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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Close encounter

We are south of the main shipping channel around southern Africa but in the direct path of ships sailing between Asia and South America. Last night we received AIS data from a Santos bound cargo ship that shall remain nameless but who appeared to be heading straight for us at a range of about 15 miles. No luck calling on channel 16 - perhaps out of range in those seas. So I sent him a direct call on the DSC system (it's a bit like a mobile phone system between ships) and received an automatic acknowledgement but no VHF call on the designated channel as protocol requires. I tried calling him, no response so made a couple more DSC attempts but this time with no acknowledgement - instant thought bugger, he's switched it off because the noise was annoying him.

Tried again at about 8 miles on ch 16 and - phew! - he answered. Gave him our position, told him restricted in ability to manoeuvre and he said he could see our port nav light. I told him to pass whichever side was easiest for him. The AIS was giving closest point of approach of about 20 metres and he did not appear to alter course, 10 minutes to go. Pete went into the cockpit in party gear with our powerful lantern and I got the engine ready to start. Still no alteration, called him again and said he appeared to be heading straight for us. OK, he said, I can see you...We started the engine at about a mile and got out of there. I looked at the plot later and I think he would have missed us by about 300 metres - fine in calm waters and good visibility and ok for him last night with radar and other gizmology, but very scary for us in the conditions - it's really difficult to get the perspective right at night and when you can only see eachother when you are on top of a wave and have anyway very little steerage way, almost impossible to judge with that degree of accuracy. And a 250 metre long ship is a non-trivial object.

The wind has abated to a mere 25 knots and the seas have subsided a bit. We are right over the edge of the shelf and heading SE under reefed main and full headsail being set norh still by the current. I would really really like to be clear of this bit of ocean - easy to see why the early Portuguese sailors hated it too.

Latest Position

Posted by I & G in the UK.

This morning's mid con quickie

Position 0630 29th 3633 02406 trip 66 DMG 42
Depressing night. I think the most ornery bit of ocean I've ever been in - sea utterly confused, big, maybe 4 metre wind waves over big SW swells breaking from all sides, current setting north - north!- it even confused the instruments to the extent that the only way to set the boat up was the old primitive wind on the cheek. It still works!

Scary tho ultimately safe near meeting with big cargo ship during the night. More later.

'orrible and hindifferent...

Steves x 2, thanks for msgs. Last time we saw Leopard was off Lands End on her way to Plymouth and line honours in the Fastnet. At that stage she was about 240 miles ahead of us and we had about 280 to go. Sigh!

Two weary old geezers out here. Blowing 35+ and big waves but nowhere near as savage as the last one. We are in deeper water for a start and the wind has been steady rather that blasting through in 50 knot squalls. Having said which, massive wave just hit and broke over starboard side. I think we both wish we did not still have nearly 6000 miles to go. It's been pretty relentless. Even the Cape Town stop was full on and no real break. Time for the old fart's dither - why is the floor moving? Sailing? Are we really sailing? - how interesting! - now where did I put my glasses and my cup of tea...

Almost as soon as I had written that paragraph - imaginary glasses and cup of tea dashed from my quivering old hand by - yep - a 50 knot rain squall. Had to leg it outside and roll in all but last couple of feet of headsail - I wish I could find the words to write about the power and the sheer bloody indifference of these conditions - predominant SW swell - big but not huge, great planes of grey breaking water, dull reflection of cloud covered moonlight, Berri, all seven tons or so of her, just tossed around as if she were weightless, water often knee deep across the decks and filling the cockpit. And the noise - wind roaring and howling in the rig, water crashing and thumping against the hull and with a sustained deep rasp like a truck tipping gravel, boring across the decks. And this is just a little one - hardly even a severe gale and no way a storm. The severity of it all is the Agulhas effect - cold wind against warm current shortening, steepening and hollowing the wind waves superimposed on the swell over a steeply shelving sea bottom. I really think I'd rather be somewhere else - anyone for Scylla? Can I tempt you to a little whirl with Charybdis perhaps? Roll up! Roll up!

I think I have written about this before - the anticipation, the waiting, the curdling knowledge that it really can happen to us after our 2 rolls, the rather corrosive anxiety that goes with it all gets worse the more you do, the more experience you have. Well, it does for me anyway.

We are thinking hard about Kerguelen. The decision will evolve, but it's still a bit too early to write it off - after all, we nearly got there last time.

Just had a near miss with a cargo ship. AIS saved the day - more tomoz.

Thanks for all your messages and imagingesIz. Keep em coming please.