The danger of fishing boats to yachts was underlined this week when a cruising yacht was dismasted and holed in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles west of Cape Verde by a collision with a fishing boat.
It took a five day operation by the Falmouth Coastguard to rescue the sailing yacht, the German-registered 10-metre Sparrow, after she collided with the fishing vessel. Falmouth also obtained assistance from two ships, the AS Venetia and the container vessel Loa during the operation.
At 1.00 o’clock on the morning of 4th December Falmouth Coastguard was alerted via satellite phone by the yacht Ahead to the plight of the German registered 10 metre yacht Sparrow that she had been dismasted and holed after being involved in a collision with a large fishing vessel.
Working with RCC Bremen, the watch at Falmouth identified emergency contact details and contacted MRCC Dakar in Senegal as it began the co-ordination of the rescue effort. Initial action by Falmouth Coastguard was a satellite broadcast to shipping in the area of the incident that may be in a position to assist. The bulk carrier AS Venetia responded and proceeded to the Sparrow.
Arriving on-scene the AS Venetia relayed communications between Falmouth Coastguard and the Sparrow and established the condition of the crew and the severity of the damage. The two crew on board the yacht, both German nationals, were uninjured and despite being dismasted and holed, thankfully above the waterline, decided to continue under engine power to return to Cape Verde. The AS Venetia provided them with additional diesel for the journey. By this time Falmouth Coastguard had established direct communications with the Sparrow via email.
However, on the morning of 5th December the Sparrow reported to Falmouth that the skipper had fallen ill while the yacht was 320 nautical miles from Cape Verde, still more than three days passage.
Loa-also gave medical assistance - photo by Michael Schindler - .. .
Falmouth Coastguard relayed medical advice from a doctor at Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Portsmouth to the yacht who reported they had limited medication. Falmouth Coastguard contacted the container vessel Loa who proceeded to the Sparrow and provided the crew with additional medical supplies.
Falmouth Coastguard maintained communications with the Sparrow until it arrived safely at Cape Verde just after midnight this morning.
This incident, while critical for the crew of the Sparrow, is typical of the work carried out by Falmouth Coastguard using satellite technology and building upon the international relationships they have built up over many years.
Fishing boats are potentially the most dangerous of all craft for yachts, because they are often not detectable by radar (timber construction), by AIS (by not carrying them) and they are often observed by cruising sailors not to keep a good watch.
What lessons can we cruising sailors deduce from the above story? You may have your own answers, but here are three from Sail-World:
1. The only 100% reliable way to avoid collisions is by a visual watch
2. Sailors embarking on a long voyage should take very seriously the compilation of the first aid kit
3. Keeping an emergency antenna on board at all times will allow a dismasted yacht to jury-rig the replacement antenna so that radio connection can be restored