The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Loss of Yacht “Tao”

Tao, a French Alliage 42, was abandoned in early May of 2014 some 1200 miles southeast of Cape Cod.

Before we go any further, please take two minutes to watch this video. I It will be worth your time.

One of our French-speaking readers did some research and came up with the following information from a French forum:

The boat was returned [capsized] by a very big wave. The man at the helm was thrown into the boat with his harness. The mast was torn and the boat remained upside down for 5 minutes. It was during this time that it filled with water. Then he returned to the place. There was too much water to be pumped and it continued to fill with water. They started their EPIRB , they were geolocated by Coastguards . They deployed the life raft , but it  filled with water and the rope broke, they saw the raft going away from the boat. The helicopter [was actually a Hercules aircraft] was able to launch another life raft and a VHF radio, a man from the sailboat dove to catch the radio in water. The crew is younger than the Coastguards say. The boat is a 44 Alloy with centreboard. During a storm it is better to be in an enclosed wheelhouse or a dog house with a watertight door .

Now first off, I should state that we have not verified any of this information and obviously there is a lot more to know. But for the purposes of this post I don’t think that really matters for three reasons:

  • This forum account is both a plausible and sadly common reason for a yacht loss.
  • Colin, who is incredibly perceptive about these things, deduced the same from the video.
  • Even if some of the details turn out to be wrong, this is such a common yacht loss scenario that learning from it, as related here, is still useful.

One other thing. Nothing that follows should be taken as criticism of the skipper and crew of Tao. All I’m trying to do here is learn from what happened in order to make you, our readers (and Phyllis and I), safer when we go to sea.

With all that covering-my-ass out of the way, here are my thoughts.

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Steve Stucko

Thank you for posting this. I am a relatively new owner of a French lifting keel aluminum sailboat (Rumba 41) that I have yet to sail in heavy weather. I found the information and insights you provided here (and throughout your website) to be very valuable as we complete our refit in preparation for an extended voyage.

david toms

And now the Chiki Rafiki may have been lost too, also in mid-Atlantic.

RDE (Richard Elder)

Hi John,
First let me qualify these comments by saying that I haven’t been there and done that! All of John’s bullet points are well taken and come from a deep reservoir of experience. But I can’t help but believe that the presence of a watertight door kept dogged at all times in heavy weather and watertight plates on all dorade openings would have left this yacht floating intact after being rolled.

“I can’t believe people close their boats with little pieces of wood” Monique Souchard, Cape Horn & high arctic veteran on board the Garcia 45 “Passion.” Exactly why I specified a watertight door on the early A40 spec a couple of years ago.

Second point: Five minutes is a long time to remain in a stable inverted position, even more so in a very active sea state that would help initiate recovery. The wide beam and high ballast location of flat bottom “integral” centerboarders would seem to be their Achilles heel in really extreme conditions. (a fact that Boreal has accounted for in their stub keel design.)


Five minutes is a long time for a boat to stay inverted and allow in a lot of water. Also long enough to drown if you were tied on in the cockpit. If it righted more quickly you may stand a better chance of limiting the amount of water coming in.
To reduce the 5 minutes, you probably need a higher angle of vanishing stability (AVS). Intuitively, other things being equal, you would expect a balasted keel to flip a boat back more quickly than a unbalasted centreboard.

Matt Marsh

It’s tempting to say “higher AVS, lower centre of gravity” and there is some truth to that.
More precisely, the time required to recover from a capsize depends on the integral of (i.e. area bounded by) the righting moment curve, between the AVS and the stable capsized position. This integral represents the energy that wind and waves must put into the boat to get her into a self-righting attitude.
The shape of that curve is determined partly by the height of the centre of gravity, but mainly by the shape and size of the watertight part of the superstructure. A centreboarder with a high, round-topped, watertight deckhouse may very well be quicker to recover than a flush-decked ballast keel boat.
Righting time also has a random component, in that a wave (or a series of appropriately timed waves) of a certain size has to strike with the right orientation to deliver that energy to the boat and get her back on the good side of the AVS.
If you lose watertight integrity while upside down, you are of course screwed….


Good points Matt, though there is still something about the cabin top argument I want to sort out in my mind; please bear with me.

Let’s compare two hypothetical sailboats before side-on knock-down to 90 degrees (not full inversion):
BoatA = hull shape rounded (wineglass) and cabin top low and flat
BoatB = hull shape very flat with cabin top higher and rounded
Let’s assume other things are equal – incl same keel and same COG.

In perfectly flat water, my understanding is that boatB may be harder to knock down to 90deg than boatA due to hull form stability (COB further away from COG etc.).
However, I have also come to understand that in heavy wave action, boatB (flat bottom) will knock down to 90deg more readily than boatA (round bottom) because of the way the flat hull more readily aligns to a wave face. This is probably contentious, but this view is held in some quarters and sounds somewhat plausible.

(Anecdotally, this is what I experience when I paddle my flat-bottom kayak vs my round bottom kayak in flat water vs choppy water; side-on in chop, the flat-bottom kayak is less stable).

Now, if the above were to be true, then, when both boats are inverted, and there is heravy wave action, it should once again be true that the boat with the flatter shape under water would be more readily flipped back by the wave action (ie. boatA).


Maybe it was the Free surface of the water in the boat (virtual rise In COG) and the loss of inverted freeboard (lowering Metacentic height) that actually helped to right the boat, but then sank it.

I wonder if a completely watertight boat with a low AVS might actually be worse off than one that allows a controlled amount of water in if completely inverted.

I recall this being an issue with the open 60’s. No flooding due to the Water tight subdivision and a possible contributing factor in them staying inverted.

