17 Jan

Helo hoist

“I can say for certain that was the best helicopter ride of my life. It was also the best shower.” –statement by Gunther Rodatz to U.S. Coast Guard airbase personnel; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Jan. 14, 2014

THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN a lot of buzz about what happened Tuesday morning approximately 300 miles off the Virginia coast, when owners Gunther and Doris Rodatz, together with delivery skipper Hank Schmitt and myself, abandoned the 42-foot catamaran Be Good Too courtesy of a U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew. As is usually the case, much of it has been speculative, and some people have complained that we need not have left the boat. True facts have been a little hard to come by. Here on my own blog, at least, I can do what I can to correct that.

We departed Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, bound for St. John, USVI, at about 1430 hrs on Wednesday, January 8. It was bone cold outside, and the boat had been frozen into her berth by thin ice. The marina’s pump-out boat came around to act as an ice-breaker and helped bust us loose, and after a brief stop at the marina’s fuel dock, we headed down New York Harbor under power. We unrolled the solent jib after passing through the Verrazano Narrows, but Hank didn’t want anyone on deck handling the mainsail in the bitter cold. We motorsailed south all through the first night under the jib alone, staying inside the heated interior as much as possible, as the decks outside were soon coated in a skin of ice from the light freezing spray.

Liberty Landing ice

Frozen in Jersey City

By the following morning after breakfast it was warm enough that the deck was clear of ice and Gunther and I raised the mainsail, taking care to stay clear of the big chunks of ice that came toppling out of the sail as it was hoisted. We shut down the engines briefly and tried proceeding under sail alone, but the wind was getting weaker and soon we started up one engine and started motorsailing again so as to keep our speed up.

We motorsailed all through the rest of Thursday, until very early Friday morning, when the wind increased enough to shut down the engine. By sunrise we were close-reaching at 6-plus knots in 17-20 knots of southeast breeze. Not long afterward, however, the wind decreased and shifted to due south, and we spent much of the day motorsailing again, tacking back and forth, to make progress southward. After sunset the wind started building and we were able to proceed to the southeast under sail alone.

This was our best sailing during the entire trip. During my evening watch I had the boat running at 8-9 knots with spikes over 10 in 22-26 knots of apparent wind. Shortly before handing over to Gunther at 2130 hrs I took one reef in the main. It was also clear we had entered the Gulf Stream, as the water temperature had risen dramatically.

After midnight on Saturday, January 11, I noted from my berth that the boat’s motion had increased quite a bit. Coming on deck at 0400 hrs to relieve Hank I found the wind was blowing over 30 knots. There were two reefs in the main, and the jib had been roller-reefed to about half size. Waves were now occasionally falling on the center and starboard-side forward windows and some minor leaks had appeared around the edges of the window frames.

Heavy weather

Heavy weather, as viewed from inside

Very shortly after Gunther came up to relieve me at 0700 hrs an autopilot alarm sounded indicating power was low. Gunther started up the generator, but found it was not charging the batteries. We started up the starboard-side engine, but it also was not charging the batteries. In the middle of all this, the single-line sheet to the self-tacking jib suddenly parted. We knew the sheet lead for this sail was not ideal and probably should have already rolled it up by now, given the conditions. I now immediately furled the sail, while Gunther did something, I’m not sure what, that got the batteries receiving a charge from the engine. I woke up Hank at this point and informed him we were starting to have “adventures.”

We now set up the boat to motorsail itself in a fore-reaching configuration under just the double-reefed main (there was no third reef). We locked the helm off hard to port to keep her from rounding up and were making progress eastwards at 4-5 knots. This seemed stable, though we were still getting whacked occasionally by waves on the starboard bow.

At about 1130 hrs we took a huge direct hit all across our front windows. The wave that hit us seemed much larger than the rest and was running at a different angle, such that it hit us from directly ahead instead of on the starboard quarter. Hank and I were in the saloon right behind the windows at the time. A fair amount of water squirted in all around the edges of the window panes and one large piece of trim was blown right off one vertical frame. The windows themselves, thankfully, held up fine. The wave stopped us dead in our tracks and even seemed to back us up a bit. A large amount of water surged up our stern and blew a large teak step right off its mounts.

Missing step

The missing teak step

Immediately after the hit we found we had trouble controlling the boat. It seemed at the time that our loss of forward momentum had made it hard to steer, and the boat started spinning in circles, tacking and then jibing. We started up the other engine, and even with both engines running hard we could not regain control. After our second uncontrolled jibe, Hank ordered that we should drop the mainsail and lie ahull to the waves. The wind by now was blowing over 40 knots from the south and seas were running about 18-20 feet.

Frankly, this was the one point in our whole adventure where I was most nervous. I have sailed in 40 knots or more several times, but I had never before just laid to the wind and let a boat drift broadside to waves in conditions like this. I had always believed this was a bad idea and that it is best to adopt more active tactics. But the boat was very happy. The beam of the Alpha 42 (we were aboard hull no. 1, which had just been delivered to Gunther and Doris) is very wide for a cruising cat of this size, with an unusually high bridgedeck, and we had remarked earlier that the hull was very stiff and its motion was remarkably comfortable. We now were amazed at how stable it seemed lying to these large seas. The rolling was not very pronounced and only rarely did waves slap the boat or land on deck.

