Thursday, March 22, 2012

Close Encounters of the Cargo Ship Kind

Here we are on our third morning at sea, having survived our second exciting night on the ocean blue. It is no coincidence in my mind that Chris and I had just read the chapter on "Preventing Collisions" in Earl Hinz's "Landafalls of Paradise" when we spied a large cargo ship about 8 miles to port. Hinz cites that we may think we are roaming unfettered on these vast oceans but there are hazards out here too and it is not surprising that boats are reported missing each year. We have to be aware of and cautious when crossing the shipping lanes of major trade routes. It so happened that we were in the direct path of ships coming from the Panama Canal to the Orient or heading north to the USA.

The sun had not yet set so I was pleased that we saw our nemesis or MV Antipolis in the daylight. We quickly switched on the radar and watched it's track. The fickle wind from the southwest was merely 3-4 knots and Ladybug was making little progress at 3.5K average while the mammoth motor vessel was cutting through the water at 20 Knots plus. Not having had a working radar over the last 3 years in Mexico, it is still a new gadget to us and we took out the manual to verify bearings and distances. We altered course to port, so it could pass in front of us at a safe distance.

The ship's angle did not seem to be changing and it was closing in on us fairly rapidly and I was growing anxious. Despite Hinz's note that not many ships monitor their radar or keep reliable watch when far from land, I was hopeful that they had seen us too. To allay my fear, despite Chris's advice, I called "oil tanker, oil tanker at position x, this is the sailing vessel Ladybug at position y " on VHF 16. After a second call and a long delay, I heard a heavily accented voice returning my hail. I asked if they had seen us on radar and he confirmed that they had picked us up at 10 miles and altered their course to port. I thanked them and found out they were heading for Los Angeles. He asked me about our destination and chuckled when I said "The Marquesas, eventually" and we ended on "Bon Voyage". As we looked at Antipolis back-lit by the setting sun, they blew their horn in adieu.

Phew!, I thought, we must have seen our fair share of shipping for this night. Not so. On my watch at 0250 local time, I saw a triangle of lights off our port beam. Through binoculars, I could see a red port light and maybe a green starboard light which meant he was coming straight for us. Our speed was only 3.5K and he seemed very close. On radar he was at 9 miles and a huge target. I did not hesitate in waking up Chris as the last ship only took about 20 minutes to get within a mile of us. We watched and tried to convince ourselves that the angle was changing but his relative bearing on the radar remained the same. I tried hailing on VHF 16 but there was no response. We had no idea if he had seen us on his radar. Should we alter our course or had he already made his move? When he was 2 miles away, we decided to take action. We rolled in the jib and turned on the motor to steer due south. After 10 minutes when we were 3 miles apart, we put up the sails again and watched his track as we headed on the same course but well ahead, no doubt to Japan or China.

So, all that made me wonder how many close calls did Chris have when he fell asleep every night on his solo passage to Hawaii and then Canada. I am glad I did not know of this at the time, otherwise I would have been a nervous wreck!

Our 24 hour position at 1400 Zulu (0730 local )today was North 21 deg 11 mins, West 111 deg 44 mins with 98 miles made good in the last 24 hours. During our second day at sea, the wind was light and variable from northwest to west. We had decent night sailing as it changed to 6-7 Knots from the west. This morning it's frustratingly light again. We tried to fly the spinnaker but the slow 6 foot nw swell prevented it from setting properly, so we are running the iron jenny (engine) for a few hours.

The Pacific Ocean seems justly named.

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