An interesting account of the capsizing and rerighting of Ngataki is in the classic book “South Seas Vagabond” by Johnny Wray. Ngataki is a heavy, wide, shallow yacht with a poor ballast ratio, mostly internal She would likely have a low AVS, maybe 110 or so. In the 1940’s she was capsized while hove to in a cyclone. She stayed upside down long enough for the crew to climb up on the keel and start a conversation. As she filled with water she slowly started to roll back upright, it sounded like it wasn’t another big wave that did it.

They then towed everything behind including the gaff, boom and mainsail, kind of like a series drogue while they baled for all they where worth.

I’m not sure how the effects of water into a high deckhouse while upside down would play out. The loss of the buoyancy trying to right the boat would probably be much worse than the benefit of any FSE. So in this case WT integrity might be much more important. It would be interesting to crunch some numbers on this..



This little intense L has claimed another. Cheeki Rafiki, a Beneteau 40.7 is lost, crew of 4 still missing.

Douglas Pohl

Study the hydrodynamics of boat stability – as a sports player (i.e. football and basketball) a lower center of gravity provides a more stable platform requiring more energy forces to upset. This past week in Anacortes WA the 85 foot $10 million M/V (BLOOD BARON) BADAN after a two year building intending a world circumnavigation was launched only to roll over in light ship condition at the dock. There is a valid reason for involving a naval architect for all modifications and buildings – especially to perform an incline experiment resulting in a professional stability booklet but you must follow the booklet. Less recreation boats and their crews are prepared and trained. If you think you are qualified for the next step – offshore passages – demonstrate your preparation by sitting for a license and take small steps to continue learning as you voyage… even after 30 years as a professional master I continue to learn every time underway. Life is a learning process…

RDE (Richard Elder)

Amazing. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “Expedition Yacht!”
This style of motor yacht developed in the PNW as the macho solution to the same mission as Steve Dashew’s Wind Horse designs. The first ones were built on limit seiner fishboat hulls intended to carry massive payloads, and as a result the yacht versions were heavily ballasted with lead to bring them down to their intended lines. Northern Marine or its owners have been involved in many if not most of the builds of this type of vessel from the beginning, so there is no lack of experience or design history. Of course the vessel was in lightship form (probably 20,000 gallons of diesel absent) when it was launched, but you do have to wonder how it was intended to operate at the end of a voyage!

I recall having Nordhaven 78 in our yard for bottom paint and being amazed that anything so top heavy could survive on the ocean. And least one think that coast guard certification for passenger use somehow guarantees reserve stability, listen to this tale. I had an employee who had a night job building fiberglass bits in his own shop. He built and installed 50 seats for the upper deck of a new whale watching boat destined for Hawaii. It was sitting at the dock in Seattle having passed its stability test and awaiting shipment to Hawaii. The upper deck freeing ports became blocked with fall leaves, the deck filled with water, a passing wake rocked the boat, and the free surface effect was enough to capsize her on the spot. Unsafe designs are not just limited to third world passenger ferries——.

Scott Kuhner

I concur with John about the need to have drogues available to deploy in storm conditions. On July 14, 1974, Kitty and I got caught in hurricane force winds midway between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda while in our 30 foot Allied Seawind Ketch. There had been no warning of an impending hurricane. (OK I realize that we should not have been there at that time; but, that is beside the point). At first we hove-to; then as wind reached fifty knots, we lied a-hull. It was deceptively calm down below. Our wind-speed indicator pegged out at 70 kts. In the middle of the night, we fell off a wave and landed upside down in the trough with our mast under water and we were sitting on the overhead. As we hit the trough, the main hatch blew off and water started coming in below. It seemed like an eternity before we righted; But when we did, the water down below was up to the level of the bunks. I always say when telling this story that we were lucky enough to have the most efficient bilge pump in the world; a frightened woman with a bucket!
Kitty bailed while I got out a bunch of lines to act as a drogue. We did not loose our mast; because (my presumption) we had recently re-rigged in Galvanized steel three sizes bigger than had been on it, and we had no sail up. However, the boom was bent and we did loose the spray dodger, the wind-vane self steering and the wooden grab rails on the deck. We did not loose our life raft because we always kept that tied down in the cockpit with a board over it.
The moral of the story is to always have drogues on board and to take storm tactics earlier rather than later.


Thank you Scott for such a brief but powerful description of your ordeal. Well done to manage the situation as you did.
Technical question: you say your “main hatch blew off” – are you referring to the companionway board or boards? If so, how did they fail – did they actually break (snap) or did they slide out of their tracks or ….?

Scott Kuhner

No it was the hatch cover that blew off. We had a little clasp screwed on to the top board where we tied a cord to it and then to a catch below the boards so that they would not fall out if upside down. To see a picture I took in the morning after the capsize go to:

Chris Phillips

John, what is your opinion of the position of the keel on a lifting keel boat with Jordan series drogue deployed in heavy weather? Should it be up or down?



Chris Phillips

Thanks John for making the distinction between the two keel types. We have a Hake 32RK with a 2500lb lead torpedo at the bottom of the lifting keel and in fact the manufacturer recommends “locking” the keel in the down position in heavy weather.

Pete Corbett

My wife and I own a 12m New Zealand designed swing or lifting keel offshore steel yacht but have not been able to find any literature or other sources of information about how best to utilize this feature. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

Pete Corbett

Hi John

The swing keel is ballasted – 1 ton in the centerboard pivoted forward and 2 tons in the stub keel through which the centreboard pivots .

Our current inability to lock the centreboard down has been a concern for us despite the vessel having previously completed 3 circumnavigation a of the South Pacific, Tasmania and New Zealand without mishap. So obviously something for us to explore – unfortunately the designer was killed in a car accident several years ago so a naval architect is probably my next port of call.

