“Cheeki Rafiki” Tragedy, Time For Changes

Overturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki

I think most everyone in the offshore sailing community is now aware of the tragic loss of the Beneteau First 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki.

What We Know

Much internet ink has been expended speculating about what may, or may not, have happened to the boat and her crew. But two things we know for sure at this point are:

  • The keel is missing from the wreck.
  • The liferaft is in its original stowage position.

That would seem to indicate that disaster struck very quickly and in a way that prevented this experienced crew from taking steps to save themselves.

Beyond that, we can all speculate for months, as I’m sure will happen in the media and on the forums, but none of that will do much, or maybe anything, to prevent a recurrence. This post is my attempt to look at what we can do.

Cheeki Rafiki is Different

I always take a keen interest when a yacht is lost, and often write about it, because I believe that studying casualties at sea is one of the most important things we can do in our quest to sail offshore safely. But the Cheeki Rafiki loss is different. Not just because four sailors are missing but because, unlike with most losses at sea, I think that there is little anyone, including the crew, could have done to avoid this tragedy, given the current state of offshore sailing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a keel failure is acceptable, and I expect that the appropriate authorities will investigate and try to determine what happened, but what I am saying is this accident may have been inevitable, just as I believe that the tragic loss of sailors’ lives in the 1979 Fastnet race was inevitable, given the state of offshore sailing at that time.

I firmly believe that Cheeki Rafiki should be a wake up call for the offshore sailing community, just as the ’79 Fastnet was. And, once again, we should honour the memory of those who lost their lives by making some fundamental changes.

Keels Are Different

What fundamental changes you ask? Before we get into that, let me quote the late Don Jordan, designer of the Jordan Series Drogue and an aircraft engineer:

In the design of aircraft, certain machinery and equipment is in a separate category, “safety of flight”. These items must be absolutely reliable and must be capable of enduring the worst environment that the aircraft may encounter.

I would argue that the ballasted keel of a sailboat is the marine equivalent of a “safety of flight” item–an item that simply must not fall off for the expected service life of the boat. A sudden keel failure, particularly in heavy weather far from land, well, that’s the marine equivalent of the wings falling off an aircraft in flight–there is pretty much nothing that airmanship or seamanship can do to avert a tragedy.

Yes, I know. I have heard the suggestions that the crew of Cheeki Rafiki would have survived if:

  • The liferaft was stowed in a more accessible place.
  • The liferaft had had an automatic release.
  • Ditto the EPIRB.

And on it goes. To me all of that is like saying “don’t worry about the wing structure, let’s just make sure all the crew have parachutes and the escape hatches work”. No, a sudden inversion due to keel loss is such a catastrophic event, particularly in heavy weather far from help, that even with the best gear in the world survival is doubtful.

And yes, I know that several Open 60 sailors have survived sudden keel loss, but at least two have not; besides which, the crew of Cheeki Rafiki didn’t sign up for that kind of risk.

By the way, it is tempting to say that many more parts of a sailboat should be in the “simply must not fail” category but, if we did that, boats would become even more ridiculously expensive than they already are. And anyway, we can deal with potential failure in, say, rigs with frequent inspection and parts that fatigue with use (stays, for example) with regular replacement–not so keels.

And, after all, if the mast falls down the boat still floats. And even if the hull is ruptured, and the water pours in, there is a reasonable chance of getting into the liferaft. Neither are trivial but they are, in most cases, survivable.

What Changed?

First 36.7 keel 1Before we look at what needs to be done, we need to understand why we have a keel problem. After all, up until a couple of decades ago, sudden keel loss on offshore sailing yachts was extremely rare.

What changed? I’m sure there are a lot of factors here, but I think a big cause is the move to keels that concentrate most of their weight at the bottom and couple that with a very small attachment area at the hull.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every boat with a keel like this is dangerous, but there is no question that keels like this are much more difficult to design and build strong enough.

The even more worrying aspect of this is that many boats with these intrinsically difficult to engineer keels are now aging. And while their keel attachments may have been adequately strong when the boats were new, I worry that the ravages of fatigue and/or multiple groundings may have made a large number of boats out there at risk for sudden keel loss.

