January 19th

BE GOOD TOO: Answering Critics

Posted by // January 19, 2014 // COMMENT (37 Comments)

Techniques, ,

Internet dogs

Silly me. I thought publishing my account of abandoning Be Good Too would decrease rather than increase speculative and critical commentary among the baying dogs of the Internet. I suppose I should have known better. Unlike some folks out there, I don’t have the free time to write multiple screeds on all the sailing forums, so I thought I’d address some issues that have been raised here.

1. The most substantive point that has been raised is that it was not wise of us to attempt a non-stop passage from New York to St. John in January in an untried prototype boat. This certainly bears discussing. Gunther and Doris had been waiting for the boat for some time and were eager to get south ASAP. I am sure they are now second-guessing their decision in retrospect. They did hire Hank to help them do the passage, and that at least was a smart move.

As for Hank’s perspective, he’s a professional delivery skipper. Taking brand new lightly equipped boats into shitty weather is a big part of that job, at least if you really want to make a living at it. Some have suggested he should have tried to persuade Gunther and Doris to hop down the coast to the Bahamas instead, but in doing that he would effectively be talking them out of hiring him. I would guess that he now might be a bit more careful about accepting hull no. 1 prototype jobs.

As for me, I have some experience crewing off-season deliveries, including in brand new boats, and I knew what to expect. I knew we’d be in a gale or two and expected some things might break. I would never have done this trip with a skipper I didn’t know and trust. In retrospect I can certainly say I will be more careful in the future about doing off-season passages in prototype boats.

One interesting question to be asked is whether a mid-winter passage south is in fact more difficult than a fall passage. Winter weather is harsh, but it is more predictable. In the fall you are dancing between late-season hurricanes and early-season winter storms. In the winter, at least, you won’t have some squirrely tropical system doing something entirely unexpected (like Mitch in 1998).

There is an argument to be made that experienced sailors taking a boat south in winter are behaving more responsibly than inexperienced sailors who try to go south in the fall without professional help.

2. Many people have suggested we should have tried to do more to get the boat to shore. Most of the discussion has been about dropping the bent rudder and steering the boat without it. In this case, however, the rudders had positive buoyancy and only a couple of inches of clearance over the tops of their stocks. We did not have a 10-ton hydraulic jack (thanks for that tip, Evans), and I doubt it would have been useful if we had. We had no long levers. It never occurred to us to cut a hole in the deck over the rudder stock or to destroy the bearing tube–this, I submit, would have been a bad idea given the high likelihood of encountering another gale.

We also never discussed getting in the water to saw off the rudder. I would hope most people would understand that this idea is simply idiotic. We had no tool capable of doing it, and even if we had it would be impossible to accomplish working in the water under the hull in the open ocean.

The one interesting suggestion that has been made is that we might have removed the starboard engine’s starter when the engine was running and put it on the port engine to start it, too. Gunther actually suggested this, and Hank and I thought it sounded crazy. None of us are really diesel mechanics.

I now seriously would like to know: is this really possible? Has anyone done it? If so, please contact me. If it is possible, I’d like publish a story in the magazine on what’s involved and how to do it.

3. I have been most surprised by the comments made by Jon Eisberg, an experienced bluewater sailor I previously had some respect for. He has stated that the “deal-breaker” for him was the loss of electrical power, and that he would have aborted and headed for shore at that point. But, as I stated clearly in my account, we first became aware we were losing power after 0700 hrs on Saturday. We got hit by the wave and lost steering at about 1130 hrs the same day.

We weren’t that concerned about the loss of power in any event and spent little or no time trying to solve that problem. It may surprise Jon to learn this, but it is possible to sail long distances without any engines or electrical power. Some people even go out in boats that don’t have engines or electrical systems in the first place. All we needed to get to shore were sails and an operable steering system, so we focussed our attention on solving the rudder problem.

Jon has also criticized me personally and has suggested that our abandoning Be Good Too is very analogous to the abandonment last year of Wolfhound, about which I wrote at some length. But the two situations are obviously quite different. Wolfhound had sails and a working rudder and was getting close to Bermuda. Her immediate problem was that she had no electrical power, and her crew couldn’t navigate without it. All they had was an iPad with a low battery. We had a handheld GPS and plenty of double-A batteries and navigation wasn’t an issue. Our only serious problem, as I thought I made clear, was that we had no working rudders.


