have done differently to avoid this situation and your points are well taken. The location where this took place changes the scenario somewhat. I entered Admiralty Inlet on the east of the shipping lanes after rounding Admiralty Head on Whidbey Island and had passed the next point on Whidbey from which the shore on my port side forms a large curved bay down to the next prominant point. The shipping lanes make a fairly sharp east turn at that point which hides the northbound traffic from where I was by radar. I was using the radar at different ranges and did pick him up a little more than 4nm away but he was on a different course at the time and it wasn't until he made the turn that I could start tracking him with any accuracy with the EBL. At first(4nm) he seemed to be heading straight up the lane, I had already shifted my course over so I was further out of the lane and it seemed that we would pass with a good distance between us. As the shipping lanes there go from one point to another without a lot of room on the east side there was no reason to suspect that he would alter course towards shore. This is probably impossible to follow without a chart of the area, but basically my radar at 4nm was at the point that he turned onto a parallel course with me and was the first chance to track him. When I made my second course change I turned app. 45 degrees to him and followed that for about 1 minute then resumed what should have been a parallel but more distant track from him and for a short while it was a parallel course, but then he altered course towards me again. After a couple of these I was beginning to worry about how much further I could deviate towards shore without getting into shallow water. I am wondering if he mistook me for a very slow vessel that he was overtaking and he had it in his mind that he would leave me to his port side per the rules? Don't know, but it was interesting there for a while. Kind of felt like I was being hunted by a really slow cruise missle or something. Your review of the incident is bang on according to the rules, but given the narrow channel, the traffic in the southbound lanes(three targets within 4nm) and the limited room to move to port and the turn in the shipping lanes around a point that blocks radar coverage changes things a bit. Reviewing it in my mind I agree with you that a 90 degree turn to port and going almost to shore and stopping would have probably solved the problem, but that's hindsight, you aren't going to take that radical of action every time you see something on radar. Most of the time you just pass unseen at a safe distance and go on about your day. By the way, it was very bright out at the time, really needed sunglasses but couldn't see the radar well enough with them, so a light would not have been effective but a good idea nonetheless for when it is darker. As far as the danger signal goes, if I had had three hands I would have given him five or more blasts just for the hell of it, if I'm going down I'd at least like him to know what I thought of him. Thanks for your thoughts on this, I always like the benefit of another perspective. John
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Old 10-16-2007
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John,
Thanks for the amplification. And for not getting your back up at what many might have felt undue criticism. In my unfortuante experience, it is very difficult to recreate these things without accurate plotting on a chart, from both vessels, and certainly not in a short note. If I stepped on any toes, be assured that it was not my intent and I am gratefull for the relaying of the story. It is only by such difficult situations that we truly learn, you and I.

I swear I have a chart of the area about, but it being some 15 years old, I am less than sure that my wife has not decided it was just one more thing from my single life I did not need a parting ceremony with-and pitched it unceremoniously out!

The only thing that comes further to mind is that I cannot emphasize enough how many round-turns I have made while at sea as the stand-on vessel. Altering course to port is almost always a dicey business, with the prospect of full and complete liability (if you're not fish food) when the SS Moronic decides to alter to starboard at the last moment. At the point at which I am unable to establish VHF communications or am in doubt that the give-way vessel is going to act, I start a nice gentle turn to starboard-no sense rolling everyone out of their bunks! I monitor what the other ship is doing and, as often is the case, when he holds course and speed I merely continue the turn until I've completed 360 degrees and pass safely under his stern.

The desire to communicate one's displeasure in words acceptable to the FCC has been a joy I've yet to experience. (g)
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Old 10-16-2007
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Excellent posts gentlemen. Bob thanks you both for sharing your insight.
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