Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Atlantic Crossing Day 14 - Rules of the road

"Never argue over right of way"
- Thomas C. Forbes, teaching me to drive.

The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea (COLREGS) apply to all the oceans and bodies of water connected to them. All maritime nations recognize and enforce these regulations. Rule 15 in part states "When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the one which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way..." Rule 18 section a(iv) states "A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a sailing vessel. Rule 18 provides clear right of way for sailboat unless the motor vessel is constrained in her ability to maneuver (rules 9 and 10) or the sailboat is overtaking the motor vessel (Rule 13).

Last night I spotted a large freighter off of our starboard quarter. I got out the binoculars and determined it was headed in the same general direction as Solstice. Two minutes later the freighter was hailing us. I answered back identifying us as the Sailing Vessel Solstice. The watch person on the freighter then asked me my intentions. I stated that as a sailing vessel under sail that we would maintain our current course and speed. The watch person then asked if it was our intention to pass port to port. To do this would require me to turn to starboard. I then told the watch person to standby and I begin active tracking the freighter on radar. The tracking calculator kicked in and told me that we were going to pass within 150 yards in 5 minutes. So rather that explain the COLREGS and get in a pissing match with 100 meters of steel moving at 22 knots, I replied that we would turn to starboard. The freighter answered back that they too would turn to starboard and thanked me for my cooperation. We missed by miles and then we returned to our course.

Not all encounters with large vessels in the open ocean are like that. Most often there is no conversation at all. We simply pass each other at a safe distance. Once Shirlee hailed a freighter as they were overtaking us. The freighter changed course. Off of Cape Canaveral a tug towing a very large barge hailed us and asked if it was our preference that he change course to starboard and pass our stern rather than 1/4 of a mile off of our bow. We gratefully accepted his offer. We missed by miles and the tug resumed it's previous course. In yet another instance south of Isla Providencia, a freighter hailed us, and when we identified ourselves as a sailing vessel, a second freighter got on the radio and reminded the first that as a sailing vessel we had right-of-way.

Today has been a good sailing day: 12 to 18 knots from the NE and we're keeping the speed above the five knot average.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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