37 comments on “BE GOOD TOO: Answering Critics

  1. David Appleton

    On swapping starters between engines. Not only possible, but doable. We did it on a Leopard 46 retiring from charter in Tortola on a December voyage to Norfolk. One engine had been submerged at some point and the starter had suffered salt water damage. As a mechanically challenged delivery skipper I always make sure I have an extremely competent engineer aboard. On this voyage I had two. When the starter failed on the port engine, they dismantled it, virtually rebuilt it during a leisurely sail and reinstalled. It still didn’t work. Approaching port in Little Creek I said “I want two engines to dock this vessel. Can we swap starters?” “Yes!” Jim and Freddie replied. We started Starboard, they swapped the starter motor to port in a matter of five minutes, and we fired up port! Sweetness! We entered Thimble Shoals channel with both engines pumping. BUT.. Approaching Little Creek Channel, port crapped out again for other reasons… So we had to dock this cat with only one engine… no mean feat. But we made it so. Indeed, Murphy was a sailor first and foremost!

  2. Chris Finn

    I appreciate the tale. I have been out there and there’s no honor in speculation about how the man in the arena might have done it better. Anyone who’s really been there knows you can get hammered in the best of ships and with the best of crew. The awful dynamics of catastrophe go into exponential complexity faster than humans can process a remedy. Survive to sail another day, and you should simply give thanks.

    I would comment however, that it was pretty darn snooty to suggest the rescuers found you “disappointing survivors”. It may have been a joke, a relief from having yourself resuced. But being facetious is no virtue. For heaven’s sakes: What if the helo’s rudder went blooey at 150kts? A couple of 20 or 30 somethings go down the hard way while you waltz ashore to see the grandkids?

    FYI: The SAR and Red Cross folks get pretty excited finding folks alive and well, not the other way around. How about a little gratitude mate?

  3. mgginva

    My concern is Aeroyacht’s silence. They built this boat yet they seem to think that not addressing it’s loss will some how make this incident evaporate. I have lost what trust I had in this company as they have no issues with lying (the Alpha 42 is not the only cat built in the US) and feel no responsibility to address those of us who have been foolish enough to start our shopping at there door step.

    If you contrast the way Chris White has dealt with issues with the 2 boats of his that capsized with Aeroyacht’s silence and dishonesty you see the right way and the wrong way to treat the buying public who are trusting their lives to the designs and builds of folks who they need to be able to trust.
    Shame on you Aeroyacht and yes that means shame on you Gregor Tarjan. You aren’t even half the man Chris White has proven to be.

  4. rick tara

    I am in the auto repair field and also own a sailboat. I just wanted to comment on the question of removing a starter from a moving engine. It’s kind of like “can you cross Niagara falls on a tightrope?” yes it theoretically can be done, but the risks are tremendous. The starter drive end sits extremely close to the moving flywheel with teeth on it. If it comes in contact much will break and probably much blood as well because we all know how much room there is in an engine compartment. I say no way, safer to try to swim to shore….

  5. Tom

    “Yachtsmen are consumed with the notion that their boats must be one hundred percent sound. They are oblivious to the fact that the majority of the world’s working vessels are plagued with rot and rust.” From “Wanderer” by Sterling Hayden

  6. Tony Bessinger

    Wow, talk about getting nibbled to death by ducks! Anyone who has the temerity to criticize any of the decisions made by this crew, including departing in the first place, is ballsy beyond belief. I hope, for their sake, that any armchair sailor who has such unshakable confidence in their own perfection realizes that any decisions they make in the future that result in like situations may be as carefully dissected, examined, and picked apart as the decisions made by Doane, Schmitt, and Mr. and Mrs. Rodatz.

    Doane has done us all a great service, first by writing about the entire event in the first place, then by posting the follow-up, above. To share with others, in fact to place oneself in the line of fire, in the interest of getting the story out so that others can benefit from it, is the right thing to do.

    One of the best things anyone can take away from this tale is how smart they were to get off the boat. A previous commenter refers–not properly, I believe, but if it introduces more readers to one of the best writers in the World on the topic of sea survival and rescue, excusable–to Mario Vittone, and another of his pieces about the Bounty Hearings, “The Cost of Waiting,” in which Vittone makes clear that waiting until the last minute to ask for help can be deadly. Read that, and then read Doane’s story again, and take a deep breath before you decide to do any second-guessing on behalf of the crew of Be Good Too.

