The number of yacht collisions with whales could make a catalogue - like this one


Hitting whales at sea – this is the topic du jour, I think, courtesy of misadventures in the Artemis Transat. These collisions are frighteningly frequent if you look at the anecdotal evidence, and perhaps becoming more so as yachts get faster and faster.

It makes you think, doesn’t it, how many must be killed or maimed by ships? Their crews would know nothing of a collision with a whale.

Looking back at the more well-publicised collisions with whales, here’s the damage:

1964 OSTAR:Derek Kelsall hit a whale 500 miles NW of Plymouth in his trimaran Folatre.

1988 OSTAR:Mike Birch’s trimaran Fujicolour bady damaged in a collision with a whale. After a similar incident David Sellings’s Hyccup sank and he had to take to his liferaft.

1996 OSTAR:Ellen MacArthur collides with and kills a whale, which stopped Kingfisher and was found wrapped round the keel. The boat was OK.

1998 Whitbread:Knut Frostad reports a collision with a whale on Innovation Kvaerner which broke several ring frames. “It was like being in a car crash,” he comments.

2001 Vendée Globe:Raphael Dinelli’s boat damaged during collision with whale

2002 Around Alone:Thierry Dubois hits a whale on the leg from New York to Brixham, damaging his starboard rudder.

2002:Jean Le Cam’s Bonduelle badly damaged off Finisterre during a qualification for the solo Route du Rhum

2005 Jules Verne record:Bruno Peyron reports damaged rudder on maxi cat Orange 2 after collision with whale in South Atlantic.

These have been some of better publicised incidents, but don’t let me give you the impression that collisions are restricted to racers, or biased towards solo sailors. There are plenty of examples among cruising sailors too.

For example, a couple of years ago a British family were sailing in a 40ft charter boat in Australia between Airlie Beach and Hook Island when a 30ft humpback whale leapt from the water and landed on their deck, dismasting the yacht. They said it slid back into the water, “uttering a long eerie groan.”