That afternoon we contacted our weather-router, Ken McKinley, by sat-phone and he advised that we were now south of the Gulf Stream and that we could expect the wind to increase to 45 knots before switching to the west. We continued lying to the waves through the rest of the afternoon and all of the night, during which the wind did indeed increase into the mid-40s, with gusts to over 50. Gunther later insisted he saw one hit 60.The boat, however, was still quite comfortable, and we bided our time standing watches, reading, and sleeping.

Gale riders

Chilling during the gale. Yes, we were very comfortable!

On relieving Hank at 0430 hrs early Sunday morning, he informed me we now had no electrical power. He had started the port-side engine shortly after midnight and found it was not charging the batteries. Meanwhile, the wind had also shifted west and was beginning to subside.

After sunrise we took stock of our situation. We first tried our engines: the port-side engine now would not start; the starboard engine would start, but wasn’t charging the batteries; the generator would not start. So we tried sailing, as the wind was now only blowing about 25 knots and seemed much more manageable. We rigged a new sheeting system for the jib, with one centerline sheet and barber-haulers on either side, and tried but failed to get the boat sailing off the wind to the southeast toward Bermuda, which now seemed like our best destination. The best we could do was effectively heave to, with the bow cocked toward the southwest as the boat drifted slowly southeast.

Jib sheets

Our jury-rigged sheeting system. It worked very well

We did discuss raising the mainsail, but decided against it, as we had discovered that the top two full battens had become detached from their batt-cars when we dropped the sail earlier. There seemed to be no easy way to repair them, so we decided to wait for less wind before raising the sail again.

By 1100 hrs the wind, however, was increasing again, blowing over 30 knots I estimated, and curiously as it increased we found we had a little more luck getting the boat to sail. We first found we could sail on a close reach to the south-southwest at 4-5 knots. Later we managed to run off for a while on a broad reach to the southeast at higher speeds. Still, the boat was hard to control. It would periodically bear off or round up uncontrollably, do a spin, settle into a straight-line course for a while, do a spin, etc.

Through the afternoon the wind started diminishing again, and as it did the boat started spinning more and more. By early Monday morning, before daybreak, it was doing nothing but spinning in circles, so we rolled up the jib and decided to wait for daylight to see if we could figure out exactly what was wrong with the steering system.

Through all of this, too, we were now having to pump out the moist sections of the boat by hand. Water had been coming aboard continually in certain compartments for some time and now with no electric bilge pumps we had to attend to the chore ourselves. We weren’t sure where the water was coming from, and though the rate of ingress wasn’t at all alarming, it was annoying, as we had to pump for several minutes every one-and-a-half hours or so.

Come 0700 hrs conditions had become quite calm, with the wind from the south now at less than 10 knots, and at last we were able to embark on a deliberate examination of our problem. Inspecting all the steering gear, we found the port-side rudder stock was no longer connected to its tiller arm. Instead of being secured with a pin all the way through the stock, there was only one small set screw, the tip of which had broken off. There was, however, a hole through the stock for a proper pin, and after a long bit of head scratching, jury-rigging, and tiller-arm wrestling, we finally managed to pull the tiller arm up off the retaining ring on to which it had collapsed, line up the tiller’s hole with the rudder stock’s hole, and drive in an Allen wrench with a hammer.

Starboard stock

The starboard side rudder stock and tiller arm, with intact connection between the two

Port stock broken

Port-side rudder stock and tiller arm, before repairs

Port stock repaired

And after repairs. We had to remove the angle sensor and the connecting rod between the two tillers to do our thing. Afterwards, of course, we reinstalled the rod. With the tiller arm swinging back and forth in the swell with some force, this all took some care and patience

As you can imagine, we felt pretty proud of ourselves at this point and were confident we had solved our most important problem. Unfortunately, after we started up our one engine to see if we could steer, the boat still would only drive in circles, to port, no matter what we did with the wheel.

So now it was time to visually inspect the rudders to see what the hell was really going on down there. Gunther insisted he should be the one to go into the water to do this and soon reported that the starboard rudder blade was just spinning in place around its stock and that the port rudder blade was bent inward toward the boat’s centerline at a very large angle.

Getting wet

Gunther goes for a swim

In retrospect, it is hard to imagine how all this might have happened. I think it is likely that most cats would have suffered some sort of steering or rudder damage from the hit we took, but our damage seemed bizarre. Securing the tiller arms to the rudder stocks with small set screws may not be a good practice, but in this case those screws should have acted as sacrificial fuses. Confronted with the huge force of the wave stopping the boat and thrusting it backwards, you’d think the screws would break off, leaving the stocks to rotate freely so the rudder blades would be saved. Instead the starboard set screw held and the welds securing the frame armature inside the rudder to the stock had apparently failed. Meanwhile, the port set screw had failed, yet the frame somehow bent anyway.

Thinking we might still be able to steer the boat with its engines if we had both of them running, we next spent some time examining the port engine to see if we could get it started. This emitted a burning odor whenever we lit up the ignition, and we soon figured out that the starter had shorted out.

