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Even the Coast Guard can have a bad day

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #114
May/June 2001
Reading Coast Guard Capt. B.J. O'Keefe's letter about trusting yachtsmen getting too close to large ships ("Yachtsmen too trusting when ships get close" March/April 2001, Issue No. 112) brings to mind an incident that happened to me in the middle of Long Island Sound some 25 years ago or so.

My wife and I were out for a pleasant afternoon sail on our 23-foot sloop sailing across the sound in a southerly direction. In the middle of Long Island Sound we encountered the Coast Guard buoytender, Red Wood (I think it was), steaming down the Sound in a westerly direction. I didn't pay much attention; the cutter was several miles away, there weren't any other vessels around, it was a beautiful, clear afternoon with a great sailing breeze and we were having fun.

Suddenly I noticed that we were very close and on a collision course. Quickly I came about and sailed down the starboard side of the cutter, perhaps 150 yards off. As I sailed past the bridge, somebody came out on the wing and looked down at me, but didn't even wave. After we had 'safely' passed without incident, I came about again and we continued our afternoon sail - shaken up and a lot wiser.

So much for Coast Guard Cutters keeping a watch as Rules 5 and 7 require and following Rule 18 la - requiring a motor driven vessel to keep out of the way of a sailing vessel.

Ever since that time I have kept a close watch on other vessels and used a hand-bearing compass to determine if I was on a collision course. And I always assume that the other vessel, big or small, sail or power, does not see me. It has paid off on more than one occasion.

Finally, my advice is that no voyaging vessel should ever be without a hand-bearing compass at hand for collision avoidance! I have two: one at each steering station on my trawler.

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