'How I dodged a radar-as­sisted col­li­sion'

On the 46th day of a solo transat­lantic race from Ply­mouth to New­port, Rhode Is­land, a fa­tigued De­nis Gor­man falls vic­tim to a case of mis­taken iden­tity that nearly proves fa­tal

Yachting Monthly - - INSIDE THIS MONTH -

De­nis Gor­man falls vic­tim to a case of mis­taken iden­tity that nearly proves fa­tal

M y head and body craved sleep. I’d been nap­ping when­ever I dared; up and down ev­ery 20 min­utes or so, keep­ing a look­out, stay­ing pre­pared for what­ever might hap­pen. I couldn’t af­ford to re­lax. Af­ter mid­night, as we en­tered the 46th day of the Jester Chal­lenge 2010, the fog lifted. From hori­zon to hori­zon it was clear and at last, I had an un­in­ter­rupted view of the stars and heav­ens above. My 27ft Al­bin Vega

Lizzie G and I were un­der full sail and the wind vane was steer­ing us nicely.

The sea was calm with an oily swell and the gen­tle breeze was giv­ing two or three knots of speed, in the right di­rec­tion. I be­gan to un­wind men­tally. It seemed like the right time to catch up on some rest, so af­ter tak­ing a good look around, I set the alarm on the AIS and turned in. My eyes closed and straight away I fell into a deep, min­dand-body restor­ing sleep.

At 0200 hours I was awak­ened by the an­gry lit­tle ‘Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep’ of the AIS alarm. I got up, stiff and slow, lum­bered over to the con­trol panel and switched off the alarm. I put on my glasses and looked blearily at the screen. There was a ship at our four-mile perime­ter. I pressed the data but­ton. It usu­ally takes a few mo­ments for the in­for­ma­tion to come through, so I climbed into the cock­pit to have a look. No fog, it was still clear. To our left, com­ing from the south-west, I could see the ship’s nav lights clearly. She looked big. I looked around and an­other set of lights was on the hori­zon to my right. This was a much smaller ves­sel, per­haps a fish­er­man or even an­other yacht. ‘Maybe a Jester,’ I mused.

I re­turned be­low. The data had come through. The ship was Sea-land Racer, a 60,000-tonne cargo car­rier do­ing 19 knots, and she was slap bang on a col­li­sion course with us. I gave a hearty yawn and then got on the ra­dio. ‘ Sea-land Racer, Sea-land Racer, Sea-land Racer, this is sail­ing yacht

Lizzie G, Lizzie G, Lizzie G, over.’ Sea-land Racer replied. I went on, ‘I have you on AIS. We are on a col­li­sion course. I am di­rectly in front of you four miles out. I am lim­ited in my abil­ity to ma­noeu­vre. Can you please take avoid­ing ac­tion? Over.’ The re­ply was re­as­sur­ing: ‘Roger,

Lizzie G, we have you in sight and on radar and will pass you to port.’

‘Thank you Sea-land Racer. I shall stand by on chan­nel one-six. Lizzie G out.’ Lizzie and I had gone through this rou­tine many times be­fore. Or­di­nar­ily I would watch and wait un­til the ship had safely passed by, but I was dog-tired and des­per­ately needed to rest. Sea-land Racer had spo­ken to me, seen my lights, had me on radar and had agreed to al­ter course. The sit­u­a­tion was un­der con­trol. I set the egg timer to 15 min­utes and lay

on the bunk. I put my head onto the warm pil­low and draped the still­warm sleep­ing bag over me. It was so com­fort­able. My lit­tle oil lamp was cre­at­ing its warm, rest­ful glow and my eyes were heavy, so heavy. I be­gan my down­ward spi­ral to the land of rest and re­lax­ation, think­ing, ‘In 15 min­utes I’ll get up and re-set the AIS alarm. Sea-land Racer will be gone by then. I must get up in 15 min­utes…’

Then an­other thought flashed through my mind. What if it was not me on their radar screen? What if they were look­ing at the other ves­sel in­stead, the one to my right? Sea-land

Racer would still be rac­ing to­wards me right now! My eyes opened wide, I threw off the sleep­ing bag and scram­bled across to the AIS screen. There she was, less than a mile away, head­ing straight for us at 19 knots! I grabbed the mike, and this time all sem­blance of calm was gone.

‘ Sea-land Racer, Sea-land Racer, this is Lizzie G. I am un­der your bows. We are about to col­lide. I am 0.8 of a mile di­rectly in front of you. Please al­ter course hard to star­board. Hard to star­board!’

I threw the mike down, grabbed the ig­ni­tion keys and clam­bered into the cock­pit. There was no time to lift the servo blade. If it got wrecked from our pro­pel­ler wash then so be it. As I fum­bled with the key I looked to my left. There she was, square on, loom­ing large, with all three lights show­ing, red, white and green. I heard the ra­dio come­back.

‘Roger that, Lizzie G. We are al­ter­ing to star­board.’

I was too busy to re­ply. I put the ig­ni­tion key into the switch. ‘No time to pre-heat,’ I told my­self. ‘I don’t have fif­teen sec­onds to mess about with. Let’s just rev up and clear off as quickly as we can.’

I should have used the pre-heat. The en­gine re­fused to fire. It was too late any­way. I just stood there star­ing help­lessly as the great ship bore down on me. It was up to her now. The lif­er­aft was at my feet. I wrapped the trig­ger cord firmly around my hand and re­solved to hold tightly onto it, what­ever hap­pened. If by some mir­a­cle we missed the pro­pel­lers, there might still be a chance. Maybe.

I looked up again. I could see the red port light, but the green star­board light had dis­ap­peared. She was turn­ing but it was go­ing to be close, much too close. I could hear en­gines, smell the burn­ing oil, feel vi­bra­tions through the air and wa­ter and see the great white foam­ing wash break off her bow. She missed us but as she raced by, her turn­ing ac­tion was sweep­ing her stern to­wards us. The push of wa­ter from the side of the ship helped to fend us off. We pitched and tossed vi­o­lently as the wall of steel ca­reened past, black­ing out the hori­zon. As the stern quar­ter shot past we found our­selves, mirac­u­lously, in the wash of her mighty pro­pel­lers, rolling on a calm­ing slick, a sea of phos­pho­res­cence. Some­how Lizzie and I had sur­vived.

The ra­dio crack­led into life and

This was De­nis Gor­man’s route, with a stop in the Azores and the in­ci­dent de­scribed on day 46. The Jester Chal­lenge 2010 was a 3,000-mile rhumb line route from Ply­mouth to New­port RI. It was open to solo sailors over 18 years of age at the start,...

The Jester Chal­lenges are Corinthian events or­gan­ised by Ewen Southby-Tai­ly­our

De­nis Gor­man waves from the mast of his 27ft Al­bin Vega Lizzie G at the start off Ply­mouth of the Jester Chal­lenge 2010

As you can see from this sis­ter­ship to Sea-land Racer, she makes a ter­ri­fy­ing sight from the cock­pit of a small boat

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.