January 19th

BE GOOD TOO: Answering Critics

Posted by // January 19, 2014 // COMMENT (38 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.


38 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. Wally Moran

    Charles – are you having fun yet? I’ve read a lot of the web postings in a variety of places, most of which assert the writer’s absolute assurances that they and only they are correct.
    A shame that they aren’t out there sailing and showing us how it’s done, isn’t it, instead of remaining ashore and commenting about those of us out there doing it.
    Pleased it came out with no one injured or worse.

  16. 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.

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