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Ship hits unsuspecting sailboats

Aug 31, 2016
The tanker Chem Venus aground near one of the moored boats in Portsmouth, N.H.

The tanker Chem Venus aground near one of the moored boats in Portsmouth, N.H.

Glenn Kisch

When we hear about sailboat/ship collisions, we probably think of an accident offshore with both vessels underway. A recent incident, however, involved a ship and three sailboats sitting on their moorings. One sailboat was de-masted and two others were damaged after a tanker left the shipping channel and ran onto a mooring field near Portsmouth, N.H. 

The 477-foot tanker Chem Venus was bound downstream in the Piscataqua River when its bow struck Goat Island Ledge at about 1550 on June 29. As the tanker backed off the ledge, its anchor line caught several sailboats moored at Kittery Point Yacht Club. 

Marcia Brown, commodore of the 180-member club located on Goat Island, said Chem Venus hit at least three sailboats. The tanker then dragged them about 200 feet as it backed off the ledge. 

“One was totaled,” Brown said in a phone interview, adding that the ship’s anchor line caught its winch, wiping out the boom and mast. 

“I know at least one, the one that lost its mast and boom, has spider cracks throughout the hull because it was dragged quite a ways,” she continued. “I am not sure if the other two are totaled as well. I have not spoken to the owners of those vessels yet.”

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident but has not determined the cause, said Lt. David Bourbeau. 

On the day of the incident, Chem Venus left the River Road Terminal on the Piscataqua River with a load of used vegetable oil and other chemicals. It sailed south on the Piscataqua with an escort from two tugboats. 

The ship left the channel while making a dogleg turn between Peirce Island and Seavey’s Island, home of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Video of the incident taken by a jogger suggests the ship failed to negotiate the turn, although it’s not clear why. The ledge bore a 3-by-10-foot gash in Chem Venus’ hull but did not cause pollution or injury. 

The yacht club has four moorings in the field where the accident occurred, and three were inspected and reset at their proper GPS location, Brown said. 

Despite the damage to the three member vessels, the accident could have been worse. Had the ship not struck the ledge and come to a stop, Brown said its momentum likely would have carried it into the yacht club’s dock. 

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