It’s Xmas eve, in the middle of the Atlantic. Hitchcok, our single-keeled RM1260, , left Lanzarotte a week ago, heading toward Martinique.
Seas are, say, choppy. Tradewinds burst around 25 knots, with gusts in the high thirties.
A huge North-North-West swell meets the wind’s waves. Under poled genoa, with one or two reefs in the pain, surfs are just exhilarating. Rolling a bit less!
I’m crossing the Atlantic Ocean with my two grown-up sons.
Moon has not risen yet, it’s pitch dark out there, and I’m on watch from midnight until 4AM. Sitting in the aft cabin, I’m doing short naps, 20 minutes max, then have a quick look at the horizon, and back in my bunk. My sons are packed in their own, maintained by anti-rolling canvas.
AIS alarm has been set on 1.5NM, and the autopilot remote control is in my hand. I have plenty of time to react in the unlikely encounter with a cargo.
I’m gently drowsing when, suddently, the VHF is crackling.
Time for me to reach the nav station, and I can clearly hear “Hitchcock, Hitchcock, do you read me? Over”.
Sound quality is so good that I understand the calling vessel must be nearby.
I widen my eyes through the panoramic windshield, but can’t see any light around. I pick up the handset and ask « Who’s calling Hitchcock? Over. » « Hitchcock, this is Blue Steel”. The speaking voice sounds a bit weary, and the Oxford accent quite strong. I’m told that Blue Steel has left the Canary Islands three weeks ago. They are part of a rowing competition. They are two on board. The reason why we can’t see them is that they only have one hand light on board! They capsized the day before, and lost all other lighting devices, including their headtorch.
However, their AIS is still functioning, and they say they can clearly see our mast lights. They are asking me if I could gently change my heading to avoid any collision risk.
Zooming on my screen, I can now spot a green triangle. Clicking on it, I read “Blue Steel, rowing boat, 20ft long, speed over ground 3 knots, heading 240°…”.
I now imagine these two fellows, lost in the middle of the ocean, fencing on their oars, with this crossed 10-12ft swell…
I politely ask in return if they need anything from us, but get a negative answer: everything ok, thank you, they are in second position in the race, and, moreover, can’t accept any assistance!
Still trying to see them in the dark night, in vain, I wish them a Merry Xmas, and get back in my bunk – after changing course on the autopilot.
The day after, sharing the story with my sons, between two squalls, we have a common thought for these “three wise men” – although they were only two – packed in their little dinghy, ready to capsize again!
RM 1260 Hitchcock