Clocking Sea Time in the Shipping Lanes

Date: July 25, 2016, 4 a.m. Position: 11 44.90 S, 118 10.73 E

Another day smashing out the miles in ideal conditions. At the moment we’ve got 15 knots just aft of the beam and Privateer is cranking along at 8 knots, smooth as a train riding on the rails. We had a bit of wobbly wing-on-wing in lighter breezes today but the trades are filling in nicely now, and (knock on wood) it looks as if they’re here to stay, based on the latest GRIB reports. It’s almost as if the instruments are lying–just glanced at the GPS showing 9.2 knots…

Around mid-day a pod of very large brown dolphins visited us. We’re out over the deepest parts of the Java Trench now, with 22,000 feet of water under the keel.

The excitement of the night watch came at around 2 AM when we crossed the shipping lanes from Perth to Singapore. Suddenly a few ships popped up on our AIS (Ship Identification System) as we sailed wing-on-wing across the freighter highway. The first two freighters were no problem–we passed astern of the first one and well of the bow of the second. But then the Helga Oldendorff popped into the corner of the screen, coming from the opposite direction and on a converging collision course. Our sail configuration didn’t allow us any course change, and our speed was dependent entirely on the wind. Privateer and Helga’s speeds were almost matched at 8.5 knots, and we were 12 NM away from each other. It’s times like these that AIS is an invaluable tool on board. We radioed the ship, reported our position to the bridge, and worked out a plan with the captain to safely pass each other. The Helga swung to port and did a huge “s” curve in order to pass behind our stern. At the closest point we were 3 NM from each other. It’s great that a 1,000 foot ship will alter course by a few miles to give our little ship some sea room!

Using the AIS is exactly like playing the old computer game “Frogger”. We have to cross multiple “lanes” and decide whether to pass in front or behind the ships, judging speeds of each and taking into account wind direction, currents, etc for us. I can see that just now four new ships have popped up ahead of us, so our game of Frogger continues on into the morning hours… Good grief another 3 just appeared ahead too. The one of most concern is literally called the “Dong-a-Leto”. Time for a cup of coffee…

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