We are four hours out of Nissan Island in Papua, New Guinea, heading for the bottom of New Ireland. The trades have disappeared, and the sea is like glass as we slip along at 6-knots with Intermezzo's little diesel purring below. Since our radar hasn't seen much action in the previous month of daysailing, we are running to keep things loosened up.
The moon has set, but a beautiful net of stars hangs overhead. It isn't too long before we are crossing the favored track of ships heading to and from Kieta on Bougainville Island. On this evening we are surprised by the amount of shipping: six moderate-size vessels and one large-size bulk carrier. Even more surprising is that only one out of the six shows up with radar interference on our set. The other five are not using their radars.
We can see them clearly, except in the occasional rain squall which blocks out their running lights.
The problem of small-vessel visibility becomes even more acute at sea, out of the shipping lanes. As the waves increase and mist starts to hang, visibility worsens. Out of the shipping lanes there's still a surprising amount of large-vessel traffic. The watch on the bridge, if they're looking at all, are intent on other big ships. A small speck of a hull or sail may well not catch anyone's eye.
Needless to say, under these conditions it behooves the offshore cruiser to keep a sharp lookout. Nobody else will be looking for you.
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Lets start by identifying what exactly certain boats are. Sometimes the terminology can get lost on beginners, so well look at some of the most common boats and what theyre called. These boats are exactly what the name implies. They are meant to be used for fishing. Most fishing boats are powered by outboard motors, and many also have a trolling motor mounted on the bow. Bass boats can be made of aluminium or fibreglass.