What We Need To Do

In this kind of situation it is always tempting to say “they need to do something”. The faceless “they” comprising boat builders, designers and regulators. But the bottom line is that it’s simply impractical to expect mass production boat builders to increase the price of their products, or cut their profit margins, to fix a problem like this without changing the market conditions that caused the problem in the first place.

Or to put it another way, we won’t get strong keels until we-the-market start insisting on strong keels. Just as we-the-market started insisting on more stable boats after the ‘79 Fastnet. And yes, I know that regulators and race organizers have a part to play here, but it is still up to us to support them.

New Boats

So what do we need to demand of the industry that supplies the boats we go to sea in, as it relates to keels?

Grounding Proofing

We must insist that the keels are engineered to withstand a grounding at hull speed without structural damage.

Fatigue Proofing

Materials fatigue, in which a structure that was plenty strong enough when it was built weakens over time due to cycle loading and then fails, has, over the years, caused many disasters, most notably in the aviation industry. But it does not have to be that way.

You see, engineers know, to a high degree of accuracy, how much strength common construction materials lose over millions of load cycles. And so it is perfectly possible to design keel to hull joints so that, even after decades of hard sailing, there is more than enough strength remaining to do the job. We must insist that we will only buy boats that are engineered this way.

By the way, fatigue explains a lot about why we have the failures we do on sailboats, so I strongly suggest you read Matt’s excellent article on the subject, and my follow up on how you can use that knowledge to make your boat more reliable and safer.

Practical?

If enough of us question enough boat sales people about these criteria and insist on a well-reasoned answer, instead of fixating on the latest whiz-bang electronic or electric gadget, these improvements can and will happen, just as more stable boats (both static and dynamic) have resulted from the market’s insistence on them.

So what about the cost of all this? I’m no engineer, but I understand, from those that are, that incorporating the two criteria above would not be expensive in relation to the cost of the typical offshore boat, probably less than 1%–surely it’s worth it. And if every builder is pressured to improve keels, there are no competitive pressures to prevent any builder from doing so.

I also think that regulatory bodies should add the above requirements the offshore classification.

Survey

But what about the existing fleet? Well that’s a hard one, probably harder than solving the problem in new boats. But if we do indeed, as I believe, have a ticking time bomb in the form of thousands of boats with keels that, while probably adequate when new, are not adequate after a couple of groundings and a few million load cycles, we must grasp the nettle.

We must demand that those we hire to survey second hand boats being sold and boats that have suffered a grounding, carefully look for evidence of grounding in the former case and render an opinion in writing on the damage in both cases.

No, they won’t get it right every time, and nor should we expect them to, but they must be duly diligent in searching. Yes, this is not easy, but it’s not impossible either. There are tell-tale signs of keel problems to come–dings on the keel filled with putty and carefully painted over, evidence of patching around the hull to deck joint, furnishing and fittings that no longer fit properly–and surveyors should be looking for them, particularly on deep keel boats with small keel attachment areas.

My thinking is that every survey should include a section on examination of keel attachment with special attention to possible grounding damage and any evidence of flexing. In cases where there is any doubt, I would suggest this process should include suspending the boat off the ground and subjecting the keel to a known sideways force and then measuring deflection. And if there is still doubt the surveyor should withhold his or her report until the keel has been removed for full inspection.

Yes, these are big and expensive changes, but no more than the introduction and use of moisture meters and insistence that hulls be peeled and recoated was when customers realized that there was a major problem with water invading fibreglass laminates.

An Halls Spars engineer inspects a carbon fibre mast using an ultrasound machine.Further, just as most of us started to insist that we would only patronize surveyors with moisture meters, we should be rewarding surveyors with more business who look for and adopt new and innovative ways to detect keel to hull joint problems.

The carbon fibre mast industry already uses relatively inexpensive hand held ultrasound machines to look for laminate damage in carbon masts that have been hit by lightning and I’m informed that it is likely that the same machines, in skilled hands, could detect laminate damage in keel to hull joints. We must insist on the adoption of this technology, or something like it.