  7. john reeder

    With due respect I would like to comment on the abandonment of be good too off the coast of Virginia.I am a mechanic by trade with over 40 years experience. I also sail and have a solo transatlantic to my credit. The sole responsibility for the safety of the SHIP and Crew rests with the Captain. That being said I believe a competent mechanic on board would have brought that voyage to a safe conclusion. To answer a question, yes starting one engine then swapping starters to the other engine was a completely viable option. It is so easily done, it should not have been overlooked. Even using just the solinoid was an option that should have been considered. A diagnosis from so many miles away, it would sound like you had a problem with battery ground contacts, this would affect the charging as well as the starting issue. But I’m only guessing. That said I would also wonder if anyone on board was aware of the studies being done in Newport RI. on steering a rudderless vessel. There is an article on it in cruising world magazine. If anyone is looking to lay blame that rests solely with the Captain, however to address the issue of preventing a re-occurrence. NONE of the issues that occurred could not have been solved by a competent mechanic and I believe that, that was the one element missing from your crew.

    I have read with much interest all i can find on this story as well as reread several accounts, if there was one thing that could have been done all things considered, that would have changed the outcome. Being able to repair what was going wrong would have done this.
    I believe that I could have been an asset to this crew and should you attempt similar endevours in the future I would ask that my services would be considered.
    Thank you for reading one more comment
    John Reeder

  8. William Winslow

    I think what happened 300 milles off shore is a good example of what Mario Vittone calls the illusion of experience. He expounds on the topic in reference to the sinking of the Bounty.

  9. Dave C.

    I’m an experienced mechanical and electrical engineer.
    I shuddered after looking at the rudder stock to tiller arm connection (with some help from Photoshop image brightening). What happened to the key? Or was there none? And why no keyed taper lock or no bolted and keyed split coupling connection at the rudder stock? Using the allen key wrench was obviously a desperate attempt to regain control of the rudder stock, but where did the setscrew go? Or.. why was a setscrew used in the first place? Who thought that was a good idea?

    What was going on with the electrical failures? A starter .. ok. A starter, a generator, and the alternator on the running engine did not work?? That screams “faulty wiring”.

    Regarding the starter swap from the running engine to the non running engine. If you could reach the bolts without danger while the engine was running (possible on many diesels) then that swap may have been viable, but I have no idea what tools were onboard. Some wiring changes might have been required prior to the “running swap” depending on how the starter was wired. Obviously some care and forethought would be required but that may have been feasible.

    So you are back safe, excellent. :-)

    What is going on with the boat. Has a salvage operation been launched?

  10. YODA

    In the words of a Jedi master:

    Easy it is to judge others after the fact.
    Always better things can be done, learn from our mistakes we need.

    I sad a boat was lost, I am happy lives and good spirits were kept.

    Best regards from a fellow sailor who reads, learns and minds his own business!

  11. Bill

    Putting aside what may or may not have been feasible to do mechanically and electrically to save the boat at the time, I find these statements rather interesting:

    “As for Hank’s perspective, he’s a professional delivery skipper. Taking brand new lightly equipped boats into shitty weather is a big part of that job, at least if you really want to make a living at it.”

    You would think as a professional his job would be to avoid taking “brand new lightly equipped boats into shitty weather”, intentionally at least. As delivery captains isn’t it our job to get the boat and crew there safely with little or no damage by avoiding taking those kinds, or any kind for that matter, of boats out into shitty weather if it can be avoided?

    “Some have suggested he should have tried to persuade Gunther and Doris to hop down the coast to the Bahamas instead, but in doing that he would effectively be talking them out of hiring him”

    Again as a professional should he not have at least pointed out what arguably was the safest “on it’s own bottom” delivery option to the owners whether or not it cost him a job? Because in this case not at least examining this option may have cost the owners their brand new boat.

  12. Steve

    I’m going to go right at it because there’s too much waffling in these posts.

    “I would guess that he now might be a bit more careful” & “In retrospect I can certainly say I will be more careful in the future”. Expressed in a more forthright way, your statements mean that neither Hank nor you were sufficiently careful. I respect your original posting but your unwillingness to own up to any shortcoming by all involved is frightening.

