May 19th

Cheeki upside down

The U.S. Coast Guard are coming under major pressure today after they announced yesterday they were suspending their search for possible survivors from Cheeki Rafiki, a Beneteau First 40.7 that went missing in the North Atlantic about 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod on Friday. On Saturday a container ship participating in the search, Maersk Kure, found an overturned hull, with no keel (see photo up top), that most likely was Cheeki Rafiki, but they were unable to inspect the hull closely and found no other debris, no liferaft, and no other signs of survivors. Various luminaries, including Robin Knox-Johnston, the crew’s families, and tens of thousands people who have endorsed an online petition are pleading with the Coast Guard to resume the search.

Cheeki, which is managed by a British firm, Stormforce Coaching, had raced at Antigua and was being delivered back to the UK by an experienced crew of four. They contacted Stormforce on Thursday to report they were taking on water and were diverting to the Azores. On Friday two satellite rescue beacons were ignited–evidently these were personal beacons, not the ship’s EPIRB–and there’s been no word since.

Cheeki racing

Cheeki Rafiki racing at Antigua earlier this month. She finished first in the CSA 5 division

Cheeki map

Last known location

A very tough call this. Knox-Johnston and others are claiming it is “very likely” the crew is adrift in a liferaft, but I’m not so sure. Assuming that the overturned hull is the boat in question, it may be she flipped very suddenly when the keel fell off. (An impending keel failure may well be what was causing the leak.) Two crew on deck thrown suddenly into the water as the boat turtled would explain the personal beacons being ignited. A sudden inversion would also explain why the ship’s EPIRB, presumably stored below, wasn’t ignited. If there was no time to light off the EPIRB, there likely wouldn’t have been enough time to launch and board a liferaft.

It’s a shame the container ship crew couldn’t check out that hull in detail. There could be bodies onboard. But conditions at the time were very strong, and a container ship, obviously, isn’t equipped for that sort of work.

My sudden-inversion scenario is purely speculative, but based on the facts we have now, it seems the likeliest explanation. It certainly makes you think about modern keels. I have bloviated before about the vulnerability of keels on high-end race boats, but this was a common production boat. Unfortunately, other such boats have also lost keels in the past. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to take it for granted that my keel will stay put.

The Coast Guard reports they searched 53 hours for survivors, and that the estimated best-case survival time given the conditions was 20 hours. The crew onboard were James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren, and Paul Goslin, all from great Britain.


32 comments on “CHEEKI RAFIKI: Hull Found, Search Suspended

  1. First Last

    I am replying to the post of PeterC. Peter, the sea state that you see in the picture is relatively calm because the hull of the ship is providing a lee. Your very uninformed statement ” ALL merchant ships are trained in lowering a lifeboat at sea – they are required to do this every time they leave a port or voyage.” if you are implying that the lifeboats must be launched, this is grossly incorrect; at least for ships that leave the Ports of Long Beach / LA. American flagged vessels are required by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) to periodically during a set time period to inspect and launch “lifeboats” Individual ship owner policy my dictate more frequent launchings. The USCG mandates “Man overboard drills” without the requirement to launch a lifeboat. What is very important, is that the lifeboats are primarily designed to accommodate and launch crew into the water in the case of imminent sinking or destruction of the ship by fire or explosion. These lifeboats are not conducive for close quarters maneuvering. If the ship had a RIB, it would have been possible. To stop, engage in maneuvers or proceed at minimum steerage in order to inspect debris is a very arduous task for a ship. “pure callousness on the masters’ part.”. To risk crew to do a close up inspection of what appears to be flotsam, jetsam, under those conditions, let alone trying to enter the vessel to verify, identify and retrieve dead bodies is a difficult task. As another commenter wrote, search and rescue of an underwater hull needs expert divers.

  2. Hutchinson

    So when will there be a thorough investigation into the number of keel failures on these modern yachts. All other safety requirements are covered. It seems that we have forgotten the hard lessons learnt for the past. Long keels = ocean-going. Fins = pond.

