Has offshore performance gone too far?

Published on December 4th, 2022

Collisions with floating objects is the concern when offshore, as they are often hard to anticipate and rescue services not quickly available. While many of the incidents involve litter or lumbering sea life, the latest fear is getting targeted by ocean predators. Richard Hayes shares this story:


Apart from the two in the Pacific mentioned by Don Street and the recent batch of incidents in the Eastern Atlantic, these orca encounters do happen from time to time.

A first-hand account of an incident was published in the Spring 1976 issue of the Royal Naval Sailing Association’s Journal written by the navigator of the 44-foot ocean racing yacht Guia lll, George Marshall (the skipper was the respected French yachtsman Jérôme Poncet).

They were on the final leg of the 1975/6 ‘Atlantic Triangle’ races, from Brazil to the UK. The force of the impact (in the forepeak area) created “an egg-shaped hole three feet long and two feet deep” a couple of feet below the waterline.

Sail GP

While the crew were dealing with their abandon ship routine, they saw a pod of orcas circling about 50-feet off the port beam and, interestingly, a school of dolphins about the same distance off the starboard beam, ‘sounding’.

The Guia went down just after noon on 9 March 1976 about 500 miles SW of the Cape Verdes and, once she had gone, so too had the orcas and dolphins. (The crew were picked up before dawn next day in rough seas by the Greek liner Hellenic Ideal in an outstanding display of seamanship).

What isn’t clear is whether the Guia was rammed by an orca, or the other way around. From the damage done, this was obviously a huge impact but it seems to me that in almost every ocean race, and some coastal ones, we hear of vessels hitting an ‘unidentified floating object’.

We don’t know if the skipper really has no idea what they hit, or they would rather not tell us. Sleeping sea creatures? Containers? Fishing gear?

Bearing in mind the often catastrophic consequences of such a collision, the “foiling is the future” slogan rings a bit hollow for me, in spite of being in awe of IMOCA skippers and others.

Just from the seamanship aspect, I would have a problem doing a passage on a 60-footer with five foils (two side, one keel, and two rudders), not to mention the moral issue of hitting a slumbering whale, turtle, or whatever.


Has the pursuit of offshore performance gone too far? Send your thoughts to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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