Unwilling to admit defeat, we thought we might have better luck sailing the boat now that we understood exactly what was wrong with the rudders. We were also now willing to raise the mainsail again in the much calmer conditions. So up went the main, and we tried every possible combination we could think of, playing the sails against each other and the bent rudder, playing the engine against the rudder in both forward and reverse, but no matter what we tried the essential dynamic remained the same: with no sails up the starboard engine ruled, and the boat just turned to port; with sails up and drawing, in whatever configuration, the bent rudder ruled and the boat would only turn to starboard.

We were now about 300 miles from anywhere, equidistant from Bermuda, the Chesapeake, and New York, and reluctantly concluded that we weren’t going to be able to get the boat to shore without outside assistance. We discussed the prospect of organizing a tow at some length and called Alpha Yachts by sat-phone to see if they could arrange something. Hank, an eternal optimist, thought this was a real possibility, but I was more skeptical. Thinking out how it might proceed, we realized that, even if we could get an appropriate vessel to come to us, it would take days before we could rendezvous. The tow would then have to proceed quite slowly, at say 3 knots at most, due to the bent rudder. Meanwhile, there would be a continuing barrage of routine winter gales, and during each of these–we figured one or two at least–the tow would have to be dropped and the boats would have to lie ahull separately, waiting for the wind and seas to subside again before proceeding onward.

Finally, after listening to us bat this around for a while, Gunther reluctantly decided the only really viable option was to abandon the boat. He placed a sat-phone call to the Coast Guard in the late afternoon, and the evacuation wheels started grinding.

We assumed, of course, that we would be taken off by an AMVER vessel, as normally happens during evacuations far from shore. Hank had the audacity to suggest that we request a westbound vessel, so that we would arrive somewhere in the U.S. rather than in Europe, and the Coast Guard, to my surprise, readily assented to this, telling us that we could have a westbound ship pick us up at 0800 hrs the following morning. They also gave us a weather forecast: the wind that night would increase to 25 knots, hold at that strength through daylight hours on Tuesday, then increase to 35 knots with gusts to over 40 during Tuesday night.

Having made our arrangements, we treated ourselves to a little pre-abandonment party shortly after sunset, broke our dry-ship rule, and opened up some fine red wine. The mood was subdued, but upbeat. Gunther and Doris, in spite of the bitter disappointment of having to give up this boat they’d been looking forward to taking possession of for two years, were very philosophical about their situation, were very grateful no lives were at stake, and together we all laughed about the problems we’d confronted during our passage.

Also, at one point in the evening, a ship came to us from the west and announced via VHF radio that they were ready to bring us aboard and take us to Israel. We politely declined, insisting we had a ride west in the morning, and they went on their way. Later it occurred to us that the Coast Guard, who had seemed more worried about Tuesday’s weather than we were, had sent this ship to us hoping to get us out of there sooner rather than later. We had arranged to maintain a sat-phone call schedule with them, but initially asked for a longer interval than they wanted–eight hours instead of four–to save our phone’s battery. It may be that if we had been in contact more regularly they might have insisted, or have strongly urged, that we join the ship bound for Israel.

In any event, during our scheduled call at 0200 hrs they informed us they would be taking us off by helicopter at 0900 hrs. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from North Carolina would rendezvous with a U.S. Navy warship en route to us to refuel, and then again on the way back. We would be allowed to bring with us one small bag each.

Promptly at 0900 hrs the next morning we spotted a USCG C-130 search plane heading straight toward us at low altitude, followed five minutes later by the helicopter. I can’t speak to how Gunther and Doris were feeling at this point, but Hank and I were both looking forward to finding out how this would go. Hank has thrashed his way through an awful lot of trouble on the water–two dismastings and five different loss-of-steering incidents–but had always managed to get his boats home and had never before abandoned one. As for me, I had once before abandoned a boat, but in much more sanguine circumstances, in a river in Spain to a nearby dock.

You’ll have seen the video the Coasties have posted. If not, you can watch right here:


Hank asked me to be the guinea pig and go first, so Gunther and Doris could see what would be happening to them. This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I got to go up in the basket, all dignified and comfortable. After that first hoist, the helo crew decided to speed things up by bringing the others up in a sling, which to me looked decidedly inferior. Hank, as skipper, originally planned to go up last, but Gunther in the end insisted that he should go last instead. That cooler you see him carrying up in the video is not filled with beer, as some have suggested, but with personal possessions. I was very surprised the Coasties let him bring it along.

Doris aboard

Doris comes aboard

Be Good aerial

Be Good Too as viewed from the chopper


Gunther on left. Rescue swimmer John Knight on right

Really the worst part of the experience was having to sit through the three-hour long helo ride to shore in soaking wet clothes. This was broken by the fuel stop aboard the U.S. Navy missile destroyer Ross, during which someone threw a garbage bag full of beef-and-onion hoagies into the back of the chopper for us to eat. They looked disgusting, but in fact were very tasty.


Navy personnel look pretty in purple


Authentic Navy chow

On arrival at the airbase in Elizabeth City we were greeted by a swarm of people, including two Red Cross workers, who were eager to take care of us. From their perspective we must have seemed like disappointing survivors, as we were perfectly healthy, entirely untraumatized, and in generally good spirits. All we really wanted was a hot shower and some dry clothes.


