The international regulations for preventing collisions at sea or COLREGS. Rule 5 lookouts or should German yachts be allowed autopilots?

Every vessel shall maintain a proper look-out. It is really quite simple and is the most important rule! So in answer to my question “Germans and autopilots” I am against it after having been almost run down twice by unattended German yachts in the space of an hour! We have left Sandvik on Oland and are tacking across the Kalmar Sund in a pleasant 8 to 10 knot NE wind. We are heading for the Skargard and the Blue Coast. This is an amazing array of narrow and rock strewn waterways in amongst the hundreds of thousands of tiny islands where you can sail in relative shelter and calm water.The approach to Figeholm was a gentle introduction to the Skargard!Grace is flying! She is almost at her maximum speed, loping along across the swell (not like a greyhound, she could never be mistaken for one – she’s more like one of those big fat rabbits!) at 5 to 6 knots. We are watching a yacht motoring north in a perfectly straight line converging with us on our starboard side.“Oh it’s okay, they will turn away in a second, you watch”, I say. “He will I think”. Then as there is no sign of action, “Don’t worry I’m sure he has seen us” and then “Oh, I don’t think he will! Quick! Let’s tack!” Just as we start to tack, winch handle on the port winch, “ready about….”. No wait, he is turning away. Leaving it a bit late! There was a flurry in cockpit, a head emerged from the cockpit and I could see the panic when he suddenly saw us. With the German flag flying he swerved away.Continuing on our course for a bit we started to relax until another ‘ghost boat’ came into sight and definitely heading towards us! I checked with the handbearing compass and the angle remained the same – they would hit us. No worries they will turn away, won’t they? We puzzled for a bit – “can you see anyone in the cockpit?” We puzzle for a bit, “Yes, there is someone moving about, they must have seen us! Quick tack!”. It was a towel we had seen moving! I realise that towels are good at reserving beach loungers but are no good at keeping watch on a motoring yacht. We tacked away and back on our course once the danger had passed. The yacht, it’s German flag flying carried on in a dead straight line at 6 knots. Slightly shocked and annoyed we watched as the boat sailed on towards the horizon!I had only just finished exhausting my tirade about beach towels, deckchairs and boats when in the distance coming up steadily behind us was another motoring yacht! This time we were ready for it, the absolutely straightline course is a giveaway for the autopilot. We were not sure why they were motoring, the wind was perfect and we were sailing almost as fast as they were motoring! Here we go again, get ready to dodge. But in good time, he made a clear and positive manoeuvre, just as it should be and we saw the Swedish flag and a but body less hand waved cheerily from the depth of the cockpit as the yacht returned to its original course and was gone.Goose winged and flying across the SundAs we pressed on across the Sund, goose winged we ran past Bla Jungfran, it is basically a pillar of granite that emerges from the seabed, the top of which is only about 500 m in diameter and the water surrounding it is very deep. The pilot book advises to keep away as there is nowhere to moor to it or anchor close by. Personally I’m not sure why you would want to anyway!Bla JungranCrossing into Figeholm bay everything settled down once we had our usual bit of ferry dodging as the super fast ferry to Gotland belted past. There seem to be two immutable truths of sailing; the first is that if there is a ferry near by we will find it! I think this is covered by Sod’s Law and the second is that after a day’s sailing just as you are coming into your berth the wind always gets up to make it ‘interesting’. This I understand actually has some scientific truth behind it that wind currents are generated as the land draws colder sea air across it generating the ‘sea breeze’ and then after sunset this reverses and creates a ‘land breeze’.If there is a ferry we can find…..or it can find us!Once into the bay we entered the calm and very blue waters of the islands and our first experience of the Skargard and sailing Swedish style in amongst the rocks. Our trip to Figeholm was a good start to break us in gently to a whole new way of sailing!The approach to Figeholm, the rocks really are quite close!A very peaceful place to spend the night!

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