View From The Bridge: Coronavirus and watching the anchor chain


credit: Ralf Roletschek – GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2


I was very lucky to get off the island of Mallorca last Sunday (March 15), as the national lockdown that was scheduled for 08:00 Monday morning was brought forward to midnight on Sunday.

Arriving flights had been turned around mid-air on Saturday and only empty aircraft were allowed into Palma International Airport to repatriate people. It’s certainly the closest thing I have ever seen to martial law.

The spread of the virus has certainly been unprecedented in living memory. The sheer volume of people and the speed and regularity at which we travel have elevated it to pandemic status alarmingly quickly.

As I sat, somewhat relieved on my flight back home I though what could we be doing within the yachting sector to minimise the risk of infection and it’s consequences.

Firstly just a note on what I witnessed in Mallorca over the last few days of my visit. There were some apparent failings in the limitations on travel at an earlier stage. Italy was already in major lockdown but there was a very large cruise ship in port with lots of Italian passengers roaming around Palma when their own home country was already under quarantine.

I do not intend to be critical in any way as the whole issue is on a scale we have not seen in a generation at least, and mistakes will be made along the way. I merely make observations on what has happened.

Dramatically reduce the spread of the virus

No one will probably argue that if you are to dramatically reduce the spread of such a virus then it really needs to be all or nothing to do it effectively. We need to be mindful of this. As I understand before the midnight March 14th lockdown was enforced general restrictions were put in place in the Spanish commercial ports, but no restrictions were put in place that effected yachting at that time.

Here are my thoughts on what I would be doing if I were in command of a large yacht just now, especially in an areas such as those where most of the global fleet resides: Italy, Spain and France.

I picked up a great little line from a Robert Redford movie a few years back where he plays a university lecturer. In a discussion with a student where he asks: “When did Noah build the ark ?, before the rains came.”

I have always been one to look ahead and being prepared for every eventuality is always high on the agenda. A well found yacht is in many ways at an advantage in terms of potential risks such as we are currently experiencing. Adequately provisioned and bunkered with plenty of spares, she could survive isolation better than the majority of the population.

Once provisioned and bunkered heading out to sea to anchor in a sheltered spot for a couple of weeks to allow for a full incubation period to pass and ensure that your crew are all free form any symptoms would be a good place to start. Additional onboard procedures could be implemented to reduce human contact and potential cross contamination.

Information and training are paramount. Make sure that your crew are all completely up to speed with all the current information relating to basic hygiene procedures. Make sure that the crew are self-policing and keep an eye on each other as much as possible to ensure the procedures are effective.

Crew are self-policing

This is an extremely busy period for many yachts as they prepare for the coming season. So though it may cause some inconvenience, it could be manageable depending on the workload that the vessel has pre-season.

Much will depend on how much of that work is in the hands of external personnel. Prioritising critical systems, for example, could be aided if resources were taken from the senior deck crew to assist in the engineering department if much could be done in house. Otherwise, there simply may not enough hours or hands to do it. Three pairs of hands as opposed to one in engineering could be a great help.

Though this may come as a trade-off for progress in the deck department, as none of us knows where this is all going, I think it’s fair to say that compromise is going to be the order of the day.

Provisions and spares can still be delivered to ports for collection by tender in a very hands off manner if required, thus dramatically reducing human to human contact.

Such a scenario may well help to ensure that your own crew remain free of infection. But as the season rapidly approaches, the next challenge arrives as captains will soon be feeling the pressure of their owners as they want to use their yachts. National restrictions may well make this impossible for a vessel to stay in a given country so we may see a mass exodus of yachts form the usual haunts as owners refuse to accept they cannot use their yachts so order them to be moved to alternative locations.

Northern Europe and north Africa may have bumper seasons if they maintain better containment and crew may see themselves doing a lot more anchor watches than usual as vessels keep clear of ports. As it all moves so very quickly though we will need to respond equally so if we are to keep our owners’ happy.


About the author

Iain Flockhart, MD, Saor Alba Holdings Ltd, is a highly experienced yacht captain with over 265,000 nautical miles in the role of master since 1996. He bought and completely refitted his first yacht at the age of 20 and went on to buy a larger ocean going yacht a few years later and set sail across the oceans, often with novice crews.

As well as being a master, Iain provides professional mentoring services to yacht crew and advises on issues relating to hiring, managing and retaining the right crew.

He’s an ambassador for the Rafnar brand of RIBs. through his brand brand SA Marine. He enjoys simple pleasures such as using his 7m RIB to go exploring and wild camping in natural beauty of his native Scotland.

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