Collision resulted through yacht's 'recklessness'


The Marine Accident and Investigation Branch report published today highlights a collision between a ‘foolish and reckless’ Mini-Transat yacht skipper and a fishing boat:

‘It was twilight in the western approaches; the sea was rough and there was a force 5 wind. A 24m, 250 tonnes displacement steel beam trawler powered by a 500HP engine was working her home grounds. Her beams were down, she was fishing – displaying both day signals and lights – and was making about 4 knots. The mate, who was on watch, saw a blip on the radar and realised that it was a small yacht that he could see about 0.5 mile away. He anticipated that the yacht would pass under his vessel’s stern.

‘The 6.5m carbon fibre yacht displaced about 800kg. A high performance design, it was making over 10 knots upwind on port tack and under autopilot. The mast head tricolour navigation light was on, and a “rain-catcher” radar reflector was hoisted.

‘On board the yacht the racing skipper was trying to get some sleep. He was training for a major single-handed transatlantic race and, as a result, had been sleeping for variable periods of around 20 minutes per hour during the hours of darkness for the last 4 days. The yacht was fitted with a timing device specifically developed to allow single-handed sailors take short naps. The skipper saw the fishing vessel, and having assessed the situation as safe he went below, set the timer and deliberately went to sleep.

‘The trawler’s mate saw the yacht closing, but decided to act too late; hampered by his gear he was unable to avoid a collision. The trawler’s derrick struck the yacht as it passed very close by, destroying the mast, boom and sails, and causing serious damage to the deck and hull mouldings. Fortunately, the trawler’s derrick passed over the head of the sleeping yachtsman. The undamaged trawler stopped to provide assistance, and the lifeboat was called. The RNLI towed the yacht in to port; her race was over. Fortunately there were no injuries.

‘Lessons Learned:

1. The race for which the yacht was training has been described as “A legendary ocean race?spectacular, adventurous, extreme and dangerous”. The dangers to be faced in training, more than equalled anything that might be encountered during a single-handed ocean crossing.
2. Sailing alone, under autopilot in this busy area, in challenging weather conditions and at night was at best foolhardy, and the decision to sleep when a trawler was known to be fishing close-by could perhaps be considered somewhat reckless. When embarking on any single-handed voyage, consider all the risks, including the risks to those you encounter and those who may have to rescue you.’

The picture shows a yacht similar to the one involved in the collision.