Thanks for highlighting this issue again for us.

Paul Kirby

Hi John
The best advice I have ever received was from you on this website –
‘Be able so set the JSD Seasick, at night, in under 3 min.’
This I will never forget. Our drouge is always at the ready. Fortunately for us our trip from New Zealand to Alaska the drouge stayed ‘at the ready’, but our lessons learnt south of NZ have made us better sailors.
Thank you again for this excellent information
Paul SVMidnightsun

Paul Kirby

Hi John
Yes we have been voyaging
New Zealand, French Polynesia, Hawaii and Alaska. We are about to sail south to Prince Rupert and then back to Alaska for another year. I have been watching this discussion with interest. I don’t think it’s whether or not your yacht has this or that, it’s whether or not you have a plan and knowing what works for your yacht. We were lucky that our yacht and the JSD worked extremely well together. I would highly recommend this system for extreme conditions.


Hi all,
First, i want to say that I feel very sad for the Tao’s crew. I am happy that this story still has a happy end, loosing a boat is something very painful, but you need to go on… And I am praying for the brits of Cheeki Rafiki.

I’d like to make some general comments about yachts :
– I am a bit sceptical about lifting-keel ( unballasted ) for sailing high latitude with boats less than 55-60 feet. People I know that sailed overthere and built new boat with experience of high latitude sailing all built ballasted lifting keel : I think of Jerome Poncet, Hamish Laird, Skip Novak, Philippe Poupon, Jacques Peignon…. ( for the most famous ). I remmenber Isabelle Autissier talking about ADA 2 ( 15 meters aluminium cutter, keel boat ) in an old french magazine (“Loisirs Nautiques”) and she said she didn’t consider sailing an unballasted lifting keel for the following reasons : lots of things stowed on deck is common on expeditions boat and is bad for the gravity center that is already higher on a lifting keel-boat, and lots of upwind sailing with high winds… Just have a look at boats that work in Ushaia ( not just pass ), most of them are ballasted lifting keel.
We own a 1975 Damien 2 , 15 meters steel cutter with a ballasted lifting keel ( 3 meters down with 5 tons of lead, 0.9 meters up in 10 minutes ) and have spent last summer around Svalbard. We had some nasty weather from Jan Mayen to Reykyavik at the end of August as well as coming from Torshavn to Scotland in the beginning of October. We put the mast in the water near the East coast of Greenland on a broach while sailing downwind. The boat luff on a first big wave, the wind-vane was too long to react and with the second, the boat was literraly thrown down-wind with the mast in the water and some mess inside… I think I make two mistakes : the wind was not so strong (+/- 45 knots) but the sea messy, with the N current along Greenland Coast, and we were sailing 3 reefs + staysail. I should have drop the main to help the boat sail straight. Secondly I am going to buy an auto-pilot. If the wind-vane is perfect for most of sailing, when sailing down-wind in a gale with high-seas, it does not react quick enough.
What I feel is when a wave take you like that, even with a lifting-keel you’ll be upside-down. Then you are happier with 5 tons of lead at 3 meters in the air…
You see on the photo that Tao has a furler genoa and a furler staysail. Maybe you should keep hanks for staysail on an unballasted lifting keel < 55 feet to lower the gravity center ?
For heavy weather sailing, if I was a millionaire I would buy a 55 feet aluminium ballasted lifting-keel ( Seal’s sister ship?). If I was a billionaire I would buy a 70 feet aluminium unballasted lifting keel ( Georges Meffres’s Antarctic ?) Anyway, steel is quite some work but I prefer sailing an old steel boat than dreaming an aluminium boat 😉

– I think most yacht are underequipped with dewatering pumps ( so is mine ) and we need to find solutions to quickly empty the boat.
I am still thinking about the best solution… A year left before going south…

Anyway, thank you John for Norwegian Cruising Guide we really appreciate last summer!


Jean-François EEMAN

Hi Damien,

You seem to have done some nice voyages on Libertaire…

We all have our own convictions don’t we ?
As you can see in the link to John’s article : “I believe that if you encounter the wrong conditions at the wrong place at the wrong time… you will probably capsize the QE2.!”

But then you have some facts :
During 30 years Ovnis has built +/- 600 boats with unballasted swinging keel… I don’t know any story of one capsizing.
The same idea is shared in the link to John’s article.
We brought our 42ft alu boat with unballasted swinging keel (designed by Michel Joubert) to Ushuaia and sailed her out from there during 4 years….
During those year we met several skippers telling us their story of capsizing with their boat with ballasted swinging keel : Bertrand Dubois capsized with Baltazar (Damien 2). Alain Caradec capsized and lost his mast with Kotick 2. I cannot remmber whether is was Alain or Bertrand who capsized several times in a row…
Kerry told us she capsized. I think that was with Northanger (ballasted lifting keel) but I’m not 100 °/° positive…

Whatever… You’ll keep Libertaire to sail everywhere in the world and I’ll keep Juan Sa Bulan to sail her (again) to South Georgia or Antartica 🙂


Colin Speedie

Hi J-F

I agree with every word you’ve written. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Kind regards


Jean-François EEMAN

Hi Colin,

Having you sharing our opinion on these kind of statements is very important to us…


