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Pupils' 'Spirit' trip is not plain sailing

Better conditions: the recent school trip by the Spirit of Bermuda begs the question “what were they thinking?” when the decision was made to sail in dicey weather(File photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

Dear Sir,

I can only agree wholeheartedly with the Royal Gazette opinion piece this morning Royal Gazette, January 22) concerning the recent adventure of the Spirit of Bermuda.

I was looking out my kitchen window as the vessel passed my house near noon on Tuesday, sailing under reduced sail, eastward along the South Channel. I thought to myself “must be quite exhilarating out there in this weather”. I noted that she had been in the lee up in the Somerset area earlier (perhaps stayed there the night?).

It wasn't until early evening when I saw the convoy of three proceeding back westwards at 3-4 knots, and after I had heard on the news of the mishap with the engine, that I thought, “What was going through their minds?”

I was shocked to hear that there were schoolchildren aboard. I can't imagine the decision-making process. Imagine you are in a safe anchorage and then deciding to leave that anchorage with the conditions as they were and take a run down North Shore? I had been recording westerly wind gusts in the low to mid-50mph at about 9:30-10.15pm or so and then, as Spirit of Bermuda was passing my house, the gusts were in the low-40s. I fully understand the vessel is capable of weathering far worse, but I have to ask why would anyone take schoolchildren on such a trip and in such a restrictive area? When a squall comes along, things can start to go wrong very quickly. There was certainly potential for a less favourable outcome.

With the wind and tide working against each other outside Ferry Reach, the seas can get very short and untidy (I've been there in winter with a loss of steering — not a comfortable feeling). The rocks along the shoreline in that area are not swimmer-friendly in the best of conditions.

Clearly, someone needs to do some explaining. I know if I had had a child on that trip, I would be seeking some answers. I can't understand how such a decision can be rationalised. I don't have any striped epaulettes, but I have got a little common sense. Thank goodness for the actions of the very competent crews of all vessels involved.