Monday, July 11, 2011

I learned about sailing from that: Close the front hatch!

Yesterday afternoon while we were sailing back from Bainbridge Island, in a lovely 12 kt close reach, I had to dodge a container ship.  Now that is not notable - we frequently have to take a bearing on these big ships and decide if we need to alter course.

What was unusual yesterday was that the ship (one of the Hanjin Chinese freighters) was really hauling a**...  she seemed to be making at least 20 kt, but I do not know for sure.  What I do know is that she was trailing a prodigious big wake.  In fact, it was the biggest wake I have ever seen on Puget Sound down by Seattle in going on 20 years of sailing here.

As this breaking monster began rolling toward us, I found myself constantly revising my estimate of how large it was, going from "No problem", to "That looks pretty big...", to "Uh oh...".  I sent Jane below to check our state of readiness for a big 'un.  While she was down there,  I revised my estimate once again, now to "Holy crap!".  I shouted for her to close the front hatch, but there wasn't time for her to get it done before we hit the wake. 

Of course I took it head on.  And it was a monster.  Estimates under such conditions are notoriously difficult to make - but if I had to come up with a number, I'd say that the wake wave was 10 feet high.  Our bow got submerged with green water running up to the cabin.  The water that the impact raised into the air was caught in the wind and flung right at the front hatch, which was still in the "Scoop Water" position.  There was a cacophony of crashing sounds from down below.

Bottom line?  No injuries, although that certainly was a real possibility.  No real damage - the worst was that our (dry) homemade pasta made good its escape and was all over the floor.  And everything in the forward cabin was drenched with seawater.

There was one other boat close enough for us to watch as it encountered the wake - we got to check the condition of his keel.  No barnacles.

Eolian is a large boat.  We escaped relatively unscathed, but I can easily imagine injuries on a smaller vessel - and there were a lot of them out on the Sound on such a nice day.  Don't these guys have a speed limit?  Aren't they supposed to have a pilot on board?  Are they immune from the "You are responsible for the damage your wake does" clause?


  • Even on a nice sailing day, a container ship can create "Victory at Sea" conditions.
  • Close and latch the front hatch when you are off shore!
  • Beware the escape of the homemade pasta
  • Regardless of whether the other guy accepts responsibility for his wake, you are responsible for your boat.  Be ready for his wake.

Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound at gmail dot com)



chuck said...

No kidding, just a week ago I set out for an afternoon sail, We had both head sails up and the main closed hauled ( cutter rigged ) when BAM 8 knots from the North turned to 25 from the Northwest. It put us on the rail in minutes, No problem!! Except just before leaving I had opened 2 small port holes to air out the front cabin. Salt water poured all over our bookcase and collection of cruising books. New Rule: All hatches and portholes will be closed and locked when sailing. I also read ILAFFT.

chuck and jackie on Aria

Drew Frye said...

I'm not going to say we will ever close all hatches--it's too hot--but I do have a story.

We were sailing off a Virginia 100 miles south of Ocean City, after the passage of a huricane. The swell was runing large, but it was long period and it was a delightful day. We passed over a sandbar about 20 feet deep at the same time a 1-in-100 wave passed and it broke all over us. How big? Don't know, but I was looking up. How much water? About 50 gallons in a few seconds. I was at the helm and was at wet as if I had been swimming. I did have time to turn into it and the boat rode it fine. The only damage was to a blood sugar monitor, which turned out to be quite important.

We are a bit more circumspect about open hatches now. And we carry a spare monitor.

Stick to VERY deep water when there is a swell.

bob said...

Chuck - ILAFFT ?

Drew - I think the blood sugar monitor is way more important than our pasta (which has now been consumed, BTW).


Anonymous said...

I encountered the same wake on Sunday from what sounds like the same container ship when it passed Shilsole Marina. We surfed the wake in rather than taking it head on but it was gigantic. I am sure it destroyed the poor stand up paddle boarders near golden gardens.

Anonymous said...

The hatch was in the "scoop water" position! I love it.

Jack Stub said...

I have frequently encountered wakes that are not only challenging, but annoying. If one reports the vessel to the Coast Guard, does anything get done? Doubtful, but the captain should be held accountable.

bob said...

This wake was well beyond "annoying" and into "dangerous". The ship was under observation by the VTS and I'm certain she had a pilot aboard. Tho the captain is ultimately responsible for the damage his ship's wake causes, the pilot and to a lesser extent VTS would also share liability, I would think.

No, I did not report the incident to the Coast Guard.


Anonymous said...

I had one from that fleet hit me with a similar but slightly smaller wake two years ago between Port Madison and Shilshole. My 21 footer got bounced around pretty good and nothing was left in place in the cabin. And that reminds me that I need to put the latch and a gasket on the hatch before vacation.

Anonymous said...

North bound returning to Shilshole from Quartermaster we were hugging the east side of Murry Island. Heading toward Point Robinson we saw the approaching dreadnought. She was showing her bow bulb and was setting high in the water. Her wake was visible for several miles. As we prepared for the eventual duck and bob exercise we watched as she barreled down on us. Our vessel is no lightweight at fifty two thousand pounds and we assumed the correct angle of attack for the resultant wave. Wow that looks a bit large. Once we closed on it we could see we were going to be in for a new experience. We hit the wave and hell broke loose. Anchors that had been secure and tied in place tore loose. Gear on deck was tossed into the air doing a lazy somersault like in slow motion. My wife had gone below to secure anything we may have overlooked when securing for the trip. I hit the wave and the boat went almost vertical. So much so that much of the anchor chain decided to redecorate the V berth area as it smashed it way free from it's locker. Things below went wild and for a moment the boats interior contents decided to swap places. After we passed through the way the bow appeared as in a movie. We had submarined through the water after the vertical tilt reversed.
I was on the radio to the Coast Guard to report this incident and was asked to switch to channel 22. Given a phone number to call I thought I was about to get satisfaction. While I was in this process many other boaters in the area informed me the tanker was doing twenty three Knts. The officer on duty then came on the line. Evidently they have no speed restrictions while in the designated channel. As for being responsible for the damage their wake causes I was told again by the Coast Guard good luck going after a major shipping corporation. Oh and to add insult to injury the name of the vessel
"Evergreen Safty"

Captain Curmudgeon said...

Anonymous said...

Sailors have 360' vision and realize sailing on Puget Sound is more complicated than sailing their rubber duckie in the tub. Dangerous individuals have neither, who endanger all other boaters as well as anyone unfortunate to be stuck with them.

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