During the trip back up the Dutch Coastline from Vlissingen to Amsterdam we have passed the major sea ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Rotterdam and Antwerp are the biggest ports in Europe and 11th and 13th biggest in the world.
The shipping in and out of these ports is organised by the harbour control, something similar to airport traffic control. The shipping enters and departs along designated routs, so as to avoid any risk of collision. Small craft, like our sailing boat, that move up and down the coast also have dedicated lanes that must be used when getting close to these very busy shipping lanes. We actually need to call harbour control on the VHF to let them know we are entering such a channel and we get further instructions. One of those is to have our engine on and ready for use should we loose our speed if the wind drops. When we cross a dedicated commercial shipping channel the “sail over steam” priority for open water does not hold and we need to give way to these large vessels that are travelling at 12 to 25 knots in comparison to our 4 – 8 knots.
It is difficult to describe this feeling of “crossing the road”, but the above photo taken yesterday shows the difference between a 300m long container vessel and a sailing boat. If you look closely at the photo, you can see the white sailing boat by the stern of the ship. In perspective, the sailing boat is about 1km in front of the ship !
In addition to seeing the ships during the daylight, or looking at their lights at night, we also use an AIS system (Automatic Identification System) to assist us. This lets us know the vessel speed, direction, the distance at the closest point of approach to our vessel and the number of minutes we have to that point.
Everything is safely done as long as the rules are followed.