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Small Boats at Anchor

Generally a small boat is one under 18’ which can be handled on a good slipway by one person, weather and tide conditions permitting. It seems more anglers are getting into small boats. The smaller the boat the easier they become to launch and retrieve. Some can afford to buy and maintain boats up around the 2-3 tonne bracket. A boat certainly goes much bigger above 20’. As well as the extra length, they get beamier and heavier with a greater draught (waterline to bottom or lowest part of the boat including engine leg). To maintain strength the overall build is much heavier. For small boat owner’s it is good to be made aware of some of the situations that we may find ourselves in. They are quite different to larger boats. Have a read of the story below that was sent to me by Eddie Pinker. He found this on the Shetland Owners Association.

"I would like to tell you briefly about an incident involving my Shetland 570 which went down of the Gower Coast South Wales. The Boat which was very sea worthy and had all the safety gear, went down inside 40 seconds. We were 4 adults and had been at sea for 4 hours doing a spot of fishing when we decided to Anchor some 300 meters off Worms Head (Rhossili), the sea state was slight with a South-South-Westerly wind of about 10 knots at the turn of the tide. When, what can only be described as a rogue wave come over the stern .We immediately started the engine and cut the anchor (15 seconds had passed by now). When due to the weight already in the stern another one soon come and it started to go down by the stern, the batteries flooded and the engine cut out. The whole incident from beginning to end took approximately 40 seconds. We were in the water with lifejackets on with the lifebuoy in the middle of us, and tied together as the boat disappeared from sight. No amount of seagoing experience could have averted this incident; I myself have been at sea for some 40 years and have done numerous Transats in all types of weather. The moral of the story is this, when fishing at anchor somewhere in company of other boats (we were picked up within 5 Minutes), always wear your lifejacket no matter how sunny, and tell someone ashore you ETA. The boat was fully equipped but due to the speed of events there was no time to Radio and send a Mayday. A similar tragedy happened some 3 weeks previous in the same area when sadly a life was lost, due to the non-wearing of a life jacket. The boat was fully insured, and items lost were only material things. I hope that this little tale will stir the minds of those who do not wear any lifejackets.”

Now for the more experienced anglers that will look closer at the above story I thought I would read between the lines. Initially it is shocking and you think well how can that happen? Four adults in a Shetland 570 is not ridiculously excessive but that depends on their actual weight. I have a couple of friends over 20 stone! Therefore 4 big adults with fishing tackle all in the stern of a 570 could be a little heavy added to the fuel load etc. Not a problem in flat seas. Also be aware that current wind conditions will not mean that ‘big’ waves will not exist as a blow the night before or a low pressure that maybe hundreds of miles away, can cause ‘big’ waves. I bear witness to the fact that not a lot of water will cause a list and will ‘sit’ a Shetland 570 deeper at the stern, due to the fact the cockpit is only half the length of the boat. I have been there! If the stern points back into the waves and there are ‘bigger’ waves rolling towards it, is it worth waiting for a big one and taking the risk. In the Solent we have waves that curl and slap the boat sometimes coming over but a big wave dumping itself in the boat as the above story describes is potentially the end of the line.

Going back a few years both Robbie Russell who skippered ‘Starbird’ from Keyhaven and Ray Pitt who used to run ‘Two Brothers’, before ‘Lady M’, both used to say that a following sea is the one to watch. You can spear through a big wave on the bow but if one catches up and dumps over the stern that could be then end, particularly when going over the ‘Needles Bridge’. You need to understand what wind and tide directions will do to the sea. Nowadays we take boat speed and power for granted and can usually avoid being ‘caught up’.  It is odd also that at slack water the sea can act in a strange way almost as if the pull of the tide when released let the wave’s spring up. In that situation over a slack water they can come from all directions. The smaller the boat, the worst the affect the ‘big’ waves will have on it. A small boat with no weight will ride up and over. A small boat with lots of weight will have a delay before riding up and over.

After my own experience this year (read story collision – a lesson learned) I can tell you that I have been wearing my lifejacket ever since. No, not to watch John Wilson but every time I go out in the boat. The above story justifies my new fishing procedure which is this; I put on my lifejacket while in the garage, load the car up and go fishing, unload the car, take off lifejacket, fillet the cod (I wish), in that order. It works for me, it is slowly becoming habit. Another benefit is that now if I fall in, more likely during darkness on a wet slippery walkway and when I am on my own, at least I have my lifejacket on, it might save me.

Another thing, again after my own incident I was surprised just how many people said to me ‘you need to keep a good lookout then’ with no hint sympathy. That is absolutely true even though the TWAT that smashed into us was not even at the helm, as a skipper I have a duty to keep a lookout for other twats that may do the same thing. After all they are more likely to be ‘minted’, being yachtsman (Iknow it is not true for all, I said likely), and there are a few that don’t give a four X about anyone else. It is a bit like defensive driving, you can make an effort to stay safe or just ignore all the signs and see what happens. I used to ignore some of the signs…not now I hope. Most other boats out on the Solent are generally bigger than my 570 so I will nearly always come off worst, whatever happens. I certainly don’t want to loose my extremely convenient step on step off boat fishing for another summer!

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