- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

27 June 2010; the North Sea.

The weather forecast was partly right. It was a nice day but the predicted poor visibility due to low hanging haze, never materialized. A good thing as well, as the whole day we had to dodge traffic. Especially the fishing boats were a curse. I think there is a Fish quota opening going on at the moment as they were all over the place and most fish seemed to be exactly there were all the ships were sailing. That meant that we had to dodge them on a regular basis and that brought us then on a collision course again with other traffic. That danger corrected and, yes, there was the next fishing boat. After a while our course track in the chart looked like a drunken sailor on a late Friday night. Still we kept going in the general direction of Copenhagen and that was the aim anyway. At least it kept us all on our toes.

The North Sea has several of these Vessel Traffic separation schemes, the highways at sea, and most ships are using those; so you have a stream of ships going one way and a stream of ships going the other way. That works perfectly as long as you nicely stay in the right lane. With fishermen around that does not always work and then it upsets the whole caboodle. The fishermen themselves do not see the issue as we do; the can flip around on a dime and 200 feet distance is more than enough for them. For us that work with company requirements that recommend a distance of at least a mile (6900 feet) it is a different story. I have to waive that rule all the time while sailing in the North Sea. We cannot comply with it due to the amount of traffic and the other ships do not do it either for the same reason. Thus I instruct the officers during our pre sailing session what I expect for passing distances and to give me a call, if things are looking to get a bit more tight than expected.

That happened today several times, including twice around midnight. Not pleasant when you are just starting to dream about far away beaches and waving palm trees but part of the job. Both times the navigators called for a second opinion to see if what they planned was the best option. In all cases it was a puzzle with five or six possibilities whereby other ships had to do something as well and sometimes could not because there was another ship in the way, a buoy, or a fisherman. Sometimes it helps to call the other ship and sort something out but I am very cautious about doing this. First of all, the English comprehension onboard, the other ships can be very minimal and that can result in the message being wrongly understood. I have seen some interesting results of a passing agreement, where the other party clearly mixed up the difference between crossing the bow or passing astern.

So I prefer to take action myself, timely and not rely on a request to another ship. That sometimes results in a 360o turn from my own ship but if that is the safest option that is what will be done. Same with stopping in the water, if that is the best, that is what we will do; even if that results in getting behind on the schedule. But this evening it was the other way around. A fast ferry, doing 26 knots was getting in a muddle with some fishermen, could not go behind us to pass safely and asked permission to cross our bow. Normally that is the last thing that you want as it blocks our forward progress but the lady navigator on the ferry, spoke very clear English, was very exact in what she wanted to do and as it was an option that would make life easier for at least 4 other ships, I happily went along with it.

The second call was at a classic point where there is always mayhem. This is the point where we go around the corner at the North East top of Denmark. Here all traffic “bends” into the Kattegat to the South and all traffic coming from the South “bends” to the West going into the North Sea. Everybody wants to save fuel and to make the shortest mileage and thus chooses the coastal route as close to the coast as possible. On land this is comparable to having a round-a-bout with a traffic flow clockwise and one counter clockwise all in the same lane. This time we solved the issue by going out of the flow completely by making a wider turn to the North and then coming back in again further south when all the ships had sorted themselves out. Two Chinese cargo vessels got themselves somehow in a muddle behind us, and it was a pity that none of us spoke Chinese, as the conversation sounded very interesting. They were quite excited to say the least.

For those of you who can download and play Avi video, have a look at this link from the Dover coastguard, it gives you an idea what sort of “interesting” navigators we come across.


Tomorrow we will be in Copenhagen. We are scheduled for a noon time arrival, so I am planning to go slowly through the “Sund” as with the sunny day expected it should be nice for sightseeing. Hamlets castle, the island of Ven, the crossing ferries of Helsingor and Helsingborg plenty of stuff to enjoy.


  1. A good job they were not asleep on the Maerks Constantia. A pretty close shave that.

  2. SourdoughSteve

    June 28, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks for the coast guard link (and of course your entertaining stories)! Looks like rush hour at LAX! It’s no wonder you prefer the open sea…

  3. “Interesting navigators” is quite the understatement Captain. He’s in oncoming traffic, with near misses (and likely, near heart attacks) all over the place.
    Don’t the authorities/Coast guard tell him to get out of oncoming traffic?
    Thanks for the great posts.

  4. René E. Klarer

    June 29, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Very interesting… ! We shall aboard the MS NIEUW AMSTERDAM on July 4, in Cabin SA 7051 and hopefully enjoy any such crossings as well under your supervision – we are looking forward too… !

    Kind regards
    Alice + René E. Klarer

  5. An internet search on the ship in question revealed the following outcome … “At Channel Magistrates Court, Folkestone on 15th March 2004 the Master of the cargo ship STORMAN ASIA pleaded guilty to entering and proceeding for over 14.5 miles in the wrong direction in the Dover Straits Traffic Separation Scheme. The court … fined the Italian Master … a total of £14,000, plus £6,042 costs. In summing up the Magistrates said … had been repeatedly warned about the hazards and that he had caused another vessel to take evasive action”.

    A further search revealed the same ship was involved in a collision on June 14, 2010 with a berthed Russian general cargo ship in Durress port, Albania.

  6. Captain, I read your story of today and i am not going to be a sailor. It is better to be a truck driver in the Netherlands. We are complaining about all the traffic, but there is more traffic on the Nordsea. I don’t envy you in this.

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