Friday Evening, July 2, 2021
Latitude 44o 46’ N
Longitude 41o 37’ W
1308 nautical miles to Fastnet Light, Ireland ( 2/5 of the way there)
In the middle of the North Atlantic, thirteen hundred miles from Ireland and nearly as far from Rockport, Maine, we came upon three men in a rowboat. Our AIS system was the first to notice that there was a vessel off to starboard, picking up her electronic signal and displaying it as a blue triangle on our chart plotter. Whatever this object was, it was too low on the horizon to see with the naked eye.
Clicking on the triangular icon on the screen revealed that she is listed as a “Pleasure Craft” with the name “No Great Shakes,” has a length of 30ft and beam of 9 ft and was moving with a speed of only 2.2 knots. A very odd object indeed. The AIS further revealed that if we both maintained our speed and heading, our closest point of approach would be 2.3 nautical miles of separation in 15 minutes and 23 seconds.
This type of information provided by an AIS system can be extremely valuable, especially in the middle of the night when the person on watch is trying to determine if a container ship might pass too close for comfort. You can use it to alter course to increase the margin of safety. You can also use it to intercept another vessel, which is of course what we did.
“It has oars,” observed crew member Brimmer Sherman, peering through a pair of binoculars. About that time a voice hailed us over the VHF, “Hello Lillian B.” The AIS is a two-way system. They knew our statistics, just as we knew theirs. “ Hello, No Great Shakes, this is the Lillian B. , over.” The ensuing conversation was short, but heartfelt, taking place as it was hundreds of miles from the nearest land. A crew of three men in a tubular shaped vessel is rowing from New York to London to set a new world record. We asked if they needed anything, perhaps a bottle of wine, but they politely declined since it would violate the terms of the attempted record. Ten minutes later we did a close sail-by as we took pictures of them and they of us. “What are you having for dinner? They shouted across. “Corned-beef with poached eggs,” we replied. “We’ll send you copies,” we added, then unfurled the genoa and sailed away.