    And in each of your statements I quote, you admit only that much solely in the context of a prototype boat. The lack of preparedness and care exist on many levels and would for any boat. All this chatter about “in retrospect” (a phrase used to deflect full responsibility; all analysis is “in retrospect”) and “armchair” commenters who were not “out there doing” is laughable. The biggest takeaway is not at all what happened on the boat but rather what did not happen pre-start and the post-trip unwillingness to admit the real takeaway. I think most offshore sailors a smart enough to see that.

  13. Tom

    The starter isn’t doing anything when the engine is running, so it would be possible to remove it and reinstall it on the other engine. You would just have to be real careful of moving, spinning parts and live wires. Starters are down low, so this would have been a tight job. Maybe it was just the solenoid, and you could cross the leads to get it going.We call that a ‘farmer start’

    Glad you guys are safe. Arm chair anything gives me hives, so just saying, yes, you could swap starters, not implying it would have helped.

  14. Hans Marten

    “It may surprise Jon to learn this, but it is possible to sail long distances without any engines or electrical power.”

    Uhhh… not if you are taking on water and your pumps are electric, it isn’t. Unless you have enough crew to devote to bailing manually without impacting the watch schedule, which is unlikely.

  15. Andrew Hogg

    I really appreciate, as mentioned by numerous others, that the events have been made very public for others to learn from. This is a key ingredient to the success of our sailing fellowship.

    I am surprised the lack of discussion on the build specs for the rudders. Steve Dashew must be grinding his teeth. Rudder stocks should be over built for ALL boats but especially ocean cruisers. Clearly the steering system was underbuilt. I hope the builder is changing the specs on every other hull of this design.

    The big lesson for me: never get complacent. Even with highly experienced and proven help, things can go very wrong. This is why Dashew prefers monohulls to this day.

    Charles thanks so much for putting yourself out there. I for one have immense respect for your abilities and the professional way you handled a very difficult situation.

  16. SG

    Charlie, et al

    I don’t know you except by reputation. It was good — probably still is in my book ;^))). I’ve enjoyed your articles and people who I know have spoken highly of you.

    I also know Jon Eisberg. He’s got a lot of ocean and coast miles on sail and power boats. He’s professional delivered boat for many years; and, as importantly, he’s singlehanded his own boat through those waters in winter for fun.

    I think it odd to personalize these issues, but couldn’t help myself in an attempt to depersonalize this because I see too much it on the web. If you two want to go at it, fine. However, the others that have come to that party…

    I have several questions, musings, and observations:

    First, in my experience, the Yanmar solenoid activation of a starter motor (maybe like other diesels too) is very voltage threshold sensitive. If you have engine that won’t make a noise when you hit the key or button, then I’d carefully try to jump the starter with a screwdriver. I don’t know if you tried that? The suggestion of changing out a starter motor with an engine turning in seaway, etc. would seem to me very dangerous and likely damage both the starter, the engine, and (most importantly) the person who tries it.

    Secondly, while the rudders might have some positive buoyancy, I doubt they very buoyant. I don’t have any drawings of the Alpha 42, but if you take the volume of the rudder itself, I doubt there’s that much difference in terms of pushing or pulling the assembly out? (Say average, 4′ deep x 2 long x 5″ thick = 3.33 CF. About 200 pounds of displacement against, say 150 pounds of assembly weight). The issue would getting it to drop out. I don’t think that is really such a hairbrained question — I realize that disconnecting all of the drive mechanism isn’t such an easy thing, etc. It’s easy to talk about than do; but it isn’t an issue of buoyancy that is the matter.

    Thirdly, how bent-over and which direction was the jammed rudder damaged? Could you have pulled it back in line enough make it functional with lines, blocks, and grinding on winches? That is one advantage that a cat has — you have some options to get some purchase.

    Fourthly, with the rudder that was free wheeling, was it just disconnceted by shear inside the rudder from the tube?

    Thanks for any clarifications you might wish to provide. As others have said: No one got killed or maimed. Let’s learn from the experience.

  17. Mario Vittone

    The notion of the boat being “untested” seems to forget the fact that they could have given the new hull 20 sea trials, made it back fine each time, and still have the same problem. This isn’t the first boat to be disabled by a hard hit. The bottom of the Atlantic is littered with boats that passed sea trials, and became disabled just the same.

