Read your responses to the Ouzo tragedy here
Ouzo Disaster – Lessons Learned
The official report on the sinking of the Ouzo, available on-line by clicking here , is an absorbing read. For yachtsmen, there are two particular lessons to learn. One: commercial ships rely almost entirely on their radars to identify “threats”. With limited manpower available on duty, and because their size causes blind spots, they cannot continually monitor visually all-round at all ranges. Two, in unexceptional conditions, Ouzo’s radar signature was negligible, and QinetiQ’s investigations showed that the standard octahedral reflector is ineffective.
Commercial vessels may therefore be unaware of small craft until it is too late, and improving yachts’ radar signatures and awareness of them should be addressed urgently. Larger yachts may have adequate radar cross-sections without them, but the rest need effective radar reflectors. Evaluating radar signatures is not difficult, and values should be included as a matter of course in new yachts’ particulars, and data gathered for older yachts. How the latter would be financed is another question – unless insurers made it mandatory – but in time it could be made an essential part of any sale.
Although YM has reviewed radar reflectors fairly recently, an update would be timely, and further discussion on these issues would surely be welcomed by your readers.
Lessons from Ouzo Sinking
The MAIB Report recommendations to yachtsman miss a number of key points and, surprisingly, the RYA Training Manager’s response on their website (‘Lessons for Yachtsman’) is a rant at big ships, totally missing the chance to list the many things yachtsmen can do to reduce risk and get the regulations changed to allow more visible low power lighting.
Here are some simple suggestions:
1) As Tom Cunliffe suggested in Yachting Monthly earlier this year, deck navigation lights are far more visible and easier for ships’ lookouts to see AND to identify their proximity. If in doubt put them on. Also, shine a light on your sails and at the bridge of the ship. On night watch carry a handheld VHF and compass and have a position available (by handheld or fixed GPS) in the cockpit so you can call a ship singlehanded without leaving the helm, giving him your position. Do it early if in doubt and always if a ship appears to be turning onto a collision course, even if you think it might be seeking to avoid you. Many accidents happen when both vessels turn the same way.
2) A number of skippers (and RYA Instructors) I have sailed with see using the VHF radio as a sign of panic and un-seamanlike. It’s true that if the Officer of the Watch is caught out by your call, he may be searching the night or the radar screen waiting for the sweep to come round to your bearing, rather than putting the helm hard over. Giving him a back bearing ensures he can at least look in the right direction quickly.
3) If you have the option, tack away early to make your course clear to the ship, (if they have seen you) and increase the separation, (in case they have not.)
Ouzo was going to have to tack some time, so why not do it early, particularly if the ship is approaching from the leeward side, as tacking is a slow two-man manoeuvre.
4) Always clip on, even in the cockpit at night.
5) Always sail with washboards in and locked down with a lanyard. Since no wreckage has been found, it would seem Ouzo was swamped, likely pooped while turning away to avoid a collision.
6) Most of the MAIB’s recommendations are expensive and drain the battery. An AIS receiver is relatively cheap and a very low battery drain. It would have told the Ouzo crew what the Pride of Bilbao was doing.
7) RYA Teaching on collision bearings: Having sailed the Atlantic twice and had numerous encounters with shipping over the years, I suspect that the Ouzo watch had believed that Pride of B was going to pass clear ahead by watching her bearing changing. However, even when she started to alter course the bearing would have continued to increase despite them being on a converging course. This is only situation I have encountered when a changing bearing does not confirm you are safe. Yachtmaster courses need to add the extra safety measure to watch the ship’s two masthead lights etc to ensure the vessel is not changing course before assuming that a changing bearing means a ship will pass clear.
1) The improved visibility of low wattage flashing LEDs as used by cyclists is legendary. They may not be legal but they are now the norm.
The situation is slightly more difficult at sea as other things flash but not at such a high frequency, so a flashing masthead would soon become instantly recognisable as a sailing vessel just as, on land, we all now know flashing red is a cyclist.
This is a chance to get flashing LEDs adopted for mastheads (and indeed all deck nav lights) and the regulations changed.
2) The ship was changing course imperceptibly. Is this not a case where it should use the appropriate sound signal, (even if it would disturb the passengers.) Night time is when others need to know. Should not the International Maritime Organisation consider making them mandatory, where ever a ship is and whatever other vessels it is aware of.
Loss of OUZO
A major element in the disaster was not discussed in your June article, this was the decision of the crew to start their passage by going south of the Isle of Wight. At the time they departed the tide in the Eastern Solent was just turning to the west. Had they chosen to sail down the Solent and out through the needles channel they would have taken advantage of the strong spring tides. In the 5 hours up to the time of the collision they would have covered approx 36 miles(25 sailing 11 tide) and been at 1deg50 west which is 18 miles further west than the position that the collision occurred. This would have enabled them to catch the next west going tide past Portland Bill. By going south of the Island it would take another two west going tides to get past the Bill.
I believe that one of the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy is that it could have been avoided by taking the Solent route, which I have taken myself on a number of occasions.