Sunk by Red Funnel

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This is what’s left of a 32 foot yacht that was cut in two at the weekend by Red Falcon, one of the Red Funnel car ferries to the Isle of Wight.

Anyone familiar with the Solent would immediately suspect it was yet another yacht trying to dodge in front of the busy shipping – but no, it was on its own mooring near the ferry terminal when it was hit in thick fog. Thankfully, no one was on board, though another boat was also damaged.

It could have been much worse: I was told by one of the harbour staff who gave me a lift in the water taxi up to Spring Fever that a couple of moorings away was a Moody 43 with a man, a woman and a young child on board. The man was on deck shouting at the ferry as it approached, but unsurprisingly no one heard.

I arrived back at Spring Fever, moored well away from the ferry terminal in Cowes, just after divers had finished clearing the remains of the sunken yacht from the bottom, and depositing them on the dock at Kingston Marine, further up river near our pontoon.

The water taxi took me up close to have a look. It seems the yacht was cut in two forward of a bulkhead at the aft end of the saloon. The back bit, presumably including the engine, is in a heap of broken pieces nearby on the dock.

According to the account I was given, the ferry approached the terminal in very poor visibility and, for reasons unknown, was heading for Cowes Yacht Haven on the wrong side of the river when it realised it was off course. Cowes Yacht Haven is very near the terminal.

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The Red Falcon, seen at its terminal.

At that point it tried to turn but, during the manoeuvre, again for reasons unknown, it managed to hit the yacht moored on the other side of the river from the haven. (I’m not entirely confident in this anecdotal report, because a recent email from the harbourmaster simply states that the ferry ran aground among the yacht moorings as it entered the harbour).

The channel at that point is probably not much wider than the length of the car ferry, which never turns in the river. It is designed to run equally well backwards or forwards between Cowes and Southampton.

The day after the accident, a pointed notice was put out by the Cowes harbourmaster, announcing that he had the right to stop any vessel leaving in very poor visibility. He didn’t mention the Red Funnel ferries by name, but it was obvious who he meant. A day too late, unfortunately.

The skipper and mate have been suspended. The Marine Accidents Investigation Board report will make interesting reading for those of us who frequent Cowes.

I always thought ferry skippers must be the most reliable of all, because they cover the same ground so often, which is why this accident is so baffling. Even our cheap chart plotter is accurate enough to show which side of the River Medina we are on.

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