  18. Charles Doane

    @Jon: With all due respect, I think you’ve misunderstood what I wrote about Wolfhound. I never passed judgment on their decision to do the passage in February or on their decision to abandon. The only conclusion I reached was they should have had some back-up nav gear, like a handheld GPS. charlie

  19. John

    Thanks to all the correspondents who have commented on this incident. As a guy who has been ‘out there’ for many years, having done a Pacific circumnavigation, as well as innumerous other passages, I found this story instructive. Thanks to Charlie Doane for writing about it. I don’t think it is a bad thing to hav the arm chair quarterbacks, as it were, comment on this incident. I certainly did: wrong boat, wrong place at the wrong time. Reading the comments, I have no reason to change my thinking. Things happen at sea, and it isn’t just a cliche that the sea is a hard taskmaster: i’ve made passages to or from Prince Rupert, B.C. In three different boats/ships. Two of them are at the bottom of the ocean now. I see the temptation to get my beautiful new cruising yacht southward, and the rationalisation for doing it. New boat (what could go drastically wrong?) and an apparently experienced crew. Add to that, sailors are by their natures adventurous. I think they tend to err on the side of “lets go for it!” sometimes. I, at least, certainly know that feeling, but having taught kids to sail for 45 years, and being a licenced provider and tester of the PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator’s Certificate in Canada) to hundreds of people, I’ve learned to temper my natural inclinations and err on the side of caution and safety! Anyway, this discussion is useful and can add to the compendium of knowledge derived from incidents like this, as well as stories like the Bounty disaster or (and) the Pride of Baltimore tragedy. Thankfully, this ended with no loss of life, and thanks to the heroic efforts of the USCG in that regard. I’m also admiring of the owner’s philosophical stance on the abandonment of his lovely new boat, as well as his burst water pipes!

  20. Jon Eisberg

    Hello Charlie,

    Well, at least I suppose I should be flattered to learn that you once had some measure of respect for me… Hell, I’m surprised you even know the name of a Sailing Forum Gasbag like little ‘ol me… :-)

    First off, I would hope you at least took note of the fact that I was not among the many out there who piled on you guys for your decision to abandon BE GOOD TOO. In fact, when the question of whether I thought you did enough to save the boat was posed to me directly – by Evans Starzinger on Sailing Anarchy – I demurred… I have no experience with multihulls offshore, and I believe I have avoided second-guessing the tactics the crew employed in the wake of the wave strike and subsequent damage. I think I have been consistent in my respect for Hank’s abilities, and still believe that boat likely had the best chance of making it to port on her own under his command. Unfortunately, my gut tells me that your ability to persist in the effort toward self-rescue was compromised by the presence of the owners aboard, and once Gunther made the decision to abandon, it was game over…

    Right from the start, I’ve viewed this incident as a cautionary tale (and one from which we can all benefit from thanks to your excellent and detailed recounting) about the consequences of decisions made before the boat ever left the dock… Not that this voyage was predestined in any way, but IMHO the unfortunate outcome was largely determined by the choices made well before departure. And, I think it’s a pity that so much of the discussion of the incident has centered around the efforts to deal with the damage and choice to abandon, and that so little of it revolves around other choices that could have been made to lessen the probability of finding oneself in such a jackpot, to begin with…

    As I’ve posted elsewhere, if I had been approached by the owner to do this trip, I would have done my best to talk him into a coastal shakedown instead, and consider spending the winter in the Bahamas… At the very least, I would have tried to convince him to follow the wisdom of Don Street, and opt for a departure from the Chesapeake Entrance, or Beaufort, instead… In hindsight, shooting down the coast instead of heading directly offshore would have likely exposed the charging problem early on, and given the opportunity to have it properly troubleshot and remedied in a place like Norfolk, or Morehead City. As a delivery captain myself, I fully understand the temptation of grabbing the sort of ‘found money’ these kind of off-season trips can represent. But, if the owner was not persuaded by my rationale, or the logic of Don Street’s advice re this route, I would have passed…

    Regarding my reference to the WOLFHOUND affair, I believe you misunderstood my point. Again, I was not alluding to the ABANDONMENT of that yacht, but simply to the similarities between the 2 voyages themselves… Both done in winter in the North Atlantic, attempting to adhere to a schedule and destination running WAY behind schedule, on boats hurriedly prepped, and with which the crew was still not familiar… You said it yourself in your post about WOLFHOUND: “What the heck were those guys doing out there in February? What went wrong was predictable enough. It was exactly the sort of thing that happens when you’re shaking down a boat you’ve just bought…”, and so on… So, why cannot the same questions be fairly put to the planning and execution of the delivery of BE GOOD TOO? Not to mention, your trip was being done on a boat that most would consider a FAR less suitable choice for the North Atlantic in winter, than a blue water thoroughbred like a Swan 46… And, I might add, in a winter sufficiently volatile and unusual, that the overwhelming percentage of Americans had just introduced to the term ‘Polar Vortex’ for the first time, a mere week prior to your departure? :-)