Damien Feneon

Hey JF!
I am usually suspicious when someone says “never”… Just read the post of David Z a bit lower on this page : an Ovni 385 capsized in the Caribbean(…) a few years ago with 30+ knots of wind with damage to spreaders… Now you know one story and I am pretty sure there are many more if you seek. I didn’t do extensive research but just read the post concerning yacht Tao in STW and a man relates a capsize with dismasting and unfortunately a lost crew with a Passoa 47 in Biscay. So it’s a fact unballasted lifting keel do capsize whoever is the designer ( Briand / Berret- Racoupeau / P Harlé ).
I have never said that Damien 2’s design was the best but at least this design has been extensively tested. I believe than Jerome Poncet’s Damien 2 and Alain Caradec ‘s Kotick ( to cite only 2 of them ) have done many more Drake crossing than 600 Ovnis… The fact that Kotick capsizes once in 30+ years of Antarctic sailing and always brings her crew back is I think the best proof of the validity of the design.
Concerning your experience with your unballasted swinging keel sailboat, don’t forget that example doesn’t make the law. People have been sailing to (and back) Antarctica on 28 feets GRP boat. How many times Damien 2 or Skip Novak’s Pelagic have sailed south? If we are doing “evidence-based expedition sailing”, it is sure than ballasted lifting keel is the king. But maybe they are all wrong?
Of course I am not thirty years old, I don’t have your experience of horse latitude sailing, but I’ve read a lot and sail quite a little, and have no conflict of interest…
Anyway what I said about unballasted lifting keel does not concern your yachts because as John says, “they have a keel box full of lead bringing down their centre of gravity” so that’s what we call “deriveur leste” in French I think. And as we are talking about Boreal, I’d like to congratulate you because I really appreciate your boats. Even if there is nothing new, you gather all the good ideas in one design : I think of stern daggerboards ( believe me or not 😉 I previously own a Meta Globe flotteur with unballasted 2 daggerboards – forward and stern – and that was great downwind! ), chain at the mast foot, aluminium hull, large doghouse, reflex stove…. I’ll be completely convinced when your boats will have >200 Drake passages as I only believe the facts and not the speeches. Until then I would advise people to buy the 53 feet if planning to sail the roaring forties, and I think you won’t complain…
To conclude I think that you are right, the important is to sail, not to discuss!
John, I have read your link but we do not have a generator on board so no 220V…
Have a good day,
PS : Do OVNI really have capsize angle at 110° as DavidZ says?

Philip Waterman

I am interested in educated opinions on why in such circumstances boats seem so readilly demasted. It this really just the pressure of the water against the mast, boom etc, verses the angular momentum in the roll?

Clearly once righted with the mast lost, the dynamic stability is highly compromised and a subsequent roll far more likely.

I also wonder if under trysail and storm jib, rather than bare poles, being inverted is less likely due to the resistance provided by the sails as they hit the water. Of course once they are under……………

If you could keep the mast on, a masthead airbag on a hydrostatic release might be an interesting gadget – as long as it is light.


Great video of the capsizing of the ovni posted by David Z. It has A very interesting shot of the damage to the rig that supports my favorite mast loss in a capsize theory about spreader collapse being a possible culprit.

The theory is that the spreaders get twisted and ripped off, or slide down the slack shroud due to the water pressure on the shrouds and flat section of spreader.

This would point to discontinuous rigging being more likely to survive a capsize due to the way it locks the spreader in place with more security.

I’ll admit the evidence doesn’t seem to support this as plenty of high tech raceboats still lose (albeit lightweight) masts in capsizes.

Cruising yachts with their stronger masts more commonly have discontinuous rigging so maybe the two factors cancel out? And any sort of proper stats are impossible to come by.

In any case the upper spreader is normally rigged the same way in both continuous and discontinuous rigging, and is just as likely to slip unless well secured.

Because of this theory I have always made sure my spreader bases are very solid and the wire is very well secured with wire lashings to the spreader end and seized to the shroud above and below, so I can jump on the spreader without it moving. The new spreaders (when I get around to making them) will be the “A” frame pipe type, and wrap around the mast at the forward side, to minimize water resistance and maximize the fore and aft strength.

The point loads from the boom and stowed mainsail may also be unkind to the lower section of mast, I like the B&R rig deck struts idea because they support the gooseneck region very well.

Then there is the distortion to the hull and the effect this will have on mast tune?

It is interesting that boats don’t seem to loose masts so often in knockdowns (it may be that in many “knockdowns” the mast doesnt actually touch the water, even though it feels like it should have. But masts rarely survive a 360 roll, I am guessing its the time upside down with waves pushing the boat about while the rig is in deep solid water that breaks rigs not the initial shock of hitting the water?

The nice thing is that properly securing the spreader ends doesn’t cost much or add any weight but it might make a big difference to the outcome in a capsize or knockdown. Also very tightly securing your mainsail to the boom and having it lashed to a stout set of gallows may take some load off the mast.

Interesting that the only two boats I have heard of to survive a pitch pole with masts intact are the unstayed carbon masts of”Lady Pepperell” in the BOC race and the Heavy Gaff mainmast of the Colin Archer “Sandefjord”. Both flexible rigs (to absorb shock loads) with no spreaders to fail.

Cheers Ben

Jerry Levy

Do you have the statistics which support the claim that most yacht losses at sea occur after a capsize?


Hi all,
We are all awaiting a more detailed report to further understand why
Tao kept filling with water and sank. Alliage are great ocean passage boats, but most
of then do not feature an actual watertight companionway door … unless it’s a broken hatch
with nothing on board to fix it … hopefully we’ll find out.

In heavy seas AVS is certainly important, but only one parameter of a rather complex equation.
Dynamic stability is equally important (if not even more) and it seems, as a matter of fact, strong instability when
on the wrong side, in order to roll back quickly.

Re. unballasted boards vs. ballasted lifting keels let’s not forget a couple of facts :

only centerboarders can safely navigate with their board up, quite helpful to avoid tripping over the keel and broaching.
For those not convinced try a jib in strong winds with the board fully down on a sport sailboat such as a Laser,
and see what happens :)) Have to agree though, some rogue waves would not make the distinction… and make everyone even!