Disembarking in Elizabeth City. Rescue swimmer John Knight on left, hoist operator Brian Light in the center, Gunther’s back on the right

Gunther dry

Gunther after his shower

Like Gunther, I can honestly say it was the best shower of my life. He really is an amazing guy. Shortly after he finished his shower he got a call from someone at home in Bloomington, Indiana, telling him the water pipes in his house had frozen and burst. And both he and Doris were just as chilled out about that as they were about losing the boat.

SPECIAL THANKS: Words cannot express how grateful we are to our helicopter flight crew. At a minimum, we can recognize them individually:

Lt. David Birky–pilot

Lt. John Poley–pilot

AST2 John Knight–aviation survival technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer

AMT2 Brian Light–aviation maintenance technician, 2nd class; hoist operator

Thanks, guys! You were great!


  1. http://www./

    Nem fiking? :-)))Én nem sajnálom, magam vagyok a hibás, több figyelmet kellett volna fordítani rá. De ha egyszer elkészül attól kezdve inkább zavar a szöveg, gyűlölöm. Ha más foglakozik vele nagyon köszönöm, és örülök. Ennek viszont az lehet az ára, ami történt – miért lenne bárkinek is szívügye a szöveged? Még egy profi kiadóban is.Na, lesz még egyszer épelméjű adórendszer Alsó Merániában és a LesÅ‘ Harcsa is csak elkezd egyszer hassal felfelé úszni! Akkor majd csinálok egy kiadót. Úgy kilencven éves koromban.

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    A lovely heartwarming story BG. You are so right, we all need to stop sometime and think of others. Poor Aunt Betsy must have been utterly distraught. A simple thing like making a phone call can be a mountainous challenge for the elderly. How fortunate she was to get you on the end of the line. Kindness and consideration costs nothing yet is often in short supply.

  5. Priyanka

    Hi GeorgeSlight clarification we did have a rudedr, we just had no viable means of steering it. We literally had two ropes that could be hauled one way or the other and locked off on a cleat.That meant that when our boat leaked and took on water all down the port side (that’s left, for landlubbers like George), and were listing almost 20 degrees over, I was able to adjust the rudedr to point off-centre to try to help compensate for the fact that we weren’t really rowing straight. But that’s all I could do. Adjusting the rudedr meant putting down the oars and tinkering with two bits of rope for 5 minutes. Other than this attempt to offset our weight imabalance, I just locked it off and thought of it as an extension of our keel.Our steering generally consisted of using the oars, and trying to keep the wind and waves behind us, as long as that meant we were heading mostly west! We had the flag right in front of the rower (centre of the cabin) so that you just looked at the flag and kept it pointing at you.Never having rowed a boat with a decent rudedr system, I can’t really say how much that effected us. Probably quite a lot (we did take 101 days after all!).

  6. Bill Stellin

    You have the gall to call the navy chow “disgusting to look at”
    Shame on you smiling people smug in the knowledge you will be “saved”
    Donne, you ought to be ashamed writing this article. You guys will do anything to sell a magazine

  7. Bill Stellin

    Charlie, were you just the observer/photographer. You have experience, why didn’t you tell the skipper and owner what the basic DYI remedies they could take.
    From the article I wonder if these bozo’s can even screw in a light bulb.
    First rule. Don’t depend on the boat being perfect and a sat phone to bail you out. Have some DYI skills so you can quickly figure out what is wrong and try to fix it. Waiting days to figure out the rudder was bent in inexcusable. There were so many errors made on this journey and with the engineering of the boat itself, there isn’t room here to recall everything. Google Bill and Judy Stellin and see what two old farts can do at 65+ yrs of age. Do you think I would have crossed the Atlantic twice if I couldn’t fix problems with hand tools
    Read the story I published in the Wall Street Journal about cruising and see two people that never had a problem in 8 years and 34,000 miles. My story encourages people to cruise, Your story sure would turn them off. Shame on all of you.

  8. William

    Just goes to show, once again, lives are much more valuable then any vessel. I also wonder if the boat was compently surveyed after construction. The missing thru bolt in the rudder stock to tiller seems like a gross over sight. It would also be interesting to see how the rudder stock to blade connection was made. One jib sheet? I guess that’s why we usually use two sheets. Not to mention to advisability of making that trip at that time of year. So what happens to the drifting boat now? Visa-vee a drifting hazard to navigation? Former Coast Guard veteran, Capt. Bill Conlyn

  9. Melissa White

    You won’t get any armchair quarterbacking from me. According to the account, the coast guard informed the captain that they would be abandoning ship. I assume, because I trust the Coast Guard, that this means they knew that should the crew stay on the vessel, the rescue would have been more hazardous due to deteriorating weather conditions. This seems to fall under the category of ‘shit happens’, even with very experienced people on board. For me, I would love to be able to earmark even MORE of my hard earned tax money to fund the Coast Guard rather than have them second guess when to rescue someone when everything else has failed. I’m pretty sure no one easily abandons a boat of any kind, regardless of how much it costs. What an awful choice to have to make. So glad everyone was safe and that attitudes are intact! Fair winds to you all!

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  11. Diane Elliott

    Quite a harrowing story. So very thankful that all were safe. Thank You Coast Guard! My reply to John Smith is that a human life is way more valuable than a $400,000 boat. My guess is the price tag was way more than that for the boat. It’s easy for armchair sailors to make comments about how they would save the day. Does insurance pay out in cases like this? Any way of tracking the boat. This does kind of get me thinking. We are considering venturing off shore and I’m wondering if there isn’t some kind of tracking device that can be left on board similar to what is used to track the movement of whales, etc. The boat could be watched until it was close enough to tow to shore.

