Last week at 3 am about 15 miles offshore
I was hard on the wind
, starboard tack, when I spotted something far away on the horizon. It was a glow of white light on the horizon, so I assumed it was a big commercial fishing
boat of some kind.
It didn't take long to realize the bearing of the glow had not changed by the time it was a mass of white lights, still on the horizon. Even though I was under sail and on starboard, I assumed the vessel was fishing
, and altered off the wind
a little, for what was now clearly a shrimper.
The next bearing was the same, he had altered also, in the same direction. I altered again, even more, off the wind. Neither of these changes resulted in more speed (which can cancel out the greater angle) and yet after a couple more minutes, the bearing remained unchanged.
I altered again, after a time the bearing remained the same. I get no response on the VHF
, trying several times since the first turn.
Finally, when he is steaming down on me, I crank the engine
and turn her around, and he steams by.
I was showing a masthead tri-color, so the 8' swells were not a factor in my visibility. I was a bit confused, as his course alterations made no sense whatsoever.
Only after a review of my track did I realize that his course clearly followed the bottom contour. I assume he set waypoints to follow the preferred depth
, and set the autopilot
. I am pretty sure they never knew I was there.
I have been told many times by the commercial
guys that some of them feel that we are on our own out there. They assume they have the right of way because they are fishing, and are likely to suffer no damage in a collision with a recreation vessel. As there is no shipping
at those depths, they have no fear of an even bigger vessel. With no fear, they can set the autopilot, and go out on deck and work.
I was lucky that when I finally cranked the engine
and chose to turn around, the bottom and the shrimper didn't automatically make a waypoint turn to port, or I would have been fish food
I did everything right from beyond the horizon, and yet I still was only saved by pure luck.
I was only that near shore because I was passing the cape, and shallow depths extend way offshore
I am at a loss for a way to deal with the the seemingly random, erratic course behavior made possible by new technologies. How can we miss a ship whose behavior is nearly impossible to predict at the time?
With the current
level of automation available, only the COLREGS will require a watch on the bridge, as the ship itself no longer does. I always was taught to assume no vessel sees you, and act accordingly. Nowadays, that may be an assumption that's right much of the time.