What caught my eye: July 2023

Ocean Race yachts attacked by orcas following spate of whale collisions

I must admit when reports of orcas attacking yachts off the coast of Spain started hitting the news headlines about 2 years ago, I and many others, found this strangely amusing, if a little far-fetched. I presumed the orcas were being playful and that this was an isolated incident or two that would soon pass.

But over time, this phenomenon has developed into something of an epidemic. It is a situation that is worrying many of those in the yachting community. Clearly being struck by a defiant orca can cause substantial damage and put lives at risk. It seems only by luck no one has yet been killed in an orca attack. Many theories exist as to why the orca community has developed such aggressive behaviour, but nobody really knows the real reason. The Cruising Association has done extensive research in this area.

Anyway, I now understand that two VO65 yachts racing in The Ocean Race have become the latest boats to suffer attacks off the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the orcas shoving the boats, and nudging or biting at the rudders, both VO65s escaped unscathed and subsequently contacted Race Control to confirm there had been no damage or injuries onboard.

Team JAJO skipper, Jelmer van Beek, said, “Three orcas came straight at us and started hitting the rudders. Impressive to see the orcas, but also a dangerous moment for us as a team. We took down the sails and slowed down the boat as quickly as possible and luckily after a few attacks they went away. This was a scary moment.”

The Cruising Association has launched an ‘orca information and reporting‘ portal and has also released a video recording of a webinar, freely available on YouTube, presented by John Burkeck, lead of the Association’s orca project team.

Where’s the unlikeliest spot for a picnic you know? Saddam Hussein’s former superyacht perhaps – no joking!

This is an odd story for sure, but one that drew me in to explore further. The 121-metre superyacht, al-Mansur, was commissioned by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. It has been lying capsized in a river in southern Iraq for years. But now it seems it has become a popular tourist spot for sightseers and even fishermen, who use the rusting hulk as a spot to enjoy picnics and a cup of afternoon tea. How very British, I thought!

The vessel was one of three yachts owned by Saddam. It was built by the former Wärtsila shipyard in Finland and delivered in 1983, and in doing so, became one of the largest yachts of its kind in the world.

Well, it sounds like the perfect place to stop for a cup of tea and marmalade sandwiches too as and when I find myself passing through Basra and an interesting location for that essential ‘selfie’!

UK canals set to deteriorate unless funding is forthcoming

This story ran in its entirety in last month’s news bulletin, but only now have I digested it fully and understood the possible ramifications of a lack of funding. Canals and narrowboats have been a feature of life in the UK for over 200 years with over two thousand miles of waterways criss-crossing the country. Working boats plied their trade in the early days and in modern times the canals have become a haven for small craft leisure boaters, even a permanent home for some. In past times, they went through a decline as commercial trade moved to other forms of transport and some were left to become run down and even derelict before there was a renaissance. But once again it seems due to a lack of funding, the future of this quintessential part of British life is uncertain. Over the years I have spent a good deal of pleasurable time on the canals. They are an integral part of British life and without them, I would feel bereft.

So, here’s the background to this story again in brief:
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is playing a key role in the new Fund Britain’s Waterways Action Group (FBW). IWA is one of several organisations deeply concerned about the threat to the waterways posed by funding cuts and has launched a major campaign ‘Protect Our Waterways’. IWA is calling on national and local government to fund all waterways at a level that keeps them as major assets that can continue to contribute to the economy, people’s health, and well-being, and coping with the climate crisis.

Together with the National Association of Boat Owners, IWA initiated a meeting in early May of UK waterways organisations to discuss the threats to the waterways caused by a level of government funding that was already inadequate and appeared likely to be cut even further. The organisations present all agreed on the need for joint action to influence national and local government, through a new campaigning group “Fund Britain’s Waterways”.
Let’s hope the UK Government is listening.

Stockholm Norvik Port container cranes officially named

It raised a smile on my face to read that port cranes would routinely be given a name, rather like giving one’s family car or dog an identity, I suppose.

Sweden’s newest freight port was officially inaugurated recently by His Majesty The King and Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Sweden. On the same day, the container cranes were named after Princess Estelle of Sweden and Prince Oscar of Sweden.

So, if you find yourself in the presence of ‘royalty’ cranes Estelle and Oscar at Norvik Port, be sure to nod and behave appropriately!

Man hoping to break record rescued by coastguard

The strength of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me and here is yet another fine example of it, although ultimately not successful. An army veteran who had been hoping to break a world record for living on the barren rock of Rockall was rescued by the coastguard after sending a distress call.

Chris ‘Cam’ Cameron had been attempting to live alone on the uninhabitable granite islet in the North Atlantic Ocean for up to 60 days, thus eclipsing the existing record of 45 days. But he made the distress call after 30 days due to declining weather conditions. It was reported that much of Cameron’s equipment had been destroyed by high winds and waves and that he was almost swept away on several occasions. He had been inhabiting an area on Rockall known as Hall’s Ledge, which measures 1.5 by 4 metres, with only seabirds and marine life for company.

A statement posted by Cameron’s family reads: “We are hugely proud of all his achievements but also that he had the courage to make what must have been a very difficult decision in the face of such dreadful weather.”

Until the next time.
Mike Schwarz

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