10th November 2001
I spent all evening getting up to date with my figures and writing a spreadsheet to do all the calculations for me. When I’d finished with the ship’s log, I returned it to the bridge. As soon as I walked onto the bridge the power failed and everything apart from the emergency lights went out. The whole ship was plunged into darkness. On the bridge some of the equipment was still working but most had gone out. I guess some of it works off a redundant power supply which at this point was very reasuring.
Miguel (the Captain) was on the radio calling an unknown vessel. There was something about his tone which made me realise something was wrong.
“Vessel 1.8 miles to my port side, do you receive?” He said. I realised why when I looked out of the windows to see a ship steaming towards us…all of our deck lights were out and we were invisible to all but the radar. If nobody was responding to the radio it may have meant that the officer on watch had fallen asleep or left the bridge unattended and therefore wouldn’t know we were there! Miguel repeated the call but there was still no response from the other ship.
We were trawling, and so the rules of the sea say that we should have right of way over any ship steaming through the area. The fact that we were trawling meant that we were very limited how we could safely manouvre out of the collision course with the other vessel. Miguel thrust the radio at me “Keep trying!” he said.
I repeated the call to the unknown vessel which was now only about a mile off, and heading straight for us. Miguel switched off the autopilot and took the wheel, steering us hard to starboard and away from our collision course. The danger of manoeuvring too quickly while dragging a trawl is that it could become snagged on the bottom, which would not only put the expensive gear at risk, but is also very dangerous for the boat. Thankfully Miguel made the turn without snagging the gear. Thanks to Miguel’s quick thinking and seamanship the other vessel passed 600 metres to our port side.
About 3 minutes later the power came back on and everything sprang back into life. The Santa Maria was lit up once more like a Christmas tree, and all danger had passed. The other vessel never did respond and passed oblivious of the danger that we were all in. Miguel was absolutely furious but I have a newfound respect for him dealing with the situation in the way he did. I can’t decide if we were terribly unlucky to suffer a power failure at such a crucial moment when we were on a collision course with another vessel, or extremely lucky that despite it we came through OK.
10th November 2017
After this trip I worked at sea on different ships in different places on and off for the next 13 years. In all of that time I experienced only three power failures. I’ve never experienced such a close collision with another vessel which failed to respond when called on the radio. The odds of both happening simultaneously are minuscule. In fact, looking back at those early days of my first trip I struggle to believe it all happened to me!