Conclusion

This is my best attempt at learning something from the Cheeki Rafiki tragedy. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but one thing I do know, we in the offshore sailing community must not just return to business as usual or just shrug and say “they should do something”.  It is up to us to make something happen by changing the market forces that drive boat design and construction, and start looking at existing boats with a much more critical eye.

One other point, nothing in the above should be taken as an implied assertion of cause, fault or blame as it relates to the loss of Cheeki Rafiki. That tragedy simply inspired me to write a post about keel strength that had been slowly forming in my mind for some time.

I would like to close by offering our sincere condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of the crew of Cheeki Rafiki.

A Second Attempt

By the way, this is my second post on the loss of Cheeki Rafiki but you won’t ever see the first one. You see, I went off in the wrong direction on my first attempt. And no, I didn’t rant and rave, or try to pin blame or anything unfortunate like that. I just got it wrong.

So how do I know that? Because I showed the draft to Colin, AAC European Correspondent, who has decades of experience and a deep understanding of the sail training business that Cheeki Rafiki was engaged in, and Matt, AAC Engineering Corespondent, who always has really smart insights on how things are built.

I tell you this so you know how fortunate Phyllis and I, and by extension you, our readers, are to have Colin and Matt contributing to this site and willing to write several hundred words of emails explaining a bunch of stuff to yours truly. Having said that, this post is all mine, so if you think I got it wrong again, blame me, not Colin and Matt.

Comments

I would be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in yacht construction and may have things wrong in this post. If so, I would be grateful to the engineers and naval architects in the audience for corrections, and particularly for alternative solutions. Please leave a comment.

If you are a lay person with suggestions relating to this post, I’m all ears, but please keep it positive. Just saying my ideas won’t work, without suggesting something better, does not help.

One other point on the comments. I will delete comments that contain wild accusations about blame or cause.

{ 102 comments… add one }

  • Dick Stevenson June 9, 2014, 4:44 pm

    John and all,
    There has been a good deal of discussion/worry about hull damage, but the kind of grounding being discussed would also (I believe) leave the rigging/mast compromised. Again this is an area where damage can occur, be vital, and not necessarily reveal itself easily.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
    • John June 10, 2014, 8:23 am

      Hi Dick,

      I would certainly agree that a grounding can damage many other mission critical parts of a boat as well as the keel. However, as I postulate in the post, I think we in the sailing community should stay focused on fixing the sudden keel failure problem and not diffuse our efforts into making the whole boat grounding proof, laudable though that goal might be.

      Reply
  • Laurent June 9, 2014, 5:42 pm

    I understand the whole thread has discussed different topics this far, among them :
    - 1) the technical issues about Cheeki Rafiki, why did the keel break, what is the risk of such accidents in today’s yachts and is it technically feasible, at what cost, to reduce this kind of risk to near zero.?
    - 2) the commercial issues about yachts with possible much stronger keel attachments: can we find any in current production, could it be a good commercial argument considering the possible added cost and/or weight (“A40″ project…) ?
    - 3) the possible question about Cheeki Rafiki’s builder, was this boat reasonably built considering the regulation and the builder’s commercial discourse, and/or, was is reasonably advertised considering the way it was built ?
    - 4) the US Coast-Guards research efforts for Cheeki Rafiki crew, where they adequate, insufficient, excessive etc.?…
    - ….

    I have no clear cut opinion about each and every of those points, but I understand that Cheeki Rafiki crew hired a sailing yacht in the UK to participate in Bermuda race, which meant that they also had to sail it from UK to Bermuda and back, I understand that they did it according to current guidelines for this sport as practiced by good level amateurs (which they were…), with a seemingly appropriate sailing yacht they hired from a reputed yacht-renting company. They were not breakneck-type kind of guys, and I didn’t understand they took much more risks than they were supposed to in those circumstances.

    So, must this accident be considered like some very rare strike of very bad luck, which should not alter the current practice of anybody (boat builders, amateurs sportsmen etc…), or should we conclude otherwise ?