  12. Pieter Kommerij

    As a Cat owner (Fountaine Pajot Lavezzi) i cant imagine what it would feel like to decide to abandon your boat. I agree with John Smith comment hereabove, i guess to ditch the bent rudder and come up with a “McGyver” type solution of another rudder would be the way to go. Then, with sufficient wind and able to steer the vessel, 300 miles is what, maybe three days… Seems doable, butagain, i wasnt there and maybe other issues where at stake…

  13. Phil Macken

    Amazes me how there are so many “Armchair Quarterbacks” out there. Bottom line people; We Were Not There. To those who think it was handled wrong, hop in your skiff and go retrieve the boat of your dreams. Free for the taking….

  14. Jonathan Cohen

    Is always sad to listen to a story of mayday. Regardless i think the only real reason for avandoning would be that the boat is either on fire or sinking..

  15. Tom

    Like when you go to the doctor and are asked about pain: “on a scale of 1-10, how close are you to loosing control of the situation? Please remember that we cannot help unless you have the shit hitting the fan.”

    If you READ the text, you won’t miss that they were waiting for an AMVER lift when the coast guard informed them that a helicopter was on the way. Armchair commentary aside, as it must be, and objectively, the rescue was a response to a situation that could only get more complex,tenuous, dangerous.

  16. Curt Saunders

    The bent rudder I would guess happened earlier perhaps before they left or in the delivery from a gounding, hard to believe water would be able to bend it, rudders are not that big on a cat.
    The port engine is probably hydro locked, the exhaust is probably on the side and with the boat lying ahull waves pushed water up the exhaust and into engine cylinders hydro locking the engine, unlikely the starter is bad. a nice looking boat, they haven’t seen the last of it.

  17. Mike Allison

    After considerable reflection, I wish to retract my comments in their entirety. I also wish to personally apologize to the captain, owners, and anyone who may have been offended by them.

    As my opening paragraph indicated, my comments were emotion-driven in response to the article account, rather than any personal experience of the events and individuals described. They also reflect several intense personal experiences at sea in which rescue efforts, had they proven to be necessary, would not have been available in time, if at all.

    While my comments were meant as personal opinion, I should have kept them to myself. Again, I sincerely apologize. I am as relieved as a reader can be that all came through it safely, and truly hope the vessel was quickly and safely salvaged, to cruise once more.

  18. Mike Allison

    The picture of the brand new boat, upright, intact, and merely disabled, taken from the perspective of a very expensive, tax payer funded, always -ALWAYS – risky rescue operation, all brought about because the group onboard ran out of ideas, is heartbreaking to one who worked and waited a lifetime for his dream vessel. And she is lying abandoned in what appear to be benign seas to make the event even more surreal.

    I wonder what the decision-making and out-come would have been if the boat had not insured, or if the owners and captain had been required to pick up the tab for the rescue; that is, owners – and captain – were unable to simply walk away from the situation and make it someone else’s problem. It seems to me that, at the very least, one sat call should have been placed to the insurance company. They might have been willing to put up 100k for an ocean-going tug, or the delivery aboard of a qualified mechanic (and skipper) and some spares.

    Having been deprived of any opportunity to provide solutions that would also protect their investment, at the very least, they should be given the option to take a good, hard look at the captain and owners and refuse to pay based on pre-existing condition.

    The incongruity, unseemliness, and sheer, ironic stupidity of the fine red wine ritual is a disgrace to the coast guard personnel about to risk their lives, and to measured-risk taking sailors – hell, even wine lovers – everywhere.

    As someone who just last October had his Cambria 44 safely delivered from Newport RI to St. Augustine FL under conditions identical to those in the article, I can only thank God the captain in the article was not inadvertently chosen for the delivery. I would be faced with an incalculable loss right now.

  19. TheIceDog

    Strap a drop-in to the whisker pole and use it as a tiller/rudder? Could you elaborate? Sorry for your loss Gunther, nice to hear everyone returned safely and as always, kudos to our US Coast Guard.

  20. rebmax

    Doris and Gunther, so sorry for the loss of your boat, I pray your dream lives on. Gunther, you brought your crew all home safely, way to go Captain.

  21. Tom

    Wow. So Hank needed to bring along what? New rudders and windows? How about all who leave the dock with a spare starter raise their hands!

  22. tom struble

    hard to believe all that went wrong. sorry. we were caught in Bay of Biscay in 30 ft seas and 60 knot winds. thought the boat ( a new delivery) was going to split in half. we were lucky.

  23. John Smith

    1. Release the freaking cheap rudders into the sea.
    2. Strap a drop-in to the whisker pole and use it as a rudder/tiller.
    3. Sail the boat to where it can be easily towed.

    How hard would that have been rather than kissing off a $400,000+ new yacht. Did I miss something?

  24. Captain Ed

    Any idea where the hull is now? Has it been found/salvaged?

    Did the insurance company pay off without problems?

    Thank you.

  25. William Finseth

    This couple purchased a boat that had not be thoroughly tested. It’s a big mistake to rush a purchase of an unproven vessel. The failed design of the window seals could have spelled disaster.

