'Is that a ship'

Pearl of Persia
Andrew Lock
Mon 10 Mar 2014 12:39
Lat 10:25.1N Long 58:18.8W
Saw a couple of oil rigs in the far distance last night, just tiny points of
light and creating just a little speck on the radar screen. At night,
keeping watch involves staring into the blackness around the full horizon to
see if there are any lights, checking the radar screen and the chart
plotter, feeling the motion of the boat and trying to sense if anything has
changed and then sitting for a while until the next check. When close to
shore, or within 20 miles or so, and when there are small fishing boats
around it's almost constant, far from land, away from the shipping lanes
there's time to relax a little. Every hour, a note is made in the log with
our latitude and longitude, together with our course, speed and wind.
During the day, watches are a little more relaxed and we can sit and read,
and periodically glance out to see all is clear. How, then, is it possible
not to see a large cargo vessel bearing down on us. I don't know but it is.
This afternoon, we looked up and lo! a huge tanker passing us just a mile or
two away. No one had seen it on the horizon, or as it crept up on us. A
couple of miles is as close as we want to be. If a boat is heading towards
us it is often difficult trying to work out which side it will pass,
especially at night. Has the captain seen us? Is he even awake or is the
ship on 'auto'. A small sailing boat doesn't give much of a 'blip' on a
radar screen. We did have an AIS (Auto Identification System) which helps
ships see each other, but it failed en route to Salvador and even though
Oliver brought a new one out from the UK, we will have to wait until Antigua
to get it fitted. Eventually we will try and call the vessel on the VHF
radio, and usually have a civilised conversation with an Indian, Scot,
Chinese or other nationality and agree which side the cargo vessel will pass
us. If no reply then we resort to illuminating the sails with all our deck
lights and pointing a flashlight in his direction. So far it's worked.