Please select your home edition
Leaderboard brokerage

Fred Again III - Lost on Reef in the Caribbean

by Rob Murray, BCA 29 Apr 2019 15:32 UTC
Fred Again III - Lost on Reef in the Caribbean © Rob Murray / BCA

I wrote for Currents about Navionics and the sonarcharts feature they enabled a few years ago (see article on page 28). Here's an update from an incident in Roatan, Honduras in February 2019.

Essentially, Navionics collects data from users and adds it to existing charts with a proprietary algorithm to enable additional detail, or detail where there was none before, and calls this 'sonarcharts'. In the areas we have been cruising, we have seen a marked increase in chart details and soundings, much to our delight. Combined with the 'community layer' (where users add details like rocks, points of interest, way points, etc. for the use of others) and the 'active captain' layer (similar to the community layer), e-charts did improve markedly. We have used the feature extensively ourselves, and found it was usually very good. In our experience, there has been no failure.

However, it seems it doesn't always work as desired. Fred Again III, a C&C captained by Robert Nuttall, was using the sonar charts layer as their primary charting system on approach to Roatan, and found the data sorely lacking. Nuttall had sailed from Vancouver BC down the coast and through the Panama Canal and had come to rely almost exclusively on the Navionics with sonarcharts for plotting. He had found it 'spot on' in his voyages and it had never let him down before. He had no reason to doubt its accuracy here.

Approaching Roatan at 2200 hours (after dark), he planned to use the chart to enter the anchorage in Little French Cay. The sonarcharts showed an open approach with minimum depths of some 15'. The Navionics or government charts showed the reef as shallow (too shallow to pass over), but did not show the true extent of the reef. Using either set of charts, or paper charts, would have delivered the same result, as all showed deep water where he went aground on the reef.

It appears the algorithm used to add new soundings and integrate them with the existing soundings interpolated the depths inside and outside the anchorage, 'smoothing' them to create a false pass over the reef where none existed. It also displayed soundings that were obviously incorrect over the reef. How this was possible I do not know. Combined with the inaccurate charting of the reef on the underlying hydrographic survey, it created the conditions for a disaster.

Now clearly, there were additional precautions he could (and should) have taken. He was after all approaching an unknown harbour at night, one with coral reefs. Prudence dictated staying offshore, perhaps a mile or more, until dawn and using Mk.1 eyeballs as additional aids to navigation to pilot an entry. If he had access to and had used a program to capture and display Google Earth images (like OpenCPN with the GE2KAP add-on, SASPlanet, or Ovitalmap), he could have confirmed chart details were in error with another source (Google Earth images are very good at displaying reefs). A cruising guide could have described the entrance and hazards, perhaps better than the charts. Radar might have shown the reef, but he did not have radar, and it is not always great at showing reefs. But those ideas aside, he was severely let down by the charts, which all mis-charted the extent of the reef by some 600', and in the case of the 'sonarcharts', showed an entrance to the anchorage that simply did not exist.

The captain and crew of Fred Again III were rescued without injury, but the boat is a total loss, will have to be removed at the owners expense and has suffered looting.

As always, mariners are cautioned not to rely on any one source of information, and to use all means at their disposal to make safe passages and landfalls. Aboard Avant, we will continue to use Navionics with the sonar chart feature, but we will use other charts more diligently, and Google Earth images as well.

The CBC featured an article about Fred Again III. Nuttall has a go fund me campaign set up to help him get back on his feet. He also maintains a blog if you are curious to read more about his adventures.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Bluewater Cruising Association.

Related Articles

January: Reflections on a Pandemic Escape
The Sars-Covid pandemic had again eluded all the attempts to stop it altogether As the festive season proceeded through the last days of December and the hoary Old Man gave over his powers to the bright shiny Newborn of 2022, we on Traversay III shared the very same, strangely inexorable feelings of powerlessness. Posted on 11 Mar
10 more things learned while sailing to Mexico
The learning never stops One of the great things about sailing is that the learning never stops. Even at home in familiar waters, we'd learn new things every year. Now that we're voyaging, the lessons are coming much faster. Posted on 14 Jan
Our planetary system from a sailor's perspective
Event in Canada: Navagating with the stars This in-person presentation at the BCIT Planetarium is for everyone and anyone who has looked at stars and wondered how anyone could use their location to navigate with. Posted on 13 Jan
Electrical Skills for Cruisers
Spend a day with electrical engineer, Bjarne Hansen Spend a day with electrical engineer, Bjarne Hansen, in an interactive session about all things boat electrical. Posted on 30 Dec 2022
Boat Maintenance: Marine Diesel Systems
2+ hour webinar presented by Dennison Berwick This 2+ hour webinar presented by Dennison Berwick is for everyone wanting to learn more about their marine diesel system - understanding how things work, maintenance best practices and bluewater passage preparation. Posted on 20 Dec 2022
Rigging Essentials for Smooth Sailing
An evening presentation in Vancouver with Steve White Rigging Steve, owner of Steve White Rigging, shares years of experience in this evening presentation. He will cover preparing your vessel for leaving, maintenance and repairs. Posted on 15 Nov 2022
Course: Intermediate Marine Weather
Forecasting weather conditions are major aspects of cruising under sail and power Forecasting weather conditions are major aspects of cruising under sail and power. Posted on 31 Oct 2022
Course: Basic Marine Weather
If you are interested in knowing about the weather in your local area, then this course is for you! If you are a cruiser who will be sailing in internal waters, have access to VHF radio broadcasts (and/or the internet) and are interested in knowing about the weather in your local area, then this course is for you! Posted on 30 Oct 2022
Electrical skills for cruisers
Bjarne is a popular instructor who's taught sell-out courses in the past Spend a day with electrical engineer, Bjarne Hansen, in an interactive session about all things boat electrical. Posted on 28 Oct 2022
Offshore Charting and Dead Reckoning
Instuctor Malcolm Wilkinson will be presenting a one day course on 8th October The Vancouver Chapter is pleased to offer this one day course on Offshore Charting and Dead Reckoning at Jericho Sailing Centre, instructed by veteran offshore sailor, Malcolm Wilkinson. Posted on 15 Sep 2022
Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW FOOTEROcean Safety 2021 - FOOTERCure Marine - Cure 55 - FOOTER