    It was clear that there was a lack of proper preparation prior to departure and the hired captain, who was there to help them get the vessel to the Caribbean is at fault and potentially should sued by the owners and/or the insurance brokers for dereliction of duty. The Captain went to sea without sufficient spare parts. No alternative steering system was designed for the vessel should the steering fail. The fact that the Captain did not try to jury-rig an alternate form of steering again seems to be a serious dereliction of duty. The vessel was not equipped with a drogue sea anchor, something that is a must to properly orient the boat in the breaking seas or had they been sailing a speed with breaking seas behind them to slow the progress of the boat to manageable speeds so that the crew could keep the boat under-control.

    At the very least the captain should have his license suspended and possibly pay a fine.

    If I were the couple or the insurance agent I would seriously think about suing the manufacturer of the boat. Some of the problems encounter by this crew were directly related to the design of the boat. It was lucky that none of them lost their lives.

  26. Stephen Craft

    Can anyone comment on the legal implications of abandoning a vessel? Does abandoning forfeit salvage rights? Incur cost of possible environmental contamination?

  27. rolly bilben

    I was just wondering if it would be better to sail down the coast to Florida & than across to the bahamas & down thru to the islands, especially in January

  28. Lost soul

    I did not read of any tries of jury rigging a rudder. That is something I have read about often. But who am I. I have never been in that situation.
    glad all were safe. Thanks for the story/

  29. Chris

    I think we can all agree we’re all happy everyone is safe and sound.

    Having said that, I’m amazed that in the article and in the comments there’s not more discussion about what one can learn the ordeal and what to do and not to do.


  30. Arthur Smith

    Some of the comments are constructive and insightful. It seems that too many dwelled on the negative instead of looking at the positive. The story was shared. That was big. Let’s look at the decisions that were correct and not pick at possible mistakes. Perhaps it is the armchair sailors that like to make themselves look good at the expense of others. Tom Harris used the right words. I am glad that it ended well. Hats off to the Coasties. They are great.
    Tom Harris has obviously been there and understands the reality.

  31. john roome

    The captains first duty is to get the crew back safely mission accomplished.I too have been out there several times in my own boat and on others.In one particular 1500 with a crew of ten aboard a Swan 56 after pounding hard for eight days,with every conceivable skill and talent on board we made Tortola at night and could not start the engines.We sailed through the night till daybreak and sailed unto a mooring at Virgin Gorda.Where all heads turned and were dully impressed by such seamanship.Of course we never let anyone know of our plight it became the stuff of ledged.The problem was however salt spray buildup on the ignition switch.My point here is when you are at the benevolence of mother nature sometimes it is just luck your holy communion with her.If it was that easy everyone would be out there.Great job boys.

  32. Rick Dinon

    The boat wasn’t seaworthy and the Captain was incompetent? Really? The boat was shoved backward with enough force to fracture the weldment on one rudder and bend the other shaft. Somehow, that’s unacceptable? The boat had some leaks around the ports in big seas and it was unseaworthy? The crew tried every combination of sail and motor but could do effectively nothing to control the boat. They fixed what steering they could above and inspected the rudders below and that is incompetent? They couldn’t solve the electrical issues so they were unprepared? They uncorked a bottle of wine while awaiting rescue which made them irresponsible?

    Oh please, get a grip.

  33. Dave Skaling

    Having sailed in 5 Bermuda races and 2 US to Virgin Island trips and encountering much worst weather and seas including Hurricane “Mitch” on a West Marine 1500 regatta it seams to me that not only was the boat not seaworthy of making such a trip, spare parts were not on board for back up (what if they dropped the cork screw overboard), and the crew was not fully prepared for the task. Before such a trip, check, double check, and have the proper boat, equipment and crew. Although I am sure that these sailors were very experienced, it sound as though they were not prepared for such a journey. Sailing is fun and anyone that has had any water time at all has been in trouble but they should ban that make of boat from off shore sailing like they did with certain Hunters in the Caribbean 1500 that Mitch hit.

  34. James Williams

    When I first saw the report of this abandonment, I truly wondered why. So much for rushing to judgment. Clearly, a lot of things went wrong that the captain and crew fixed. Ultimately, it was construction problems with the boat itself that doomed it. But, since this boat was hull #1 of a new catamaran series, I guess we’d be best to call it a shake-down cruise that revealed major flaws. Glad everyone made it through safely, albeit probably a bit chagrined! Nice account, Charlie.

  35. Chris

    Sail Magazine: Please contact the manufacturer of this boat for their comments/response. It seems to me they are not producing a seaworthy product! Am a I wrong? Comments?

  36. Chris

    Are you telling me that a modern catamaran can’t handle 30 knot winds and 15′ seas?

    Tell me if I’m wrong. but this shows a poorly designed boat and a very incompetent crew!

  37. Jeff Hanson

    An interesting story, I imagine there was a way to pull through without abandoning the boat but also recognize you stayed on quite some time and made some real efforts to continue. In reading I suspected something might happen when you said you rolled the jib and continued with rudders hard over to maintain forward motion that you were setting yourselves up for a bad result. Getting shoved suddenly backward in that situation caused just that.

    If someone recovered your boat I’d say they have picked up a nice unwanted boat that needs a little work.