    Furthermore, you’ve already admitted that the owners are likely second-guessing their decision, that Hank might be more ‘selective’ about such a job in the future, and that you will re-think the notion of such trips on untested/unproven prototypes in the late season, as well… Sorry, but if the principals in this story are second-guessing their decisions, is it really reasonable to expect that those of us who have watched this incident unfold from the peanut gallery might not legitimately be doing so, as well? You certainly did so yourself with regards to WOLFHOUND. Sorry, but whether you’re an editor and blogger for a national sailing publication, or merely a sailing forum junkie such as myself, we live by the sword, and die by the sword – and we always run the risk of having our words come back to haunt us, every time we venture out upon the water… :-)

    Finally, thanks for the heads-up about the possibility of sailing after the electrons have stopped flowing. Having somehow managed to bring a dead boat back home after having been completely fried by a lightning strike offshore, I am aware that it can be done :-) but I’ll freely admit to being rather paranoid about 2 things in particular when offshore: namely, the status of the bilge, and of the batteries aboard… Practically a nervous tic with me, I’m checking the bilge, and the battery monitors, CONSTANTLY, and any crew I might be sailing with damn better be doing so, as well… So, I was a bit surprised that the first indication that the power aboard BE GOOD TOO was getting low, was the sounding of the autopilot Low Power alarm, I’d prefer to see a bit more constant attention being paid to the status of the batteries than that would seem to indicate.. However, perhaps that’s just me…

    In any event, such an occurrence offshore, in January, would be a major red flag for me, and I’m simply surprised it was apparently not of great concern to you guys… Again, I wasn’t there, and maybe it’s just me. However, how many times have we seen a ‘Loss of Power’ – whether electrical, or mechanical – be merely the first in the series of cascading failures that lead to the loss of a boat? After 35 years in the yacht delivery trade, I long ago learned to interpret such things as ‘Signs’, that deserve a proper seaman’s immediate attention… Or, to a wimp like me, can indeed easily become a “deal breaker” that can cause one to consider Plan B…

    One final thing I’d like to make clear… I’d happily wager that in my lifetime of sailing and running boats, I’ve made more poor decisions, and done far dumber things, than guys like you and Hank combined… I’ve simply been a bit [i]LUCKIER[/i] than most, I suppose, and none of my own lapses in seamanship have managed play out in as public a fashion as the abandonment of BE GOOD TWO… But I have no doubt if I should be lucky enough to live so long, it’s just a matter of time before the Baying Dogs of the Internet will be nipping at my heels, as well… :-)

    I’ll tell you what… If the stars come into alignment this summer, I’m hoping to make a trip that many might consider a bit risky for a singlehander, and perhaps not very prudent in a boat like mine… So, if I manage to screw it up somehow, you’ll get to take the first shot…Deal?

    Thanks again for you candor in relating this tale, it’s been of real value to us all… And, apologies for the length of this Comment, but I’m not called a Sailing Forum Gasbag for nothing, you know :-)

    Best regards,

    Jon Eisberg

  21. Jorge Bermudez

    Mr Doane: I think you should not put out any more information. I am sure there will be lawsuits filed and you will be a star witness…

  22. brian eiland

    I also would like to thank you for not ‘hiding out’ while all of this controversy continues over this incident. And for reporting the story in a very even handed manner. I hope that you continue to contribute to the story as it progesses.

    One of the reasons I am following this story with such interest is to make it a learning experience. Everyone should attempt to learn from ‘mistakes’, be it their own or others. Through all of the speculative and critical commentary I have learned one little bit of info that I think should perhaps alarm a number of production multihull (and even mono) builders. On the Cruisers & Sailors Forum, an owner of a 40 Nautitech catamaran has posted that his vessel has only 1.5 inch rudder shafts (and tubes rather than rod), AND that perhaps a number of other production cats have a similar sizing. WOW,… I think we can be sure that this is significantly undersized. I have suggested a fix to that existing system.