Another issue with heavy lifting keels is their (often) complex and vulnerable lifting mechanism, notably when sailing
in unchartered waters. Swing keels (as swing boards) are a good compromise (Pelagic, Seal, etc) but not as performant
as a “straight” and deep lifting keel to sail against the wind or cross oceans.
Weight balance, as well as avoiding too much weight high up, is indeed critical on any sailboat and in particular on centerboarders.

Always been intrigued by drogues, notably the Jordan series with excellent reports, but if i understood Skip Novack video
“Warps and drogues” well (see Yaching World) it might have been more useful to a light (racing) boat such as the First 407 Rafiki
than to Tao. Given the additional ballast required on any centerboarder such as this Alliage 44, would believe these are relativley
heavier “light displacement” boats.
Fair winds, Kev


USCG just found Cheeki. 1000 nm E. of Massachusetts, USA. Hull upside down, keel missing, 4 crew not found yet. Still searching. I would bet that yacht struck something very large, perhaps a semi-submerged shipping container.


I’m a complete novice when it comes to understanding/interpreting weather at sea so this is a learning opportunity for me. Having grown up on the east coast and watching hurricanes come up the coast, I recall them spinning counter clockwise. Seeing as that red dot was in the south/southeast quadrant of the storm, wouldn’t the winds be coming from the west? and wouldn’t that be in the same direction of the currents?

thanks in advance! I’ve learned a ton reading content here!

Neil McCubbin

Interesting comments on centerboards etc, including John’s link to Jimmy Cornell
We sailed a Passoa 47 in about 50 knots downwind en route to Bermuda. With the board all the way up, she is smooth bottomed, except for the small fin protecting the prop shaft. She also has a daggerboard 8 feet draft just forward of the rudder.
She sailed fast (12-14 knots), board up, daggerboard down, and steered very easily (finger and thumb on the wheel). Waves were large but not confused.
I do not think she can broach in the classic manner, because if she starts to round up, the bow just skids off.
We also have experience in our own Passoa 47 caught with a 2400 sq ft spinnaker jammed up in 20+ knots. The helmsman fell, and lost control for a minute. She rounded up to about 150 deg off the wind, lay over to about 45 degrees then back. We could steer easily downwind again and fight the spinnaker down, which took ten miles.
To me, this supports the notion that the integral centerboarder (i.e. un-ballasted board with no keel) is seaworthy. In some cases better than a keelboat.

Colin Speedie

Hi Neil

I’d second all of your comments. Having owned an Ovni for over seven years and faced our share of bad weather in her, I’d have to say that I’m very confident in her abilities, especially downwind in strong winds, where I believe she is the safest boat I’ve ever sailed. With the board up steering is light and controllable, and the only times we’ve had the boat round up at all I could count on the fingers of one hand, and in every case the boat was back on track in a moment. Either the following wave just knocked her back on course or we were able to simply get her steering again.

I accept that for many who have never sailed one of these boats that the idea of lifting the board and sailing the boat (as Jimmy Cornell said, you have to sail these boats) is anathema, but – sailing is believing.

Best wishes



John. I have been watching the North Atlantic 500mb and surface weather charts for a few years now and pay particular attention each season during the fall and spring months since that is when things are usually most interesting. Year to year the little things seem to change but not the big picture. The Spring and Fall are tough in the Atlantic. The upper level charts do a great job of showing us this if your willing to watch what they are trying to show you. I apologize for not being able to write in depth as it’s hard to do on an iPhone, but what I will say is that we need to watch the 564 contour line on the 500 mb charts very closely. It’s a wonderful tool and almost every time it has an uncanny way of,predicting what a surface low will do. It’s also useful for knowing the southern most extent a low might travel. What we see each spring is that the 564 line starts is trek north and with it the fierce lows that normally ride along it. The problem is that the 564’line can dig south in a hurry during the equinoctial gale seasons and up until early June it can travel past 35 N and with it bring a low right into the middle of the Atlantic where your least expected it. A low that just a few days prior may have been troubling Canada. However, If you wait just a few more weeks until the end of June you see a marked change in the behavior of this line. It goes all the way up to about 45-50 N and hangs with undulations down to maybe 40 N. And then once the Bermuda high builds things really get calm until we see sea surface temps start to rise. Bottom line, most of the storms that have caused carnage over the past few years in the North Atlantic may have been avioded if folks looked at the upper level charts and paid respect to the 564 line. If we plot the planned course a lot of these vessels took prior to getting hit we would see most of them planned a route north of the forecasted southern extent of the 564 line when there was a lot of upper level energy…… John, can you elaborate ? My thumbs are getting tired from typing. I do think this is a topic you’ve mentioned in the past.


Hi John, thanks for providing this forum. In response to your conversation with David, which I quote below, does the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 apply to the case of the Cheeky Rafiki, given that a contract existed between the skipper and the owner, and would the requirement for a coroner under section 108 apply? In which case the coroner would necessarily call in qualified naval architects…?

Hi David,

That is both sad and good news, but mainly, I fear, sad.

I’m not sure about having hit anything. My own opinion is that the risk of hitting a container is actually a lot lower than popular opinion would have one believe. I also heard, not substantiated, that prior to going missing the crew had reported a problem with a leak, so this may be a structural failure. I hope the hull will be recovered and the area on the hull where the keel bolts on carefully analyzed be a qualified structural engineer. If this was caused by a structural failure, we need to know that.

RDE (Richard Elder)

Very clear photos of the bottom of the Beneteau “Cheeky Rafiki” on the BBC this morning. The keel failed laterally, with no evidence of damage at the trailing edge that one would expect from a collision while underway. I’d say structural design review is in order.

