Close Encounters

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sat 11 Dec 2010 01:15

Date: 10 December 2010: 1745 UTC

Position: Off Uruguay 32:01.523S 052:06.354W


We had been made exceedingly welcome by the Oceanographic Museum in Rio Grande on whose pontoon we had tied up for 36 hours (the yacht club marina was not deep enough for us). Water, and electricity had we wanted it, and all for no charge. Yesterday afternoon at 1700 we slipped our lines and motored down the enormous harbour, seeing it all for the first time as our entry had been made in inky darkness. This was to be our last long passage of 250 miles southwest to Punta Del Este in Uruguay. The forecast was for more moderate to fresh winds from the northeast.


It was a beautiful evening gently sailing down the coast with the sun setting on our starboard bow. The sky was crystal clear and the display of stars – including an unusually high number of shooting stars – was magnificent. Well after dark, all of a sudden the horizon ahead of us started filling with bright lights. Our radar screen resembled a Space Invaders game. We had hit the fishing fleet and there were dozens of them. Even with the radar it is difficult to gauge distances in the dark as we twisted and turned slaloming through them. Things were not helped by the fact that as we entered the fleet the wind increased from a benign 17 knots to a very powerful 34 knots in the space of three minutes. We had all our sails out and had to concentrate so hard on avoiding the fishing boats that we had no time to shorten sail. So far an hour we were screaming through the fleet at speeds over 9 knots, on the verge of being out of control.


We got through the fleet and reefed the yankee and poled it out and reefed and goose-winged the mainsail. A couple of hours later we saw another very bright light on the horizon well to the left of us. “Don’t worry” I said, “It’ll be another fishing boat and at that angle it won’t be a problem” (fishing boats always go very slowly).  How wrong can you be. Within minutes it was clear that this bright light was moving towards us very fast. We have a clever bit of kit on board that was very helpful. On a screen we could see that the fast moving leviathan would hit us within five minutes. Given our sail configuration we would not be able to react quickly enough to get out of their way. The kit also gave me the name of the vessel. It was my old friend MSC Musica, a rather upmarket cruise ship that I had come across many times at sea and in harbours throughout the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  We now had four minutes to impact. I called them on VHF radio. No response. The profile was much larger now and we could clearly see their large bow wave. Three minutes to impact, I called them again. This time the radio crackled back “Mina2 this is MSC Musica, go ahead, over”. I explained that I was the tiny pinprick of light two miles dead ahead of him, and I had neither the time nor ability to get out of their way. “I see you and understand the situation. I am altering course to starboard now. I will pass you red to red, port to port”. A wave of relief came over me. His bow slowly turned away from us. I thanked the captain who wished us all a good cruise. The incident was over as he rushed past us less than half a mile away. It would have been ironic to have seen and admired the ship so many times before, and then to be run down by her.


I awoke this morning to the comforting sound of the decks above me being swabbed and the smell of my breakfast being cooked in the galley. As I climbed the companionway into the cockpit I saw the strangest thing: hanging by the neck from the grab handle of the sprayhood was an effigy of someone called Capt Bligh – and the rope had been fashioned from the four clean drying-up cloths I had given the crew yesterday, which had been torn into strips and carefully braided. Very peculiar. I can only assume they’ve been on the sauce again.


I must get the crew to clean out the fridge again. There must be something in there tainting the food. My breakfast tasted very odd this morning.