Yachtsman Roland Wilson defends his crews actions during Cowes Week collision

PBO contributor

James Stevens’ latest report from the trial of a yachtsman accused

of flouting maritime law.

Royal Navy

lieutenant Roland Wilson’s Corby 33 yacht Atalanta was involved in a collision with a

120,000-ton Hanne Knutsen tanker during Cowes Week 2011.

Wilson is charged with contravening three Colregs – Convention on the International Regulations for

Preventing Collisions at Sea:

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.

After six days of waiting the

defendant and yacht skipper Roland Wilson took the stand.

His defence was that he took

the correct action because 1) he could always see the port side of the ship and

intended to pass port to port and 2), and that the ship had indicated a

starboard turn but had stood on before making it.

Caught out by ship’s ‘unexpected


Wilson is 32, and at the time of

the accident was a serving Lt RN having trained as a bridge watchkeeper and

navigator. He has sailed since childhood in yachts and dinghies and owned the

Corby 33 for about a year before the accident. He was fully aware of the race

instructions and Southampton bylaws concerning the Precautionary area and the

Moving Prohibited Zone and the Colregs. He said that he did not take

unnecessary risks.

He saw the ship several miles

away and realised the yacht and the ship would both be in the precautionary

area at the same time. He had two options, to head north on port tack towards

the mainland shore or to head towards the island shore on starboard tack. He

chose the latter because it would have meant passing the ship port to port and

not across its bow. He was confident that he would sail clear but was caught by

the unexpected manoeuvre of the ship

There was an important

discrepancy between his statement that he could always see the port side of the

ship and the MCAs reconstruction from GPS and radar data which showed the yacht

clearly on the ship’s starboard side. When questioned on this Wilson said the

port side was ‘how I saw it’.

‘Blindingly obvious’ risk of collision

Simon Row summing up for the

prosecution suggested that the crew of Atalanta had taken actions on what they

thought ship was going to do

rather than what the ship actually did. He said it

should have been blindingly obvious a risk of collision existed.

He added that if Wilson’s submission about

the relative positions were true all Atlanta would have had to do was

turn further south. It was wrong to assume the escort boat leads the ship. The

delay of the ship’s starboard turn was only 25 seconds, even without that delay

the yacht was too close.

Rufus Taylor started the

defence summary by questioning whether the prosecution was in the public

interest given that no one was seriously hurt and this was the first accident

of this type in 20 years. He explained that the Wilson had based his decisions

on advice from Mike Shrives, his navigator with 41 years of experience and it

was wrong and unjust to hold the skipper responsible.

He blamed the accident on the

excessive speed of the Hanne Knutsen about 9.4 knots which he said contravened

rule 6 given the density of traffic, the breakdown of the motor yacht Joy C and

the failure of the escort boat to police the precautionary zone. The

reconstruction did not tell the whole story because it did not include all the

other vessels and he said that Wilson was not charged with breaching Rule 7. Mr Taylor also blamed the inadequate lookout on the ship.

Finally the judge said that a

key question in this case is whether the reconstruction is accurate, if it is,

the yacht was on the starboard side of the tanker.

The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.

A detailed report

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

Photos:courtesy of Tim Addison at