Crossing a Highway

Sophie encountered 40 ships today as we sailed into the main shipping lane that connects Europe and the Middle East with Asia on what we can only describe as an extraordinary day.

Our current position is 05 33.102n, 083.13.251e. We are sailing on a course of 263m at 7.5 knots under a full jib and reefed main with a 14 knot wind on our beam. We covered 174 miles on our noon-noon run, averaging 7.25 knots. Sri Lanka is just 105 miles to our northwest, and Male is 580 miles ahead of us.

The southern tip of Sri Lanka is 880 miles due west from the entrance to the Malacca Strait, creating an imaginary line that is the shortest distance for ships traveling to Singapore and China. We realized that Sophie had wandered into this highway a little after lunchtime when a cluster of 8 ships suddenly appeared on our AIS. The smallest one was 650 feet. We had clear weather and good visibility, so there was no immediate risk. We even spoke to a few of them on the radio.

But after 2 tankers passed well within a half mile on either side of us, Jenna and I did the math and realized that if we continued on our rhumb line course, we would have to cover 75 miles to cross the shipping lane. We would have these behemoths passing on either side of us well into the night while doing so. We decided instead to gybe and head 20 miles due south while we still had visibility to clear the traffic. It’s better to dash across a highway during daylight, right?

So I went up to the wheel and was waiting for the 1,050 foot tanker “Hyundai Titan” to overtake us a half mile to the south when the starboard fishing rod exploded with a hit.


This fellow had good timing. We were sailing at 8 knots under full main and jib, but Sophie’s crew went to work like a well-oiled machine. Jenna ran to the wheel and turned north to slow the boat and get us away from Mr. Hyundai. Hazel helped her on the winches. Leo went below and started the Yanmars. Rich clipped in and joined me on the transom with a gaff. Travis and Nic brought the other lines in. Kate grabbed a camera and passed up tools. The clutch on this rod’s reel was on its last legs, and I was reluctant to let someone else land the fish. I had just replaced the line with 300 meters of brand new 80lb braid, so this guy wasn’t going anywhere.

We landed a 13 pound bluefin tuna, and everyone on Sophie was happy about the team effort. As soon as the fish was on board, we executed the gybe and kept both diesels on as we sprinted across the highway for the next hour and a half.

Soon the ships were behind us and we resumed our rhumb line course. School ended, and Jenna played dice games with the youngsters in the aft cockpit while Rich and I sat up top and enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon. We cut the fish into steaks and pan seared all of them for dinner, serving them up with red rice and salad. We had a hungry crew, and the fish was delicious.

Immediately after dinner, I joined Jenna up top for the start of her watch when a pod of dolphins decided to play off our bow. Two of the dolphins were babies, and Hazel insisted that they were twins and that she could understand what they were saying. Then the dolphins left just as the clouds shifted and the sky exploded into a deep tangerine rose color. Everyone became silent and let the color soak in. Then we went downstairs and watched the NFL Films DVD of Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots won.

It was a pretty good day, as days go.

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