    Personally, I think qualified good-level amateurs sportsmen should be allowed to take a few limited risks provided the “institutions” (boat builders, race organizers, boat renting companies etc…) are very clear in describing the kind and the amount of those risks. I understand that, in the case of Cheeki Rafiki, it was most likely not correctly done.

    Considering the US Coast-Guards, I understand that Cheeki Rafiki crew was well within the limit of what could be described as “reasonable risks” considering the information they could obtain, and the current practice in sail-yachts races. For that reason, I understand that the sea-rescue public resources that were spent trying to salvage them was part of the insurance we can reasonably expect as taxpayers.

    Reply
    • Eric Klem June 9, 2014, 6:40 pm

      Hi Laurent,

      You bring up a very important point which is whether this is a one time problem which does not warrant changes to design, manufacturing, etc or whether it really should be a call to action. It is my opinion that changes are often made based on emotions rather than on good hard data and this often applies as people respond to a tragedy. As we know, things like materials have a distribution of values for each property and it is likely unreasonable to design something so that you can never have a failure but you can make the probability of one be extremely close to zero.

      I thought about this a little when John first put his post up and I decided that keel failures are indeed much too common so this is not a one time event. I am unaware of a database of worldwide rescues/losses but if one existed, it could be analyzed to really figure out what we should be focusing our attentions on. I read the BoatUS publications as they have likely one of the best databases out there and I know that they try to be proactive about examining it. Unfortunately, I find their articles to be incomplete and I don’t know whether it is because they dumb them down or if they don’t look deep enough (for example, saying that X% of boats sink due to hose failure doesn’t tell you if it is a random sampling that sink or if it can really be solved by replacing the hoses regularly, in other words, they should try to correlate the hose failures to a cause and a remedy).

      Eric

      Reply
    • John June 10, 2014, 8:18 am

      Hi Laurent,

      I agree entirely that the crew of Cheeki Rafiki took what should have been a reasonable risk and therefore had every right to expect that a credible effort would be made to rescue them. And, I believe that effort was made.

      The cancelation and restart of the search is a much more difficult question, and since I have no expertise in the area of accessing survival probabilities with time, I have no opinion on that.

      Reply
  • RDE June 9, 2014, 6:43 pm

    A few quotes from an sailor who has owned and raced a number of First series Beneteaus including the 40.7 model. He seconds the comments I have been making about the inherent problems caused by attaching keel bolts through a (so called) structural liner.

    “In my opinion, anyone who has a production boat with a solid polyester GRP hull with a structural hull liner must (at some time and commensurate with boat use) give very serious consideration to addressing laminate and grid connection fatigue”

    “In my latest First I found the hull laminate thickness was the thinnest either side of the sump, presumably done to assist bilge water flow to this sump!!!”

    “I have a number structural concerns attached to “white boats” after a period of use and particularly those produced over the last 15 or so years, some of which relative to initial outlay and outcome are easy to correct. For appendages, these concerns include:

    1. The absence or minimal use of “integral” stringers in areas of high load and therefore the reliance on a structural hull liner and its method of connection to the hull; and

    2. Keel connections and the long term shear load capacity of adjoining hull laminates accommodating normal day to day flex fatigue and as well as sudden impact fatigue through groundings, knock-downs etc. ”

    From Sailing Anarchy June 7,2014

    Reply
  • Enno June 10, 2014, 5:14 am

    When comparing to the aviation industry I find it striking how different the handling of the wreckage is. After an aircraft accident everything is done to find the wreckage with the purpose to learn from it. In this case one did not salvage the wreckage as a policy even though it would have been comparably easy. I find this quiet sad. Bulletproof evidence of the cause might have changed the way boats are build, just as it is usual in the aviation industry.
    I hope the A40 get a lead keel with a heavily overengineered attachment.

    Reply
  • Jeremy Gurney June 11, 2014, 8:57 am

    A very interesting discussion on a very important subject. I have not read all the comments, and apologise if I am repeating anything that others have said.

