by Des Ryan
None of us wants to experience losing a keel and having to be rescued from our overturned boat in the middle of an ocean. While cruising yachts are very unlikely to lose a keel, a recent report suggested that hulls be painted red to make them easier to find by rescuers, so why not? Here's why not...
Would they have been easier to see with a brightly coloured hull?
We printed a story in December following Ireland's MCIP (Marine Casualty Investigation Board) findings about the capsize and rescue of the Fastnet Yacht Rambler 100 in 2011 (See Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/index.cfm?SEID=2&Nid=104543&SRCID=0&ntid=0&tickeruid=0&tickerCID=0!story). Among the recommendations was that the yacht would have been easier to find if the hull had been painted a bright colour, like red. Now, thanks to reader Alex Blackwell, we have learned of some contrary news about potential results of painting your hull red.
An unauthored cruising tale published on Coastal_Boating www.coastalboating.net tells this story:
We are half way across the Atlantic doing the trade wind run from the Canaries to Barbados. In front and behind us are about thirty other boats doing pretty much the same thing: whiling the days away adjusting their course and sail plan to the current wind conditions. When not on watch, the people on board are sleeping, eating and doing lots of reading. During daylight hours most boats also troll in the hopes of stocking up the larder with some delicious tuna or Mahi Mahi.
Then, twice a day we all tune in our SSB for a chat, fish stories and a position and weather status update. Dubbed the 'Madlantic Net' by the originators who had sailed in company for several prior months and the NARC (=Not ARC as we were setting out ‘just’ after the ARC departure) by other members of the scattered group of sailors; nets like this are important for safety and peace of mind.
One day on the morning net a boat in our loosely organised fleet reported that they had been watching a pod of 'false killer whales' swim alongside their vessel when one of the whales turned and ran directly at them, crashing into their keel! It then swam back around and did it again as our friend and his wife watched in sheer horror.
Fearing that the whale might hit their rudder, they ran through their boat trying to eliminate any squeaks or other possibly offensive noises. After a few more loud shuddering thumps, the whale finally relented and was seen swimming away with its friends.
'What color is your bottom paint?' someone inquires on the next SSB net session. 'It’s red,' he replies, 'and as a matter of fact, we just had the coat put on over our standard blue before we left.'
Scientists agree. According to Dr. Jeffery Fasick, assistant professor of biological sciences at Kean University in New Jersey who has researched marine mammal eyes, 'Whales (are only) sensitive to green light, so they see in black and white in light and dark. They have one 'cone' and one 'rod', both of which are sensitive to light in the blue/green range of the color spectrum. They match their cones and rods to the color of the water. To them, everything is bright.
'This means that anything that looks blue or green to the human eye is invisible in the water to whales. The one color that whales can see as a dark shape in their bright, watery environment is red. Copepods, the main food source for right whales, are red, allowing whales to see a group of them as a dark mass.
'Sight is the best way to get the most information in a short period of time,' continued Fasick. 'Their eyes bulge out to focus on the mouth to see copepods go in.'
So maybe next time we have our hull painted we'll try for a bright yellow.