Ships v yachts
Nothing will ever bring back James Meaby,Rupert Saunders and Jason Downer, the three yachtsmen who died when Ouzo, their Sailfish 25, sank behind the Isle of Wight one August night 16 months ago. She disappeared without trace leaving only her dinghy back in Bembridge as a poignant reminder that once she did exist. One day Ouzo may be snagged by a fisherman’s net and brought to the surface possibly giving us a few more clues as to what happened. But it is more likely that we will never know.
That said I am relieved P&O ferry officer Michael Hubble has been cleared of the trio’s manslaughter. The jury have made a sensible decision. For even if it was the Pride of Bilbao which sent the yacht to the bottom – and that is debatable – these ferry companies are, in my experience, run by responsible seamen who take pride in their professionalism. These are not men who leave their ships on automatic while watching the omnibus version of 24; or speed drinking Duty Free gin; or playing stud poker in the main saloon. Even so a small yacht is a dashed hard thing to see at night especially when she’s over on her ear, punching into a rising westerly wind (gusting Force 6) which is being rubbed up the wrong way by a Channel ebb coming onto springs.A 37,000 tonne ferry, on the other hand, is difficult to not see and the viz was a mile plus. Maybe the yachtsmen thought the converging ferry would pass safely ahead and by the time the ferry was hidden, down to leeward by the sails, – Ouzo was, according to the MAIB report, on the starboard tack – they did not notice she would not. We will never know. But yachtsmen should be in no doubt: they should simply get out of the way of ships whether they have right of way (Ouzo as a sailing boat, did in this instance)or not.
To put in a tack and let the ship pass would have been the safest course of action.