    Thoughts on four separate aspects come to mind:
    - Reason for Cheeki Rafiki’s loss
    - Check of existing boats
    - Prevention of fatigue
    - Launching of liferafts

    1. Establishment of the cause of Cheeki Rafiki’s keel loss.

    Based on information at present available, the cause of the failure that led to the keel loss can only be guesswork. To make further progress the hull would need to be recovered to enable it to be examined. The upper part of any bolts that have broken, if not still in place, will be within the hull, and examination of the fracture surfaces would show whether failure was due to fatigue or other causes.

    2. Checking the condition of the keel attachment of existing boats.

    On many boats it is very difficult to remove keel bolts to check their condition. It occurs to me that it should be possible to check for incipient fatigue cracks by ultrasound. I think other contributors have also mentioned this possibility.
    If the upper end of the bolt is accessible, as it usually is, an ultrasonic check would involve sending a signal down from the top and checking for echoes. The basic technology exists, but possibly the kit for this particular application needs to be developed.
    It would not be unduly expensive, and would, ideally, be available at boatyards with an operator trained in its use.
    All boats could then be subject to a routine check.
    The potential problem with this is that fatigue cracks, once they have started, grow very quickly. As soon as a crack is detected in one bolt, all of them would need replacing.

    3. Prevention of fatigue failure of keel bolts.

    When you think of all the different loads, arising in different conditions, it is very difficult to determine accurately the loading spectrum to which the keel attachments will be subjected. This would require a widespread programme of instrumentation of boats being sailed in all conditions.
    Although this could be done, it would require a lot of organisation and a lot of time; so lets leave that aside for the time being.

    In the absence of detailed information about the loading pattern, which would allow the design to proceed in accordance with established codes of practice, we need a different approach.
    This would be that the design and construction should be such as to prevent the keel bolts feeling any changes in loading.
    This can be done by pre-tensioning the bolts to more than the maximum anticipated load. It is important that the contact surfaces (the top of the keel and the underside of the hull) are a perfect fit, probably flat, so that there is no possibility of relative movement.
    Any loading applied by the keel to the hull is then accommodated by variation in the bearing pressure between the two, and the bolts feel nothing because their length does not change (no change in strain, no change in stress).
    This is exactly the principle used in ‘big end’ bearings in engines, where the two bolts are tensioned to more than the maximum force experienced. If this were not done, the bolts would fail in fatigue.

    Does anyone know what the existing design specification says? Maybe it needs updating.

    4. Ease of life raft launching.

    I am not convinced that liferafts stored in lockers are as easy to launch as they might be.
    Many years ago, when we were setting up our boat for long distance cruising, I saw in a marina a yacht with a life raft mounted on the pushpit. I was duly impressed, and copied the principle for our boat, having a purpose designed frame made out of stainless steel tubing.
    It has a simple release mechanism, which is easy to operate and requires little strength, with the boat either the right way up or inverted (although this has not been tried!)

    It is worth consideration, and, perhaps, further development.

    Reply
    • Ed June 11, 2014, 5:17 pm

      Jeremy
      Re your
      #1. When SS steel meets fibreglass…
      Suspect the fibreglass.
      #3. design for worst case
      Ed

      Reply
  • Dominic June 23, 2014, 2:41 am

    Do you not think that modern boats are being designed and built too lightly for commercial reasons?

    Reply
    • John June 23, 2014, 7:56 am

      Hi Dominic,

      Partly for commercial reasons, yes. But more important, I think, is that generally an industry will give a market what it asks for. As I say in the post, the key to change is educating the market to ask for something better.

      Reply
  • Homero June 29, 2014, 12:23 am

    This was a huge wakeup call for me. I am in the process of choosing an used boat for a long passage ( Florida to Brazil) and the first thing that came to my mind was: If it is going to be an used boat, then better to have a long integral keel boat like Island Packet… where the keel cannot drop. Is my assumption correct?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • John June 29, 2014, 7:34 am

      Hi Homero,

      A full keel boat with encapsulated ballast like the IP is certainly one approach to the problem. Having said that, there is no intrinsic reason that a bolt on fin keel can’t be engineered properly and safely, and I think that many are.

