Six Things We Can Learn From A Night Approach That Ended on a Lee Shore

The wreck after being recovered from the shore.

Back in the day when I first started sailing offshore, before the advent of electronic navigation as we know it today (yeah, I'm that old), it was pretty much standard practice, at least for prudent mariners, to heave-to well offshore rather than do a night approach, and that went double if there was any chance of being to windward of an exposed shore during the approach—the dreaded lee shore.

And if the weather was nasty that standard practice became a near-law, at least for sailors who hoped to get old.

But in these days of relatively inexpensive plotters and radar I regularly see and hear about boats doing night approaches, even into intricate harbours, and with onshore winds. And the marvels of electrickery (thank you Colin for teaching me that term) mean that most of these approaches go fine.

But every so often we are reminded that the best navigation electronics in the world do not alter the fact that being near a lee shore is intrinsically hazardous and, if we add in high winds, downright dangerous.

The latest example is a sail training Volvo 60 that went ashore on Cross Island, just a few miles from our home. As I understand it from my friend and neighbour, Chris Stanmore Major, who has talked to the skipper at length, they were making an approach to Lunenburg in the early hours of the morning in a gale, with two professional and six paying crew aboard.

As they started striking sail to motor in, the staysail roller furler jammed. The crew responded by dropping the sail on deck. In the process, the head of the sail went over the side and fouled the propeller. Cross Island was under their lee, and they drifted downwind onto the rocks. Luckily no one was killed, or even, as far as I know, hurt.

Part of the sail still jamming the prop.

There's a lot we can all learn from this wreck:

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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