Munslow mown down

One of two British sailors qualified for the Mini Transat has contratent with French fishing boat

Wednesday May 21st 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: France
This morning British Mini sailor Ian Munslow was run down by a French fishing boat off the French coast while taking part in the first leg of the singlehanded Mini Pavois race from La Rochelle to Portsmouth.

"It was 0600 or 0630 this morning and it had been blowing its tits off all night," Munslow told The Daily Sail - the coastguard he later discovered had recorded 45 knots at the time. "Before I had had storm jib and three reefs, and I’d just gone back to to two reefs and full jib. I was chasing a boat in front of me - he was about half a mile in frfont. I didn’t know what position I was in. I’d just been passing boats and passing boats. Everything was going cushty.

"I’d had problems with my pilots since the start so I’ve been helming a lot. We were just through the second night and I was getting a bit bushed. The swell was huge because it had been really windy."

At the time Munslow said it was blowing about 25 knots and he'd been trying to get around the Chausee de Seine buoy off the west Brittany coast. He'd done a check for shipping and gone below to use the head. "I was taking my drysuit off and I’d got it half way down then - BANG. It was like car crash."

A ship had entered his living space.

"I was on port tack. All I thought at first was that the rig had gone. And then I looked behind and there was a ship rolling past, a big trawler, about 80-100ft long called the Saint Hubert."

The ship had been approaching the boat from the starboard forward quarter. It had struck Munslow's boat Ishtar, midships on the starboard side. Ishtar had then been run down the starboard side of the fishing boat.

"I hadn't got my specs on, and I was half undressed," continued Munslow. "I went up on deck and the top of my rig is still attached to all the fishing gear on the back of this boat. So I’m being dragged by that sideways. He’d already had all the spreaders off the starboard side and I was hooked on the forestay.

"So the hull has got a hole you could put parcels rather than letters through. It is about 1m long, by half a metre and there is a lot of delamination. The deck is all buckled, and the bulkhead inside is buckled. And because I was on a port tack, the starboard side is underwater and I am also being dragged to starboard by the ship, so there’s water was just ***** pouring in."

The crew of the fishing boat had finally caught on they were not alone. "There was a guy on deck pushing my rig off the fishing gear. Then we broke free and I looked up and all the starboard side of the rig, all the spreaders were hanging off and the rigging had gone, but somehow the rig stayed up. I think it was because I was on port tack so all the pressure was on the port side so it just stayed there."

"The boat is filling with up water up to my knees," continued Munslow. "So I had to drop my sails and quickly got some halyards down and kept the rig up. Then I stacked all the gear to port and swung the keel to port. I saw where the hole was and I had to get that out of the water."

At this stage down below was knee deep in water. In theory a Mini won't sink because under the rules they are packed with foam buoyancy. "Lately Classe Mini have asked for the buoyancy calculations for my boat. And Matt who works with Owen Clarke says there’s 1493lt of foam in there - so there is more than the 1200 the class demand. The water got up to the level of the top of the keel box and stopped." With everything stacked to port and the hole out of the water, Munslow pumped "like buggery" and felt they were winning.

The fishing boat didn't continue but circled around. There then came a language issue - the fishing boat crew spoke no English and Munslow only pidgeon French. Munslow asked for a tow and initially the fishermen were reluctant instead telling him to call the coastguard.

"I thought this is not a grave situation - he can just tow me in. But the coastguard told me to wait and the lifeboat would come in 40 minutes. And there was one in 40 minutes - it was fantastic."

In fact the fishing boat had thrown Munslow a line about 15 minutes before the lifeboat arrived "but he towed me due west out to sea which made no sense. Then the lifeboat came and threw me another and then I had the fastest speed I’d ever seen in the boat being towed behind that thing. The sea was with us and I was overtaking the lifeboat in the surf...."

In terms of repair work Munslow says he was very lucky. He is a boat builder by trade and so can repair the hull. "There is a stanchion there that is now about 6in higher than it was! The deck is all folded in by quite a lot. You can get a few hands in there and on the inside all of the laminate has peeled off. The coachroof bulkhead has all buckled. So there’s a bit of work for me there. My jib is in bits because he took the top of it with him - the rest is on the boat and the mainsail somehow didn’t get a scratch."

In terms of fault - Munslow says that the ship struck him and not vica-versa, although he admits he was down below at the time. The incident took place in daylight and the vis was okay. There was however a huge swell and the ship would have been approaching from beneath Ishtar's jib. "And he wasn’t fishing at the time and he was heading towards land - because I was heading westish."

The coastguard took him to Ile de Sein where after a couple of phonecalls, Munslow was galled to find that when the incident occurred he had been lying in fifth place (he thought he was 10th or so). "That would have been my best result. So that was pretty gutting.

"This is the thing about the Mini you don’t know what position you’re in. For this race there were no VHF broadcasts and comms. But once I’d stopped and I was sat there for about 40 minutes I could see all these Minis in the distance coming up and during the tow we must have passed 8 or 10."

With his boat recovered Munslow must work out if he can get compensation for the accident from the fishing boat's insurers. Without a major sponsor he is extremely strapped for cash and now has a £500 bill for the tow he received from the lifeboat (they charge in France...)

Meanwhile Munslow, who heralds from Plymouth, will have a night on Ile de Sein, along with its inhabitants of 200. "I’m walking round town and everyone knows already!"

Munslow, 29, is currently one of just two British Mini sailors who have got confirmed places in the Mini Transat. The other is James Bird.

Below Ian Munslow on Ishtar

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