Yachtsman Roland Wilson denies three counts of contravening maritime regulations

PBO contributor James Stevens reports from the trial of a
yachtsman accused of flouting maritime law and causing a collision during Cowes
Week 2011.

On August 6 2011, Royal Navy lieutenant Roland Wilson attempted to sail his Corby 33 yacht in front of a 120,000-ton tanker Hanne Knutsen.

The yacht was nearly rolled under the bow and was dismasted when the pink spinnaker wrapped on the ship’s anchor.

Fortunately there were no fatalities but one of the eight crew sustained a head injury.

A quick-thinking cameraman working for the Extreme 40 series captured the accident on film and it instantly became a You Tube hit with nearly a million viewings.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) are prosecuting Lt Wilson in Southampton Magistrates Court. The prosecutor, Simon Row read the charges.

Lt Wilson contravened three Colregs:

Rule 5; He did not keep an adequate lookout.

Rule 9b; He impeded a large vessel in a narrow channel.

Rule 18; He impeded a vessel constrained by its draft.

Additionally he is accused of breaching Rule 7 by failing to adequately determine a risk of collision and Rule 8d as his actions did not result in his vessel passing a safe distance from the ship.

Southampton bylaws prohibit small vessels from entering a moving prohibited zone surrounding large ships passing through the central Solent.

Defence to follow

The defence will claim that the sound signals given by the ship were confusing and that the actions of Lt Wilson were not negligent.

Lt Wilson who has now left the Navy but retains his rank in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was skippering his yacht, Atalanta of Chester in Cowes week with a crew assembled by the Royal Naval Sailing Association (RNSA).

Just before impact a crewman from Atalanta jumped in the water and passed down the starboard side of
the ship. Attached to the stern of the ship was a tug whose quick thinking master adjusted his position to port to pass clear of the man in the water.

What happended?

The court was told that as the ship came around the corner by Cowes it turned to port to follow the coastline down.

Just before it got to the Gurnard buoy the ship sounded its horn to indicate going starboard but had to slow the turn because a disabled 35ft Sealine motor cruiser was in its path.

The motor cruiser called Joy C had lost steerage and one engine.

This slowing of the turn meant that the Atalanta yacht could not get in front of the ship and the collision occurred.

Yesterday, the court was given evidence from crews of the Southampton Harbour escort boat, the Spitfire 1.

All said they had attended the disabled Joy C and that they had warned Atalanta in robust language that a ship was approaching.

The trial continues today, Friday.

A detailed report of the trial will be published in the December 2013 issue of PBO.

(Pictures courtesy of Tim Addison at