  38. Capt. Richard Toth

    Having made our arrangements, we treated ourselves to a little pre-abandonment party shortly after sunset, broke our dry-ship rule, and opened up some fine red wine.

    Really ?

    The delivery captain should have his license revoked.

  39. john reeder

    1. john reeder says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    January 25, 2014 at 11:53 AM
    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

  40. Bill

    “but I think that if the rudder stocks had been 5″ titanium/molybdenum alloy and they had had the foresight to bring a gyrocopter or at the very least a small submarine along they would be relating a different story now. That said, I think the hoagie looked delicious. I was in a 50 kt. gale in a new to me boat last October and I only wish that I had 10 or so of the folks blogging here aboard to help think about what to do.”

    No, no no! If you’re going to over build the rudder stocks do it right, spend the money and use Unobtainium. Any good automotive race team can tell you were to get some.

    The minisub is a very good idea. (Especially one of the inflatable ones. They take up very little space when stowed properly.) The Gyrocopter idea, well now you are just being silly. Although, those new single person/single use personal rescue helium balloons might be worth a look over at the next boat show.

    And while I certainly don’t speak for any one else here, my suggestion for the next time you find yourself in a 50 knot gale on a new to you boat is to panic. And panic early and well ahead of time. That way you can get to the free hoagie part of the trip as quick as possible.
    Oh, that and don’t forget your mini cooler.

  41. Brian Durfy

    Fascinating story. As a new sailor there is a part of me that shies away from reading such stories out of fear it may frighten me enough to just decide it’s not worth it and sell my boat. That being said the one thing I have been very diligent about is learning my boat and it’s systems sufficiently before venturing offshore. I believe it will take me at least a year in total. One thing I have committed to doing is fixing problems myself as they arise, instead of running to the dealer. I learn valuable knowledge from this, unfortunately the dealer does not. I do keep a log however and take photos. I also plan to take factory training for the engine and genny.

    As for the electrical stuff I guess we may never know what was wrong and can only speculate. A bad isolator or improperly wired isolator?….. What I struggle with is the lack of knowledge or effort to try and overcome the charging issues. It’s also likely the starter failed after being subjected to low voltage.

    My first priority this spring is to finish the detailed schematic of my boat that I started in the fall, and to make sure I thoroughly understand it. I picked up a new multimeter this past week prior to reading this. I may now create a new shopping list. Certainly a Honda EU2000 is something I’ve pondered for sometime. I wonder if the crew would have known what to do with it had they had one, specifically from the standpoint of charging batteries. I’d have to give that one some thought myself. What other items will I need?

    So many things to learn. Sighhhh….

  42. David Swanson

    Like so many others, I hate to armchair sail ( read Monday-morning quarterback) without having been there, but I think that if the rudder stocks had been 5″ titanium/molybdenum alloy and they had had the foresight to bring a gyrocopter or at the very least a small submarine along they would be relating a different story now. That said, I think the hoagie looked delicious. I was in a 50 kt. gale in a new to me boat last October and I only wish that I had 10 or so of the folks blogging here aboard to help think about what to do.

  43. Tom Harris

    I appreciate all the information that has been posted by the crew. It is sometimes difficult to air your difficulties in public.
    Anyone who has spent time at sea in serious weather will appreciate that the sea has forces that can overcome even the best prepared boats, and this one may have needed more work prior to getting underway.

    I would also like to see the calculation that these small rudder stocks met ABS guidance for yachts.

    Although the crew had varied skills, the reality is that they stayed with a boat that was not controllable for a period of time, tried to fault find , then clearly told CG that they should leave, but also not to make dangerous night attempts as they were safe until the next storm.

    Professional demonstration of both declaring the need for assistance and then time framing the need
    to ensure that their requirement to evacuate the boat would not escalate risks for CG or AMVER personnel.

    When you cannot control your boat and big waves pass in the night, it takes a cool head to make this kind of call.

    A positive lesson for all the cruising community, to follow this crews lead and both clearly declare the emergency and assistance need and have a realistic time bound requirement in mind for when the assistance is really required.

    Waiting for day light and allowing planning time was a great call

  44. Bill

    “In a situation like this the only outcome from your negative behavior will be a shut down of dialog that could save someone else’s life by the lessons they learn out of this event”

    Poppycock! A good dialog is not one sided but open and multifaceted. The only way to truly learn from events like this is to air all sides and all opinions. If only so called positive aspects of a situation are allowed to be aired you can be sure less will be learned. Openly discussing the the good, the bad and the ugly of an accident/incident is the best way to get to the root causes and hopefully help prevent it from recurring in the future.

  45. Rick Patrinellis

    First of I would like to commend Mr Doane for putting the facts out in a very clear and honest way so that others may benefit from having an understanding of what transpired. To those quick to judge and criticize the actions of the crew I would suggest you hold your tongues and do some evaluation of your own ego. In a situation like this the only outcome from your negative behavior will be a shut down of dialog that could save someone else’s life by the lessons they learn out of this event. I know this first hand from an experience I had while engaged in a different waster sport and there was much I would have liked to share to avoid someone else going through the same experience I did. To the crew of “Be Good Too” my condolences and I am happy that you all are safe and able to sail another day. To the USCG crew, you folks are awesome and I am so appreciative of your work. Though I hope I will never need you I remain one of your biggest fans. Thank you for your service to the marine community.