Ironically I recently investigated a Waquiez 42 that had interior structural failure in the floors. No real evidence of the cause— may have even been dropped in transport a couple of years ago. The mast support structure has progressively collapsed, floorboards sunk 1 1/2″ by way of the mast, and the hull bottom deformed. Yet this same boat sailed from Seattle to Mexico, Hawaii, and back to the NW and is still watertight. I should add that it was built in the era before Waquiez became a mere brand for a conglomerate. Certain advantages to overbuilding at key areas!


I just finished looking over those same photos. Cheeki Rafiki shows no impact marks on the hull ahead of the keel, and no punching in of the hull around the trailing edge junction. There also appears to be delamination and considerable distortion of the hull in the middle third of the keel root. This does not look like a collision.
I agree with Richard that a full review of the yacht’s structural design is in order. Unfortunately, it now looks like there will be no attempt to salvage the yacht for forensic analysis.

Ed Joy

I personally would be loathe take a boat with a short chord fin keel offshore. No matter how well designed and how well built the keel/hull connection is when the boat leaves the factory, the vagaries of usage take over from there. A hard grounding will inevitably do damage and even if the skipper is smart enough to have a yard check things out, executing a proper repair is a job for a highly skilled expert. The keel is a heavy pendulum that is wrenched around a very small area of the hull with every wave. Unseen delaminations deep inside the structure will spread. Obviously the history of Cheeki Rafiki will come out in the inquest, but I would not be surprised if there is a grounding in her past.

David Z

The number of yachts capsized and dismasted or that lost the keel for delamination or small grounding (speed less then 3 knots) is quite high, more that what you think.
This is the video of a Ovni 385 that capsize with a Wave during a Gale force 8. After they have some problem on the mast and a lot of water and mass inside. (Translation so and so) This is not the only Ovni that have problem.
It’ s happen. They were not in South Ocean. I saw the stability curve of many Ovni and let me say that more are close to 110-115°, that is an average value for many centreboard with a keel weight between 200 or 300Kg.
A swing keel ballasted or not will require more maintenance then a fix keel. They normally have stress around the “pivot” point or the bearing or the Teflon housing. In some case barnacles will look the keel inside, and if you have a lifting keel and rudder, like Ovni with a hydraulic ram, you always have too keep them up, to protect the rod of the actuator from barnacle that can damage the oil rod sealing/gasket.
So it’s happen to see a lifting keel boat rolling more then another.
I sail a lot with Ovni and Garcia. Let me say that the Harlè design (Garcia) are the most safe and quick, and that 1 rudder version is more efficient in all the condition, with the extra rudder dagger board too”.
The Garcia are round bilge yachts, and the Ovni are multichine and this is another important factor in rolling. Multichine boat needs to immerge more side to find the volume to stop or balance the heeling force. Garcia built few boats compare to Ovni, but you see more Garcia sailing around then Ovni.
The most important think is that lot of my customer ask me how to use the keel and many believe that the keel must be up when sailing downwind and down when upwind, nobody will take care about the sea and stability route. The yard are scare to give you the right indication in the owner manual…but in the real fact, many of my customer that own a centreboard or a lifting keel, came back to a fix keel yacht. The first reason is that except for some river entrances, or some tide or some shallow entrance, they normally have the keel down. Nobody was living in Normandy or Brittany, but many sailing in North of Europe.
So they came back to fix keel for “no use”.
The best time that I used a lifting keel was on a Ovni 43 during a Gale 8. We lift the keel (not the rudder),leave the storm sail and the boat was like a empty boat on a pool, floating on the waves.

Second, regarding the two claims
The “plastic” boat has a common defect: a delaminating of the bottom. Just a small grounding on sand or worst case, on rocks, is enough to start a debonding in your bottom skin, especially if the grounding is over 3Kn. In many industrial boats you can see immediately your inner mould debonding from the hull, sometime you will see some gelcoat cracks on the floors due from the bending. The brown-yellow and black colour show us that water was probably there for a long time.
It should be better to haul out the boat and ultrasound the keel area or dive and have a look to the keel plate connection to the hull.
The best construction is to have a lead keel (lead is soft the cast iron) and have a keel integrated with the hull if possible like in the ’70, or have small portion of the hull as keel (deep bilge) and a lead bulb bolted.
This is the case were and aluminium construction is superior with his keel and floor made in one piece and in the same material.

Regarding the Alliage 44 there is a watertight bulkhead, but some time the holes made for the windlass wiring are not 100% watertight, there were 4 dorades on deck(2 still in position), and nobody know if the mast made any damage on deck. Probably the skipper didn’t close the main entrance , that normally is never watertight. Imagine what kind of disaster there could be inside, maybe batteries were out of service.
The liferaft position should be in a watertight box and better if a cockpit dedicated watertight locker

Another experience: just one year ago after several sailing a yacht open his bow plate, because was not very well welded. Most of the yacht are sinking with their bow. If the sail peak is full of water you will have a ton of water there or may be more. You should need a watertight hatch on deck.

