Float­ing con­tainer haz­ard

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I am a sin­gle-handed sailor of a junkrigged yacht, cur­rently on the east coast of Aus­tralia. The fol­low­ing story is taken from part two of my ar­ti­cle on Sir Henry Pig­ott, which will be pub­lished in the Junk Rig As­so­ci­a­tion journal in Oc­to­ber.

In 1986, while at the yacht club in

Cape Town dur­ing his cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion aboard Glory II, his 5.9m junk-rigged yacht, Pig­ott heard a lot of talk about con­tain­ers fall­ing off ships. There was a tug on standby in the port to re­trieve or sink con­tain­ers when their po­si­tions were re­ported. They can be a haz­ard to ships, let alone yachts. He lis­tened to th­ese sto­ries but thought it was un­likely that Glory would run into one.

Two days out of Cape Town bound for St He­lena, Glory was run­ning eas­ily be­fore a Force 4-5 south-easterly wind, mak­ing four knots. He was mo­tor-sail­ing with the en­gine just tick­ing over to im­prove the au­topi­lot’s con­trol of the rud­der and to min­imise the zigzag­ging course that oth­er­wise oc­curred.

The skies were blue and the seas fairly calm. He was hav­ing his early morn­ing cuppa, sit­ting in the hatch, when he no­ticed a lot of se­abird ac­tiv­ity dead ahead. This is un­usual so far from land, and Pig­ott won­dered if it might be a dead whale or a log. Glory was head­ing straight for the birds so he didn’t have to al­ter course to go and in­ves­ti­gate.

Get­ting closer, very lit­tle was vis­i­ble, but he could see that the waves were break­ing over some­thing solid. Then he saw that it was a con­tainer.

Just one end of it was above wa­ter, cov­ered in sea­weed. He could see the tri­an­gu­lar legs on each cor­ner. They looked rather like gi­gan­tic tin open­ers which would have made a nasty gash in Glory’s hull. Henry had to al­ter course at the last mo­ment, notic­ing a tur­tle hov­er­ing around the con­tainer as he slid past. It was the first tur­tle he had seen at close quar­ters, though he was hardly in a mood to ap­pre­ci­ate it.

Gra­ham Cox

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