April 25 - Day 4 - The value of AIS

We had a 0330 ship drill this morning. Here's the scene: It's a moonless night. We keep visual watch 24/7, and I'm on duty. Not much going on out there. Then the AIS alarm went off and I stared at the screen with the words "Collision Imminent" staring back at me. I have the Plotting Range parameter set for "24 nm Offshore," so figuring out what was going on had to be quick. The ship symbol on the screen was directly in front of us, then immediately changed to present off our starboard quarter; confusing to say the least. The ship itself was 886' length, 141' beam (!), draft 30'. It was coming directly at us at 12 knots, was less than 12 nm away, and the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) read 0.00 nm! I tried hailing on the VHF but got no answer. I put the masthead strobe light on and tried VHF again; same results. Meanwhile, we had diverted to starboard as well as we were able. Winds were 25 knots on our beam, which put us on a beat to windward, and seas were 10'. I tried another "Securite, Securite", Hello All Stations" call, and low and behold, received a reply from the ship bearing down on us. He said he could hardly see us in the conditions, and our AIS signal (we transmit as well as receive) was weak but coming in. When we got a bit closer, I could only make out his running lights, in spite of his behemoth size, intermittently in the swells. Whether he really knew we were around before my "Securite" call is a good question. I breathed a bit easier when we passed each other at about 2 miles distance. I've always maintained that having AIS aboard is cheap insurance. In this instance; it's proven that maxim again last night. We just recently upgraded to an AIS Transponder (in place of our old receiver only unit), and are quite happy we made the change. OK, deep breath now...Otherwise, the weather continues to be really good, and winds are mostly on the quarter. Last night we made our turn for the run into Bundaberg; it's now a 288 degree straight line from where we had gone north around Norfolk Island, and we have about 850 nm to go. All's well aboard.
Date: 4/25/12
Time UTC: 0000
Lat/Long: S28deg14min/E167deg24min
Course: 288 T
Speed: 6 kn
Wind: E, 18 kn
Seas: E, 8'
Cloud cover: 100%
Barometer: 1008
Sails: 2nd reef main; 90% genoa
Day 4 miles: 143
Avg speed: 6.0 kn

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