  3. ken jackson

    Very Sad day to learn that life raft still in position and that the crew did not have a chance. Lots of q’s remain and as a sailing instructor having freelanced in the SOLENT area and a delivery skipper, I as the recipient of a phone call from a concerned skipper in the middle of the Atlantic would have advised with immediate effect before continuing the conversation, order that skipper to get crew to make ready deployment of life raft and start getting GRABBAG, EPIRB essentials ASAP, then try to talk through a resolution as the Azores were dam far away.
    As for the pic of upturned hull – its obvious the ingress of water was from the keel working loose and that the patch of hull missing was as the keel bolt pulled out they peeled the fibreglass/epoxy exterior sheeting with it.
    Its a big ocean out there – BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING….

  4. Steve Langdon

    Inadequate design. Inadequate manufacture. See Marchaj on Seaworthiness. Fastnet ’79 here we go again.

  5. Lisa Ferris

    I think its time all cargo and sea fairing vessels be equipped with all means of search and rescue apparatus and equipment…

  6. Hilton Libanori

    It seems that a loose keel fixation started the leak and, finally, when it was lost, the boat was knocked down. Considering that that was the problem, it could had been prevented. In my opinion, it is important to retrieve the boat and proceed with an expertise. This could lead to new construction standards. It is the way it is done in the aviation industry. Why not with million-dollars’s yachts? Furthermore, as a military doctor, I would not stop the rescue efforts so easily.

  7. John D

    An other opinionated comment , pure speculation from your part , Beneteau are as good as their crew,and stronger than you can believe, as a sailor and a pilot,,and ex Beneteau owner I only see lack of knowledge saying that the picture show a calm sea, what seems calm to you might be 15 ft high, did a delivery to San Andres island few years again with seas 15 to 18, asked a cargo ship how is the weather prediction, they answer calm, even if a trop depression was over San Andres, calm for him is not so calm for other. Same with turbulences, not the same if you are in a Cessna or a Piper or if you are in a 747. Loosing a keel can append in a Beneteau or any other fin keel sailboat.When you love to sail, you know that anything can append, and anywhere, I just hope those guys make it.

  8. stephany

    Many sailboats made by US or europeans shipyards have lost their keel the last ten years. No more Beneteau that others. That’s stupid to say “Not surprised it’s …. “If this picture shows a calm sea…someone needs a pair of glasses. That looks very bad for the sailors. That the important point.7 transats in my logbook.

  9. Chad

    On the issue of the liferaft and EPIBR not being found, that’s not a huge surprise. The Hammer release is designed to deploy when it has sunk to a depth of 13′-15′. The cockpit and foredeck of that overturned hull are no more than 3′-4′ under water. Once the hull sinks, the life raft may eventually be found, assuming it was stowed on deck. Additionally, it is possible that if the EPIRB has a hydrostatic release, it may go off at some point in the future as well. It doesn’t mean anyone was alive, it will just mean that the hull finally sank below 15′.

  10. Chad

    The merchant ship came within 40 ft or so of the hull. They wouldn’t be able to put down their rescue boat as there was certainly lines and rigging that would have fouled the rescue boat’s prop. And there was nothing to be gained by putting the rescue boat in anyway. If there was anyone alive on the boat, they would have come out. And there is no way anyone from the freighter could get inside the hull to help if they couldn’t get out. First they don’t carry dive gear and a wetsuit and second, even if they did, it would be too dangerous for anyone other than a trained rescuer due to the rigging and flotsam in and around the boat. The FIRST rule of search and rescue is “Don’t turn one dead body into two”. There was nothing to be gained by looking for dead bodies in the hull and lives would have been risked to do so. The master of the freighter made exactly the right call.

  11. Dick Bennett

    My boat suffered a violent total capsize in force 10, 200 miles south of Iceland. All three on board survived because the boat ( Freedom 35 ) SELF RIGHTED, the carbon fibre spars remained intact and we deployed a parachute drogue. We were able to sail 400 miles to Scotland without assistance.
    If the boat had not self righted we would have been unable to access life raft or epirb and we would have died. Would a First 41.5 self right without its keel(or with it) ? Would most modern production yachts ?

  12. PeterC

    Gee – that sure looks like a completely flat/calm sea in that picture. Completely the opposite of what the Maersk and CG reported about storms and 8 ft. seas. ALL merchant ships are trained in lowering a lifeboat at sea – they are required to do this every time they leave a port or voyage. Amazing they did not stop and investigate – pure callousness on the masters’ part. NOt surprised it’s a Beneteau – they are notorious for being lightly and daintily made. The wrong boat for the north Atlantic.

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