1)Be ready. Always set up your boat to be ready to the worst scenario.
2)Before you make an Atlantic crossing, and before you install 3 AIS and 3 Chart-plotter-Radar, is better to check your hull and keel structure, specially if you have a plastic boat with bolted cast iron keel
3)Be a good skipper it’s means be able to understand your limit and manly your boat limits, not only collect miles

Extra note
The swing keel is just an emergency system and if you want to stay on a sand bottom, manly for tide reason. I saw boat that try to go on the beach during a storm or that ground on some rocks. No one of these boats survey.
So the use of “explorer”, 4 x 4 of the sea, is just a commercial approach. The main advantages is if you hit something small and at moderate speed.
Motoring with the keel up and sometime two rudder is a risk, the wind will push the boat every were. Without the keel there is no direction

David Z

Hi John,
With all the respect I will introduce a little of myself.
All what I said is coming from my sailing experience and maintenance experience. I sail with Ovni 41,385 and 43 and 455 and Garcia Nouanni 47/Passoa 46 or Atlantic (Dujardin) for about 15.000 miles. We had a Bruce Roberts 44, aluminum, multichine, quite a moderate long keel with skeg and rudder and I’m now building a 54 with my hands except for the bare hull. With the BR we sail about 35.000 miles.
We sail sometimes with friend with their Ovni (probably the most popular multichine boat).You are right, the angle of the plate on the flotation can make a lot of difference in rolling. It’s depend from wave frequency. But in a sheltered bay with a choppy sea we saw the difference. The Ovni was rolling more than us because they have an open plate like this “ / “, so the hull need to be more immerged to get the right volume, we had a moderate angle and we feel better and we had a nice dinner in our cockpit until the sea return flat.
I’m a N.A. and pro surveyor, so I ‘m working with boats, manly in aluminum between Holland, French, Germany and Italy. We do a lot of stability calculation from owner and yard, most of the boat over 12m (40ft) are manly in A design category just because they have some moderate displacement or big length or wide; they automatically pass the STIX magic number of 32 and they are A category, but there is a big difference between a stix of 34 and 45.Some yard do it for commercial reason.
No preferred conclusion, but real fact.
I had several customers that sped 3 to 10 years in the Alaska and around Staten Island, some with boat like Kamana a Cigale 16, other with Ovni 385 or with steel boat. The owner of the Ovni went to explore the uncharted bay. They normally explore with the dinghy and only one morning they found the bay full of Ice cubes. They spend about 4 hours to get out with no wind. I piece of ice went in the keel housing (keel box) when the keel was up and they have to dive and use a screw driver to get the ice out from the keel (there )was no inspection big enough from the inside of the hull.
I tried to move the boat with the keel up, but maneuvering with current or strong wind is very hard, and if you have no water under your bottom you can use full speed to get high efficiency on the rudder. If you have a small keel like Boreal or Futuna helps a lot. Regarding the two keel, when we had test some META in the past, they normally use the fin as extra diesel tank. The structure is a little bit more complex . They use lees angle of rudder when sailing, but they have high inertia to steer at low speed.
They need no cradle when out, but if you ground you are in trap and get the boat out is not so easy.
Lifting keel or not is like the eternal fighting between central cockpit or aft cockpit, but in the sea there is space for all.


Most interesting is the bow down trim of “Tao” as she filled. if she could have been kept more level she might have floated much longer and it would have reduced the amount of water possibly entering through the anchor locker bulkhead and fore deck hatches and vents.

The only time I ended up with lots of water in a boat after a knockdown it all ran aft under the engine and the cockpit was also filled up from the wave. I remember thinking we didn’t have much freeboard left down aft and the water seemed to be lapping awfully close to the deck as I baled out the cockpit with a bucket (blocked drains due to a rag).

The boat had a pointy double ended stern without much buoyancy, vs Tao with a fine bow and wide buoyant stern. Maybe this is another benefit of a few WT bulkheads Fore and Aft, or even half height WT bulkheads under a fwd bunk.


Hi John,
Very good conversation here on Tao and centerboard sailing vessels. We have owned our Boreal 44 now for 8 months, 7500 miles and have had enough fairly big seas to start to feel comfortable with the way a center board boat handles in most conditions. One incident had us in about the same position as the Ovni 385 mentioned above that got knocked down. I must say with 40 years of sailing, mostly in the S. Pacific I have never seen such strange seas as the Caribbean Sea.

We were about two days out from Panama and at times during the day we would sail through areas of standing waves. Seas on the most part were 3 to 4 meters with winds at 25 to 30 knots. But for short periods we would encounter much larger waves about 5 meters and breaking. Nothing caused us much concern but we watched these areas of breaking waves with interest and a normal caution. We were on a broad reach about 135 off the wind most of the day and as darkness approached we dropped the reefed main and went wing on wing with a reefed genoa and set a new course of 155 degrees off the wind, the center board was up. The Boreal sails wonderfully this way, very comfortable, still fast and everyone gets a good night sleep and a good watch.

I was on watch at about 2 AM when a gust about 40 knots hit us and the boat rounded up some to about 125 degrees off the wind. I was just looking at the wind instrument in the dog house when to my port side a wall of water on our beam hit the boat. It was thunderous like a head on car wreck sounds, very loud. I watched the breaking wave go right over the boat and hit the boom and felt the wave going over dog house. All this took place so fast maybe 2 or 3 seconds and it took me about one more second to be fully awake and looking out the waterproof door to see how much water was in the cockpit. Cockpit had lots of water but it but emptied fast. I also noticed white water in darkness of the night disappearing off our aft starboard side. My next observation was that our boat was right back at 155 degrees off the wind and sailing at 7.5 knots.

What was interesting after I had time to get my head together was that the boat never heeled over, I even think we may have healed a little to the port side as the wave went over us and most likely under us. By the way I think we were at 7 degrees heel just before wave struck. I’m sure we must have slid to starboard that’s what the vibration felt like when wave broke on us.

When morning came I went forward to look for damage and only found one rivet missing where a block is attached to boom for the main sheet.

I’m feel that if that had happened on our last boat a Mason 44 with a full cutaway keel we would have been knocked down at least to the spreaders and had a lot of damage. I’m sure that the dodger would have been toast. And the Mason is a great sailing boat, we have sailed her into New Zealand with 50 plus winds and 7 meter seas. But there was no way she could have taken the hit we had in the Caribbean Sea without damage and maybe even loss of mast from a knock down.