      The other issue is that encapsulated keels are not without their potential problems either, most notably difficult to repair water ingress between the ballast and the skin as a result of even a minor grounding.

      The bottom line here is that the real issue is good engineering and construction, not a particular boat type.

      Reply
      • Homero June 29, 2014, 3:35 pm

        Dear john and Bill
        Thank you for your reply and comments. It is scary for someone without the proper knowledge and experience, to trust a surveyor without the proper instruments to analyze corrosion and weakness in keels of a 10-15 years boat. Congratulations on the excellent site.
        Cheers

        Reply
  • Cornelius June 29, 2014, 9:59 am

    I remember, that the crew oft he Cheeki Rafiki reported in one of their last contacts via sat phone, that the ship was leaking. And they said, they didn’t know, from where the water entered. Today it seems clear, that this was the beginning keel problem. For me personally, as I am sailing a similar ship, I arrived at the conclusion, that in case of undefined leaking, I would immediately tack the ship and have someone to observe, if the keel bolts in the bilge are moving. If yes, I would directly prepare everything for leaving the boat – and leave the boat as soon as possible.. This is my learning from this tragedy.

    Reply
  • Bill Attwood June 29, 2014, 10:03 am

    Hi John and Homero.
    As the owner of a long-keeled Rustler 36 I feel obliged to respond. John´s comment that a properly engineered attached keel should give no problems may be (I use may advisedly) true, but how on earth is a boat buyer to know if his keel/hull joint meets the necessary requirements? Comments like “buy an A40″ not permitted!
    There have also been many comments above on the effects of grounding with an attached keel, and the resulting invisible damage/deterioration.
    I have run aground in my boat a few times, but with never more damage than a chunk out of the laminate at the front of the keel, repaired easily at the next haul-out.
    My advice to anyone, particularly if buying a second-hand boat, would be go for the encapsulated, with the keel an integral part of the hull moulding. It is interesting that long- (any number of british and US classics) and short-keeled (eg HRassy, Najad) yachts seem to be confined to a niche market, and that all of the big builders have attached keels. Even the Swedish builders seem to have moved to the attached keel system for their new boats. I just wonder whether this might be a cost-saving development. Speed may be an issue, but surely the difference on a long voyage will be insignificant when one looks at all the other factors affecting daily runs?
    I have a question for you, John, on a separate topic, high-output alternators. I have bought and installed an Aquamaax, which has not been without problems. I have discussed my wish to make a comment on the AAC relevant post with Aquamaax Europe, and they have no problem with criticism providing it is fair, constructive and objective. I would let them see my comments before I post. My experiences – how the problems were resolved – may also help anyone else who decides to go for this alternator. Is the AAC website a suitable forum for this? I should also be happy if you wished to moderate the post before it goes up.
    Yours aye,
    Bill

    Reply
    • John June 30, 2014, 6:14 pm

      Hi Bill,

      I think that we are closer on the keel issue than might first appear. As I said to Homero, selecting a full keeled encapsulated keel is one way to pretty much solve the sudden keel loss problem, however, to then say that only full encapsulated keels are appropriate for offshore voyaging is, in my opinion, a stretch too far. There are plenty of good bolt on fin keel boats out there that were properly constructed and are perfectly safe from sudden keel failure. After all this whole keel loss thing did not start until comparatively recently and bolt on keels have been around for a very long time.

      There is even a logical argument that properly checking a bolt on keel boat is easier, in that you can drop the keel and really check things out, not something you can do with an encapsulated keel.

      Also, let’s not forget that there have been plenty of bad boats built with encapsulated ballast complete with horrors like steel punchings in cement as ballast.

      And there is no denying that a well built bolt on lead keeled boat will, in almost every case, need less repair after a grounding on something hard (file off the ding) than any encapsulated keel where the fibreglass almost always gets ruptured at the leading edge leading to all kinds of potential fun and games, including getting the cavity dry enough to allow the repair.

      The bottom line is that you can’t be safe just by saying buy a boat of a certain type without doing the due diligence to make sure that the boat was built right and that nothing has happened since launch to compromise that.

