Near Collision – A Close Encounter With A Fishing Boat


Today we have something a little different on the blog – some creative writing. All of the facts described in this post are 100% real, I just wanted to try a different style post and practise my creative writing.

Any feedback would be very appreciated – would you like to read more of these experience-based pieces, or do you prefer the advice stuff only? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks a lot,

Near Collision – A Close Encounter With A Fishing Boat

“They could have killed us” Ryan yelled over the deafening fishing boat’s engine noise, as our favourite Cuban yo-yo got caught under their bow and disappeared overboard into their wake.

We both looked in disbelief at our stern, which was just a dozen meters away from the passing fishing vessel’s bow. My heart was still beating fast. The big rush of adrenaline was still running through my veins, and I felt a little numb. We had just about escaped death.

A couple of hours earlier, Ryan and I were enjoying a sunny afternoon and a mild breeze in the cockpit, cruising down the French Atlantic coast. Our big red spinnaker was pulling us south gently at four knots, as a light wind of ten knots blew from the north.

We had left Saint Evette early that morning and were headed for the beautiful Glénan Islands. As we bobbed along on the calm sea, we daydreamed of our destination – long sandy beaches, clear Caribbean-like water, and that delicious island feel. Our course was set for Saint-Nicolas, the main island. We were looking forward to catching sight of the northernmost point of the isles and navigating our way through the rocks to moor in front of a stunning sandbar.

Like most days, we had a fishing line out, hoping to catch a mackerel or two for dinner, to cook up with some rice or potatoes. Life felt so easy. There is nothing quite like sliding slowly through the ocean in your floating home without a worry in the world, chatting about future cruising plans, gazing at the beautiful coastline, and anticipating the excitement of the next landfall. It’s magical.

An Exciting Night Passage Between Cornwall And Isles Of Scilly

As we ran out of conversation topics, I started reading Seraffyn’s Mediterranean Adventure to Ryan, while he rested his golden head on my lap. His blue eyes were almost closed, as he enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sunrays. Our trusty tiller pilot was steering us towards our destination. We took it in turns to glance at the chart plotter and keep watch, standing up to look at the horizon every ten minutes or so, while we were transported to seventies Croatia by Lin Pardey’s words.

We were passing the town of Guilvinec, when we noticed the drone of a far off diesel engine. We both stood up to see a big, heavy fishing boat approaching on our starboard side a few nautical miles away. We watched it for a few seconds and both came to the conclusion that it was going very fast, probably over ten knots, and it was definitely not fishing. That meant we had right of way. By looking at its position and speed we agreed we were on a collision course.

Ryan rushed to grab our foghorn while I kept watch. The vessel was getting close very fast and looked like it was coming straight for us.

Ryan now stood in the cockpit, foghorn in his hand, waiting.
“Blow it!” I shouted, getting nervous.
“They might change course” Ryan tried to reassure me.
“Blow it anyway!” My eyes begged him.

I picked up my phone to take a picture or video, thinking our insurance might need proof that we didn’t cause the accident, when I heard Ryan say: “It doesn’t work.”
“What?” I stammered.
“It’s empty. There’s no air in it.” I could sense Ryan was as worried as I was.

The fishing boat got bigger and bigger and it was now less than a kilometre away. We still couldn’t read its name, so we couldn’t call it on the radio. There was no time to drop the spinnaker, change course, or lower and start the engine. Our only option now was for the fishing boat to turn hard to port.

“Hello! Hello!” I jumped on the cockpit seats and started yelling as loud as I could, while waving my arms frantically. “Hello! You’re going to hit us!”
“Hello! Hello!” Ryan chimed in at the top of his voice, standing by the helm.

As the boat got closer, about 200 meters away, we realised there was no one keeping watch in the pilothouse. We kept shouting. A second or so later, we saw a man running from the stern to the helm. He managed to turn the boat ninety degrees to port and miss us at the very last moment.

I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath. I felt so relieved.

As the fishing vessel went to pass behind our boat to get back on their course, our boats became parallel. We looked at the fishermen with disapproving faces, shaking our heads for good measure. We couldn’t believe what just happened.

“We had right of way!” I called with a croaky voice I couldn’t recognise.

The man in the pilothouse kindly responded by showing me his middle finger.

And that’s how we learned never to trust a fishing boat to follow collision regulations.


  • Jin Windland

    great post!

  • Red

    Oh my, next time use the VHF! It doesn’t matter if you can’t see its name or it doesn’t have an AIS, just describe the vessel to get its attention! If someone was within hearing range of their radio, they should have reacted at “fishing vessel” and “collision course” and taken a look out in case it was them…
    In such cases I also advise to have basic vocabulary in the local language, as they may not understand English well enough to catch your meaning over the radio. Here “bateau de pêche” (fishing vessel) and “risque d’abordage” or “risque de collision” would have done.

    1. Sailing Kittiwake

      Thanks for the tip, Red. No one was in the pilot house (everyone was at the back of the fishing boat), so we doubt anyone could hear the radio. Shouting seemed to be the best solution, as they were too close. If anything like this happens again (hopefully not!) we’ll try that too.

      1. Red

        No worries, and you’re right that perhaps even that wouldn’t have worked… Glad you made it out in one piece! Some years ago I read about cargo vessels drifting at sea at night, without lights, and without AIS signal. The reason? They’d made a quick passage, but would have to pay hefty fees in harbour for every extra day, so their charterer orders them to just stay out of the radar and wait until the due day of arrival… Good luck avoiding that, little sailboat!!! Especially when solo sailing…

  • Tony

    Very exciting though! Collision regulations are for the court room, a bit late when your life was in danger. it’s a bit like riding a motorbike, it’s best to take your own avoidance measures because everyone else is trying to kill you. Anyway, love watching your videos and don’t worry about what they should be or what people want, you’ve got a great mix going on. Having said that never under estimate how much we like to hear about how you’re doing things, from passage planning to cooking, it makes it real and there is always something to learn or be passed on. Just because somebody has said it doesn’t mean everyone has heard it. Anyway, its your journey we’re following and things are looking good, and don’t let editing become a chore, if you want to say something just say it because we want to hear it. Well done to both of you.

    On a more pedantic note you asked for some Lit Crit.

    Line 3. dozen meters away from the passing fishing vessel’s bow. (‘as the passing bow of a fishing boat swept by our stern”)
    Line 4. Hearts beat per minute not per hour, a better metaphor needed perhaps.
    Not sure adrenaline makes you feel numb, or that you escaped ‘death”. I know I’m being picky but I presume you were setting the dramatic stage for the story below, which by its nature had to be more accurately descriptive. So the first paragraph should perhaps be re-worked. Hope you don’t mind me saying but if I didn’t enjoy your adventure i wouldn’t bother.

    Greatly looking forward to your next posts, the more the merrier. Happy Christmas 🙂

    1. Sailing Kittiwake

      Thanks so much for your comment and tips Tony! I’ll definitely take them into account. Merry Christmas to you.

  • Fred

    I like your account of the near miss, especially the narrative detail that wasn’t in the original blog. Sad to say, as a generalisation in my experience, you are right about fishing boats, whether in the Solent or some far flung part of the world!

  • Vic

    be careful out there, they don’t work by the rules unfortunately

    It is the same on the motorways, lorry drivers seem to be sleeping..

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