Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lessons Learned: A Turn for the Worse—Part 2

A routine passage turns tragic.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Carolyn Steele.

Pre-collision: Aboard the Yacht

On Sept. 19, 2006, the Essence, a 92-foot sailboat, was anchored in Newport, R.I., preparing to depart for Greenwich, Conn., on a southwesterly course. There were three people aboard: a captain, a mate, and a cook.

Earlier in the day, the mate had been ill with flu-like symptoms and had gone to Newport Hospital, where he was prescribed an antibiotic and a decongestant. He was asleep when the vessel departed Newport at 6 p.m.; the captain was at the helm. The yacht was equipped with two VHF radios, two radar units, a chart plotter, and a GPS unit.

When the vessel departed Newport, one VHF radio was on monitoring channel 16. The other unit, the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid was off; there was no radar reflector set. The vessel was motor sailing; both engines were engaged and the mainsail was set. All lights were working properly.

At 2 a.m., on September 20th, the mate began his watch, and the captain went below to the main salon on the port side to get some sleep. Shortly afterward, the mate noted a vessel ahead, which he believed was about 10 miles away. As he approached, he saw a ship’s green light and two white lights; his first impression was that the ship was on a path to cross his bow from port to starboard. He had visual contact; he did not use the yacht’s radar to track the cargo ship’s movements.

An approaching vessel
At 4:04 a.m., the mate called to the larger vessel on VHF. The pilot on the cargo ship acknowledged him after his second call, and the mate told the pilot that the cargo ship’s port light was out. The mate on the yacht believed he was looking at the bow of the cargo ship, and adjusted his course slightly—approximately 10 degrees to starboard—to show the ship his port side, and to make what he believed would be a port-to-port passage.

The pilot on the larger vessel then called over the radio and asked if the yacht was going to stay clear. After assuring the cargo ship’s pilot that he would do so, the mate made an abrupt 70 to 90 degree turn to starboard without changing speed. Less than 30 seconds later, the two vessels collided.

The captain of the yacht was awakened by the explosive sound of the cargo ship’s bow breaking though the hull of the yacht. The smaller craft was now pinned to the bulbous bow of the cargo ship. The yacht’s captain ran to the pilothouse, where he discovered both other crewmembers awake and uninjured.

All three donned life jackets, but because of the impact site and the collapsed mast and rigging, they could not reach the life raft. The yacht had been towing astern a small 14-foot rigid hull inflatable tender, but the tender’s line had looped so tightly beneath the yacht’s hull that it could not be removed. The captain told the mate to swim over to the tender and use it as a rescue boat. Once aboard the tender, the mate found that he could not start the engine.

In part 3 we will present the results of the collision.

For more information:
Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2010.

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.