      Don’t get me wrong. I own an encapsulated keel boat, so I’m not prejudiced against them, I’m just pointing out that there are benefits and drawbacks to both methods of keel attachment.

      As to your comment on alternators, sure, bring it on. It should be added to this post.

      Reply
  • Paul J. Nolan July 6, 2014, 2:29 am

    The headline “What’s Changed?” next to the picture of that ridiculous keel had me laughing as the answer is all too self evident. After seven decades of observing the changing nautical scene a couple things stand out: a big decline in seaworthiness of many yachts and a cooresponding decline in the general level of seamanship. When I was a kid the sport was a lot, lot smaller. The way people generally entered it was to crew on a one a design for a couple seasons, then buy one and skipper it oneself, eventually moving up to a cruising boat. The maintenance demands of wooden boats limited interest in the sport to but a few. Thus fewer people were absorbed into sailing over a much longer period. Now it is not unusual for a person with zero knowledge or experience to buy a 40′ Hunter and cast off (I’ve seen it with my own eyes). And why not? It steers with a wheel just like a car and it has an engine too, also like his car. And if he encounters difficulty, why, there’s a radio to call the Coast Guard for help, just like calling 911 on his home phone. I have often looked over the several thousand (?) boats in my harbor and thought not one person in twenty here has any idea what this sport is about.

    And boats too have in many cases declined and that decline has been largely accepted. Skip Novak, after racing around the world several times, left the sport saying incredulously, “They’re planning to race full-tilt IOR boats in the Southern Ocean.”. That was thirty years ago. Now, IOR boats look seaworthy compared to some of the junk I’ve seen in the past ten years. Canting keels, anyone? While I agree that fin keels can be engineered and constructed to be perfectly strong, there are limits. A Peterson keel can be made that is safe, even in a hard grounding; a fin with a depth of ten feet, a four thousand pound bulb and a chord length of 21 inches cannot. And it is inevitable that whatever is found in the racing fleet will eventually find its way into the cruising fleet. The keel shown in the above photo is not seaworthy. It has no place on an offshore boat. And a walk through a boatyard will turn up many other examples from the amusing, like wheel steering on a Catalina 27 to the hiking wings on the 5500 lb. 40 race boat that was lost in last year’s Mackinaw race along with two lives.

    Many things drove these changes, but three stand out: materials revolution, competive pressure and radio communication. With the development of fiberglass, it was no longer necessary to spend dozens of long man-days every spring working on the boat. Glass hulls and decks, aluminum spars, Dacron sails and running rigging and stainless steel standing rigging…anyone could own a boat. And with the new materials boats could be lighter and faster. Finisterre was about 22,500 lbs., a Cal 40, about 15,000. And today a Cal 40 is regarded as a heavy boat. And compare Sayula II and Flyer (great name), the winners of the first two Round the World races to the pro ocean race boats of today. At the same time there has been a revolution in radio communications. UHF, epirbs, satnav, Iridium, computers, the internet…all this breeds a false sense of security and complacence even in experienced sailors. I am convinced that if all forms of electronic communication–sending and receiving–was banned from all racing sailboats, you’d see a big increase in seaworthiness. That change in equipment and attitude would eventually migrate to the cruising fleet.

    I’m not saying the crew that perished when their keel fell off were not good seamen. I’m sure they were. My point is that over the years equipment, practices, and attitudes that are the antithesis of seaworthiness and seamanship have been permitted to infiltrate our sport until they have become the accepted status quo.

    Paul J. Nolan

    Reply
    • Frans July 6, 2014, 6:35 pm

      Mr. Nolan: very well said! Thank you.

      Reply
    • John July 6, 2014, 6:42 pm

      Hi Paul,

      I agree with most of your analysis of the problems in offshore voyaging today. This site and this boat are our attempt to make the situation better, even if it’s only by just a little bit.

      My point being that what we try to do here at AAC is come up with solutions, no matter how flawed and inadequate they may initially be, rather than just identify a problem and leave it at that. Often, as has happened with the Adventure 40, that initial flawed solution becomes something quite worthwhile over time, usually with the help of the readers on this site.

      Reply

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