    The fact that this small design fault could have resulted in the lost of this vessel, and some lives, seems extremely important to me. I can only hope that it gets FULL attention by all the desiners and builders as well.
    Brian Eiland

  23. Smackdaddy

    …and on other thing…you’d mentioned having to peg the helm hard-over to track prior to the wave strike. This seems to be a design flaw in the balance/steerage of the boat. And it certainly would cause immediate and serious issues with the rudders when the boat was pushed back. What are your thoughts here?

  24. Smackdaddy


    I go ’round with JonE quite a bit on the forums. Take him with a grain of salt. We’re all omniscient blow-hards when writing on the interwebs. And you have to admit – the wording of your “Wolfhound” write-up left some room for a smack or two. So the “baying dogs” title is a bit over the top. Even so, I’m rubbing it all in on JonE as we speak…heh-heh.

    Personally, my primary problem is with the boat. The way the story is unfolding seems to indicate a poorly designed and/or built boat in the Alpha. True this was a “prototype”, but to have this many failures in rough but not horrid conditions – to the point of calling in SAR and abandoning – certainly doesn’t bode well for people’s trust in Aero. Will Gunther and Doris buy another? What about the 7 other customers waiting in line? What do they do?

    To me, one of the more critical questions comes in what the “wave-piercing” bows had to do with the rudder failure (if anything). Aero claims higher buoyancy with these hulls, which could conceivably cause the boat to surf backwards more quickly on a steep wave. Others have presumed that they would indeed pierce a big wave, then dive, causing the wave to slam into the bridge deck much harder.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  25. Bill

    First thank you for addressing the questions raised by others. It helps us newbies learn.

    Two questions. First the Alpa web site alludes to testing the boat before delivery, was any testing done on hull #1? Second, it does not sound like there was a drogue on board. If there was a drogue would that have bought time to brainstorm alternatives, or did the sat-call with the manufacturer seal the decision?

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  27. HappyMdRSailor

    Mr. Doane,

    Short and sweet… I’m one of the contributors to the CF thread, but only one of the milder armchair quarterbacks… DEFINITELY not one who disagreed with the evacuation… This is mostly for your live starter motor swap question… Yes it can be done, and I have actually done it. Not on these particular engines, but big block marine V8’s…. Feel free to contact if you want some input…

    All this will pass… And your integrity will remain intact!

    Thanks for all the info… And of the utmost importance… Four souls survived this situation… Nuff said…

  28. Cotemar

    Mr Doane,

    I large part of the plight of the Alpha 42 “Be Good Too” had to do with both rudders disabling the boat.

    From the photos that you posted showing how you fixed the rudder post to the rudder tiller with an Allen wrench I noticed there were no rudder stops in view.

    Do you know if there were any rudder stops installed? It seems to be one of the features that would have prevented the rudder from going full barn door sideways and then bending the rudders from the hugh hydrodynamic forces of the cat lurching backwards from the large wave.


  29. Paul

    OH, and for the blog owner: Yes you can remove a starter from a running engine, but be sure to keep the nosecone away from the flywheel. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but you had pretty much run out of choices by that time…

    Offshore, Shit happens. You did what you could, I wasn’t there.

    Glad you’re safe.

  30. Paul

    Being an experienced Diesel mechanic, I have to take issue with someone saying you must have a spare starter aboard. A starter will often outlive the engine to which it is attached. And when they do fail, it is seldom a catastrophic failure, meaning, they fail “slowly”, so you will typically have lots of time to replace a “bad” starter before it fails completely.

    And really, a spare starter on a new boat? Who’d a thunk the starter would fail? It was more than likely an electrical issue, and not the mechanics of the starter, that caused the failure to start. I’d bet big bucks on that.

    We’ve done a fair bit of cruising, and crossed the Atlantic twice on our heavy Monohull. As far as backup charging; we charged the batteries with the main engine, and solar panels. Two sources of electricity for charging. I suppose we were silly to do all that cruising with only two charging sources, whereas that Alpha had 3 charging sources, which all mysteriously failed at the same time. You can’t plan for everything, and even if you could, imagine the weight of all those spares!

    Most of our cruising friends are not very electrically savvy, and most of them have crossed numerous oceans. It’s not the best situation, but cruisers help each other, and I’ve spent many evenings on other people’s boats showing them how to turn a wrench. Most of the folks we know who cruise know some tricks to keep them going until they can find a helpful cruiser, who knows how to turn a wrench.

