TWO boats in the biennial Dunhill San Fernando yacht race which began yesterday off Deepwater Bay nearly became unwitting victims of Tuesday's collision between two container ships southeast of Waglan Island.
The collision, which has claimed one life with four others presumed dead, spewed containers into the water which nearly holed Moonblue and Miss Ilo Ilo as they moved away from Waglan Island in medium swells and an unexpected 20-knot northeast breeze.
Race manager Barbara Gudgin said last night she had received a radio report from acclaimed single-handed round-the-world sailor Robin Knox-Johnston who is crewing aboard the new Warwick 54-footer Moonblue skippered by Peter Churchouse.
'Robin said the helm had to veer sharply to miss the semi-submerged container,' said Gudgin.
Miss Ilo Ilo, a 48-foot catamaran on her maiden off-shore race and owned by Nick Adams, had to take similar action to the crew aboard Moonblue.
Luckily members of the Marine Department had the foresight to alert the 34 crews taking parting in the race to the island of Luzon in the Philippines at a skippers' briefing on Tuesday night.
'All the boats had lookouts on the bow once they neared Waglan and I'm glad the Marine Department warned us to take the precaution because the containers were semi-submerged,' a relieved Gudgin said.
Two of the hot favourites for the race, the Whitbread 40 Millennium and the Mumm 36, Boogie Flash, barely made it to the start.
The crew of Boogie Flash only took delivery of a new mast on Tuesday which was stepped overnight while Millennium broke a mast fixture during a shakedown cruise on Monday.
Gudgin said work on Millennium wasn't completed until 7.30 yesterday morning.
Skipper Jan Brinkers quickly put the mishap behind him to begin brilliantly along with Keith Jacobs' Dubois 43 Bimblegumbie, Dr Ian Nicholson's Banner 41 Intrigue and Moonblue.
Boogie Flash, jointly skippered by Neil Pryde and Mark Dagge, began conservatively but quickly scythed their way through the fleet to lie just astern of the bigger boats.
Pryde and Dagge failed to radio in a position report late yesterday afternoon which could cost them dearly if they are repeat offenders.
Under the strict safety requirements of the race which takes the fleet across the China Sea, all boats must furnish two position schedules daily. Failure to comply without good reason can lead to disqualification.
Yesterday's gusty conditions came as totally unexpected with near millpond conditions of around five knots from the northeast forecast.
In what the Royal Observatory described as a purely localised wind pattern, the breeze sprung up to a monsoonal surge.