With the Keel on the Boreal we feel comfortable sailing on a beam reach even with center board 3/4 up and sometimes all the way up, we do not drift to leeward. The boat tracks very well, thank you Matt Chauvel another Boreal owner for showing us that sailing on a beam reach can be done even in 30 or 40 knots with center board up.

We still have a lot to learn about sailing a center boarder, they are very different but so far it seems to be the safest, most sea kindly boat we have ever owned in 40 years. Center boarders have come a long way from the Rhodes center boaders I sailed way back when. But with practice and trying different set ups we feel confident we made a great choice by buying a modern French Aluminum center boarder be it an Ovni, Garcia or a Boreal.

Steve and Tracy

RDE (Richard Elder)

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your very concise report of how the Boreal design behaves in a confused sea state. My take-away is that you don’t have to be in the high Arctic to be very glad to have the best possible boat under you!

If you were broad reaching for two days out of Panama in normal wind direction that would place you somewhere just north of Providencia? I spent 24 hrs. anchored in a dead calm on Quito Sueno reef (110km NE).
Spookiest place I’ve ever been in my life. Not a speck of dry land to windward or leeward for a hundred miles, massive coral gardens with a depth of about 15′, wrecked freighters sticking up at 45 degrees on the reef face, and the ghosts of dead sailors flitting about at night.

If you were anywhere in the vicinity with a big swell and wind that would certainly explain the confused sea state.


Thanks RDE,

We were headed to Panama when hit by that wave but I guess it would make no difference when one gets beam too to any large breaking wave.

Yes the coast of Panama is littered with so many boats, coastal freighters, commercial fishing boats and most shocking sailboats galore. Seems every island in the San Blas has a wreck of some kind as does most of the river entrances. As for sailboats, half appear to have met their fate hitting the fringing reefs and the other half from staying the summer season at anchor inside the island reefs. The seriousness of the thunder storms coming off of the mainland with winds often to 70 knots is an end for many sailboats. Speaking with cruisers from all over who stay all year long in the islands describe the summer season with fear in their eyes and speak in low tones about the storms. I believe them from seeing so many boats grounded and abandoned inside the reefs.

You are right about broaching, we think it is the number one reason with the cruisers we have met over the years that have been knocked down. It usually takes a few months and a few beers to get the real story that the knockdown happened because of too much speed with too much sail up for the conditions. Or they were on night watch and were below cooking a snack when it happened.

I think in our situation in my last post was that we were on our self steering wind pilot and we had been having wind direction changes with every major gust, but had not seen a major gust in many hours. The wind vane did exactly what it should have done but we ended up deep in a trough just as a rare wave was breaking on our beam. Maybe we should have been using the NKE auto pilot but it is only programed for compass direction and we also fear a serious jibe as being side to to a wave. Even wing to wing getting a lot of air on the wrong side of a genoa is serious stuff and stalling out in those conditions not fun.

Still I’m glad to have been on watch in a center boarder with the board up. Lin and Larry were right on, Just as you get comfortable stuff happens.

Steve and Tracy


Have a look at
The skipper and his wife have close to 500.000 Miles under their belt, mainly in high latidudes including wintering in Antarctica and visiting all subantarctic Islands.
Their Boats where both centerboardes. Unfortunately they lost one boat during the Tsunami in Japan. At the age of seventy they built their third boat (german Reinke centerboard construction) and now cruising again in Japan on their way to Alaska.
With good seamanship and a bit of luck incredible voyages can be done with those Boats!



Hi all,
A few FACTS about Ovni boats mentionned in some of the comments above :
First one made in 1974, close to 2000 manufactured so far over these 40 years, 27 different models, 5 architects (Briand, Vaton, Graal, Joubert, Lombard).
A large number (>200) have cricum-navigated around the world (incl. Panama but also Cape Horn, Leuwin and Good Hope-more and more these days coming back along RSA), several have gone north (one is even based in Svalbard) an a few have visited Antarctica (2x 43, 435, 395), South Georgia (43 Malou), the most southern islands of the Indian Ocean, crossed the NW passage (365), and you currently can see some all around the globe incl. Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Pacific Islands, …
I won’t dare saying Ovnis are the best boats, but difficult to say these are not seaworthy (i have personnally crossed the Atlantic several times on Ovnis and (fortunately) have always felt safe. I quite like Damien 2 sailboats (assuming you do not mind the required maintenance with steel boats), but would add naval architects have worked these last 50 years and hopefully made some progress ! Same apply to Ovnis with the 27 models… notwithstanting the fact several are semi-custom built i.e. large differences from one owner to another. At the end of the day which counts is the BOAT+CREW i.e. experience and more importantly knowledge of the boat. No one is perfect, but a team (boat+crew) can be… or endeavoring getting close !
I would only pay attention to first hand reports (Shaula 3 hasn’t capsized but been knocked down).
I have found several reports on this thread quite interesting though !
Fair winds, Kev

Bill Attwood

Hi John.
This time I did use the search box before asking a question, but unfortunately found no answer!
One of my winter projects is to build a JSD. Unfortunately I cannot get at the inside of the hull on the starboard quarter, so am planning to bolt the chainplates to the aluminium toerail with UHMW-PE washers to minimise corrosion. Have you any suggestions on how to stow the permanently rigged bridle so that it does not interfere with the Windpilot and the trailing log ?
Yoiurs aye,

Bill Attwood

Hi John.
When the JSD is stored. As I understand it the lines forming the bridle are shackled to their chainplates, and then joined or linked at the point where the line to the drogues is attached. This point then needs to be secured somewhere on the aft deck or pushpit. This means that one of the bridle lines runs “fair” but the other must pass round behind the Windpilot etc.

Bill Attwood

Thanks John. Yet a further example of the diamonds to be found on the site – but I must improve my search technique!