    I think that post sounded alot like an armchair sailor, or a guy with unlimited funds. I know he crossed in his ultralight monohull, but, I have to wonder how many spares he had aboard? We’ve whittled our spares down to a precious few that are actually needed and can’t be cobbled together with other things aboard. Even our heavy monohull didn’t have unlimited room for spares. Nor did my pocketbook have funds for spare “everything”

    I actually had a guy tell me I was nuts to cross an ocean without a watermaker. Geese! Some guys need “everything” aboard, and a note from their moms.

    Now, the secondary steering, YES, I am in agreement, there should be one, always. But, I’ve bent the rules a few times myself in the name of expediency, who hasn’t?

    Having said all that. I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation, but I’d like to think you’d hear from me weeks later, still offshore, and still with my head in the bilges, trying to figure things out.

    There’s that little thing about crew too. I consider myself responsible for every one aboard. Their safety is my prime concern, and if I had those folks there, that would certainly change my line of thought on the matters at hand. That is one of the reasons why we don’t take crew.

    And really, Alpha is also responsible for not convincing them to stay ashore? REALLY? Get real man, if I tell you I don’t feel comfortable with your actions, will you change your plan?

    That’s all I got.
    Rant over.

  31. Steve

    The most important thing is that all the crew are safe.
    Thank you for sharing your story and I hope the negative feedback doesn’t alter your approach – I always read your blog with much interest and enjoyment.
    Please don’t let a vocal few spoil the enjoyment for the rest of ‘us’.

  32. Ronbo

    Thanks for providing your further thoughts on this most unfortunate incident.
    A lot of things went wrong but many went right. If it wasn’t you and Hank the outcome may have been worse. We expect our boats to operate as promised, this boat clearly needed more teething time.
    I’ve stopped reading this in the various forums – too much second guessing and idiocy.

  33. hakan usal

    First of all I am very sorry for what you have been thru and grateful to coast guard heros for saving all lives.
    Reading your story i was almost in tears. I was a prospect buyer for Alpha 42 and I was eagerly waiting for a test sail which was cancelled by the company due to some autopilot issues.
    I have crossed the Atlantic on my own boat McGregor 65 and I have done multiple Bermuda races , offshore passages etc.
    I have some criticism for you and the entire crew that overall none of you were well prepared for this trip including the boat. A title of captain does not give anybody an assurance of being capable when things go wrong offshore. First rule of offshore sailing things won’t go as planned and make sure that you always have a plan B. None of the crew had any capability of fixing electrical problems , mechanical issues other than being hard core brave sailors. There should be altenative solid charging system available onboard such as solar panels or wind vane so you can always have electricity on board essential part of using rechargable tools. It seems that even your VHF or SSB was not available other than sat phone and you are extremely lucky that sat phone worked. Many times sat phone coverage offshore is not constant.
    Any one going offshore should not leave the harbor without an alternative steering system in place and tested! and spare starter motor , solenoid etc for engine and generator. Replacing a starter motor or the solenoids is a simple task and one of you should pay a mechanic for couple of hrs and learn how to do it . If none of you know how to start an engine or replace a starter motor or solenoid I wonder what you guys are wondering out there. Not being a mechanic is not an excuse for ill preparation.
    It seems that owners solely relied on the ability and knowledge of their hired crew. They also should known better that a new boat does not mean that everthing will work as installed ( I rather have an old and tested boat if I am going offshore).
    Again I am very sorry for all your misfortune but I hope discussions from this story may save future lives or altogether avoid such situations.
    By this means I am very sorry for this couples’ shattered dreams.
    Also feel terrible for Alpha boats their reputation and starter business will be negatively effected from this event. They also share a responsibility for not convincing the owners to postpone their trip before testing this boat entirely.
    Experience comes from bad judgement and bad judgement arises form inexperience. In this case both of them were on board on Alpha 42.

  34. Mike

    Mr Doane,
    I am grateful to you for your efforts and your heart to engage the inquiry and then move toward completing the perspective from on board. Your role as participant, witness and scribe has become enlarged through your writing and images into a great gift I feel privileged to receive. As one who has “been there”, I have been troubled by the rushes to judgment in some comments. Thank you for poking your head out of the foxhole…respect coming back to you. I prefer the chance to learn from others more, so I might have fewer episodes myself. You help me do better offshore by volunteering as you have done.

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