Over the years, after lectures or seminars on offshore sailing that I have given, the most common question from the audience is “What was the scariest thing that every happened out there?” Truth be told, I am more concerned with ship encounters at sea, particularly at night, than gales or whales or shoals.
Once in the Chesapeake Bay at 2100 hours, we were almost run down by a tug pushing a barge that was unlit. We missed being run over by 30 yards. I radioed the tug when we were clear but the captain did not reply. Once in the Gulf of Suez at the top of the Red Sea we were almost run down at 0300 hours by a ship that illegally broke ranks from the southbound convoy of ships and accelerated outside of the shipping lanes where we were steaming north. It happened so fast and so unexpectedly that there was no time for radio contact. We turned hard to port and steamed toward the reefs that were a quarter mile away figuring that grounding would be better than being run down. The ship missed us by 50 yards and missed our buddy boat companion by 20 yards.
Once in broad daylight in the Bight of New York, a ship leaving the channel off Sandy Hook accelerated right towards us while off our port bow, which made the ship the burdened vessel in the encounter. I am a firm believer in the law of gross tonnage and was prepared to take evasive action but called the ship on the VHF anyway to ask the captain’s intentions. He came right back to say he would shift course to starboard and pass across our stern by half a mile. Yes, the right answer, so I thanked him very much.
And, two summers ago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on our way from Newport, RI, to England, a US Navy supply ship we’d seen on the horizon turned suddenly right towards us. It was not broadcasting AIS but with compass bearings we could tell it was on a collision course, and it was the burdened vessel. We radioed the warship with our concerns and after a long pause we got a reply that the ship would cross our bow by 500 yards. Well, it was more like 300 yards which in the middle of the oceans is way too close for me.
Have you had dangerous encounters with ships at sea? You can share your stories by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org