In the serene predawn hours off the southern coast of Spain, professional sailor April Boyes found herself in an unexpected confrontation. A pod of Orcas targeted a yacht she was delivering in a chilling display of their power. This wasn’t just an isolated incident. In fact, interactions between these marine apex predators and vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar have been on the rise, with 20 incidents reported in this month alone, and 207 throughout the previous year, according to the research group GTOA.
April, who started her offshore sailing journey by taking part in a variety of our sailing adventures, was on watch when the orcas decided to engage. The pod tore at the rudder, pierced the hull, and left the 20-metre vessel in need of assistance. The damage was severe enough to compel the crew to call for help from Spanish authorities.
The maritime rescue service responded promptly, deploying a rapid-response vessel and a helicopter equipped with a bilge pump to assist the crippled the yacht. April shared this harrowing experience on her Instagram account, posting photographs and videos of the damage done by the orcas. In one of her videos, she can be heard saying, “it’s like they are biting it apart”.
She later reflected on the incident: “What started off as a seemingly unique encounter ended with orcas breaking off our rudder from the boat, then proceeding to tear bits off the boat for an hour”. The orcas’ assault left a gaping hole in the hull, causing water to flood into various parts of the boat, including the engine room. Despite the terrifying ordeal, Boyes expressed her gratitude towards the coastguard for ensuring their safety.
Following the encounter, the yacht was towed to the port of Barbate, in the province of Cadiz, for repairs. This was not the first time a yacht had suffered at the hands of these powerful creatures. Earlier in May, another sailing yacht, S/Y Champagne, met a similar fate in an encounter with three orcas.
In response to these incidents, the Spanish Transport Ministry has issued guidelines urging ships to leave the area as quickly as possible if they observe any changes in orcas’ behaviour. Every interaction between a ship and an orca must be reported to the authorities, reminding sailors of the balance needed between human activities and wildlife preservation.
Although they’re known as ‘killer whales’, orcas are actually members of the dolphin family, and can grow up to eight metres long and weigh as much as six tonnes as adults. Despite their intimidating size and power, they are listed as endangered, making encounters like April’s both awe-inspiring and a stark reminder of our delicate relationship with the marine world.