Dodging through fishing fleets

Phil May and Andrea Twigg
Fri 21 Oct 2011 23:45
35:08.9N 6:52.2W
We had a good wind for the Gibraltar Straits, with the Parasailor up and hitting 16 knots on the surf.  We have an AIS transmitter which meant that we could safely follow the main shipping lane and all the cargo ships knew how to avoid us well in advance.  The only slightly challenging bit was exiting the straits, where we had to cut down from the exit of the East-West lane across the entrance to the West-East lane.  We still had our spinnaker up and so we needed to cross at a narrow angle which meant approaching the ships fairly head on.  We were called up on the radio by one 1000 foot container ship approaching us at 20 knots who asked what our intention was, but I explained that we didn't want to change course and he was OK to steer around us.  The AIS gave him our name, speed and direction so he knew exactly how to contact us, and exactly how to avoid us once he knew we would not be changing direction.
We had to take the Parasailor down in a bit of a hurry when we saw some people on a small fishing boat waving frantically and realized that they had deployed a huge net that we were about to run in to.  The net must have been a mile long, held up at intervals by buoys.  We had to turn through a right angle, which collapsed the spinnaker and left it flogging in the side-wind.  We then dumped it unceremoniously onto the trampoline with Ian and Bertie sitting on it to hold it down while we sorted out the lines and stowed it away.
We have just had another interesting encounter with a fishing fleet at night.  They tend to fish in packs, spread out across a few miles, so it is not always feasible to go around them all, but they rarely have AIS and by the time you are close enough to see their lights and determine direction you may also be close enough to snag their nets.  In this case there was a rogue that broke from the pack and started fishing in the opposite direction to the rest of the fleet.  We did a couple of 180 degree turns before worked out what he was doing and the best way to get around him.
It was a bit chilly this evening so we ate indoors, but every minute of latitude is another mile further south so hopefully it will not be too long before we get to where the butter melts.