Collision with ship: how we survived

Damaged Pontus - with green paint from collision - back at East London
.. .
Australian Jessica Watson did it last year when she didn't check her horizon carefully, and South African Russell Furlong did it when his crew member made the same mistake last week. Watson survived by a miracle, as did the yacht Pontus off the coast of South Africa (see Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/Yacht-crew-shaken-after-collision-with-cargo-ship/76576!story).

As it is so unlikely for a yacht to survive a collision with a ship, doubt had been expressed in South Africa about the story. Furlong describes what happened.


It was undoubtedly a collision. The yacht Pontus still has the bulk carrier’s green paint on her.

I assume the ship’s anchor snagged the rigging of the sailing vessel on the port side and that caused the rig to collapse off the port side. I believe we were caught a glancing blow (fortunately so) on the stern by the vessel’s hull as no bow wave will shatter heavily constructed glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) and bend heavy stainless steel tubing making up the 'arch' over the stern.

Samples of the ship’s paint have been taken for forensic evidence – her bow wave certainly did not transfer the paint!
The rig had successfully stood up to 40 knot winds and rough seas on the Richards Bay to Durban leg of the trip and was of sound construction.

The damage on the hull was caused by the impact of the ship, the rig collapsed off the port side and was nowhere near the stern.

I have been delivering sailing vessels for many years, including in many high density shipping areas (Suez, etc) and am well aware of the dangers of shipping. This was stressed repeatedly to my crew, including looking for the 'one from behind!'

Yes, I was in the cabin. On deliveries, as you should know, people sit watches and the off watch gets some rest.
With regard to the concern of the rigging in the ship’s props, the report was correct. I was at the helm within split seconds of collision, there was a large amount of ship still to pass, it was not long gone!

The remains of the mast, the standing rigging, sheets and halyards, as well as the rollerfurling headsail, on its foil, were lying between our vessel and the ship. I was aware the yacht’s prop may have fouled – however it was important to drag the wreckage clear, the helm was put hard to starboard and the motor gunned at maximum revolutions!

Once the ship had cleared us, the yacht motor was placed in neutral and I went below to establish if we were taking on water. Fortunately for us Pontus is of extremely heavy GRP construction and is partitioned by watertight collision bulkheads fore and aft – this and the fact that we were glanced saved us.

No one got into the water. The remains of the rig was winched aboard by the crew.

The crew of Pontus were extremely lucky to survive the collision. Yachts normally do not survive such encounters and I am extremely grateful no one was injured during the incident.

Comments from the Old Salt:
Depending on where you are and the closing speed of any ships in the vicinity, all common sense sailors will advise 360 degree horizon checks every 8-12 minutes.

Not all vessels, especially fishing mother ships, are fitted with AIS equipment, and timber boats often do not show on a radar. Nothing replaces a visual check. There are commercial alarms which work very well. If you are not good at staying awake on watch, invest in an alarm, and remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.