  46. Frazier

    Other well qualified people here address the electrical and mechanical issues, as well as the efficaciousness of crew action. I would like to address the design. I note the boat has the trendy reverse bows. The point is for the bows to go through the waves, rather than over. These are a great concept when the waves are no higher than a modest chop. But when the waves get bigger, the boat is still going through, rather than over – with bad results. At the worst, the boat pitchpoles easily as happened in the America’s Cup resulting in the death of a sailor in close sight of land with lots of backup. This is no anomaly as the Cup boats were frequently coming close to this condition. The large offshore racing multihulls in Europe face similar handling challenges with the reverse bow.

    At best the boat is trying to go through waves (because of those bows) higher than the deck and coachroof with with predictably bad results. The massive slamming is inevitable. They are lucky they didn’t loose the main saloon windows, which is a testament to the quality of the builder’s window frame design. But they did loose the rudders from the backward motion. I concur that the rudder design was the main culprit (both in mechanical steering design and the internal structure), but the sudden backward motion of the boat was no help.

    This whole issue is exacerbated in sailboats over power boats in that the line of thrust of the sails is much higher than the drag of the hulls, resulting in a torquing motion driving the bows down. This force is only modest going upwind, but can be severe going downwind. In downwind surfing conditions, this force can be dangerous, but combined with reverse bows you might as well name your boat the Nautilus.

    These kind of bows are used to good effect in the North Sea for oil rig tenders for the obvious benefit of reduced motion in very rough seas. But they are small ships (not sailing yachts) with the deck of the bows very high above the waterline. The waves higher than their bows are few and far between.

    I greatly appreciate new and innovative design and laud the Cup boats for bringing that to the yachting community. I also appreciate yacht builders that have the courage to implement new design. But reverse bows are an innovation that should be kept inshore on racing boats (if at all), and deserve no place in cruising boats, much less offshore.

  47. Captain Mick

    All Monday Morning Quarterbacking, or Arm Chair Captaining aside (as it’s easy to ‘speculate’ what WE would have done in this crew’s shoes after the fact, in our warm room at our keyboard), and after reviewing the comments in their entirety to this point, I have to agree with (and/or address) 5 significant points:
    1-The weather wasn’t going to be conducive to a partial atlantic crossing (& they seldom are at that time of year)and ‘gambling’ that mother nature will improve the forecast from existing long range (which was ugly at best) wasn’t the optimum decision. Again, hindsight’s 20/20.
    2-No one onboard being a mechanic, or marine electrician (or ideally both, which isn’t a stretch) was disasterous. Having an Alternate power source is a practice that I’ve followed with deliveries for 20+ years (about as long as Honda has been building the suitcase styled EU-2000) and while it wouldn’t have remedied steering issues, being able to start engines (including the onboard generator), operate onboard electronics, and even access .pdf downloads via laptops (& that sat. phone) on the internet would have “possibly” provided a steering capability with both engines running (and even dragging a storm anchor off 1 sponson or the other?) No electrical production, and no ability to diagnose the problem[s] was an additional recipe for disaster. We take our own EU2000 & fuel sufficient to run for the entire trip along for every delivery.
    3-Having Spares. There should have been Spare Starters, Alternators/Voltage Regulators aboard. The owner should have purchased them, as just like belts and hoses, they’re critical to the operating systems. As another commentor noted…changing a starter or alternator is pretty simple, even under the worst of conditions. It (having available abundant electricity) also would have negated all of the time spent operating manual bilge pumps.
    4-Alternative routes of Navigation. Sometimes the straightest line is far from the fastest. Often we have to go by way of “C”,”D” and even “E” to arrive at “B”. I have no idea the cost of transport for this immediately previously christened vessel via open deck on container ship and in hindsight, it would have been far less than it’s abandonment. I don’t been to seem an azz, yet there is this wonderful navigational aid on the east coast of the USofA called the INTERCOASTAL WATERWAY that would have allowed SAFE Navigation all the way from New Jersey to MIAMI, where, if the weather was STILL unsafe for the offshore portion of the trip, they could have laid over in phenomenal comfort (likely in the 80 degree F. range) waiting for the weather to improve. Again, Hindsight is 20/20. Yet I’ll bet a thousand vessels made the same trip during the same period, this direction (I’m here in FL.) without incident.
    5-Steering. On land it’s even more important than brakes, and on the water just as critical. The poor design in rudder/post bond sounds ripe for litigation, regardless of rudder post/tiller bond which could be (and was) jury rigged rather successfully. Had the owners/captain & crew been able to maintain steerage, just about everything else would have been manageable. There is no such thing as overbuilding…when dealing with steering systems. One can only imagine how a shorthanded owner/operator husband and wife would have dealt with so many cascading systemic failures shy of abandoning ship far earlier. The failure of TWO rudders/steering systems is staggering and a blatant design flaw (as being pushed backward by a rogue wave won’t usually do more than spin the wheel to it’s stops or rip a pulley from it’s mount in a bulkhead, hardly a cataclysmic event). Therein lies the source (imho, and I wasn’t there) of the demise of the vessel, more than any of the other issues.

    Probably none of these issues would have revealed their ugly heads transiting the ICW, however IF any or ALL the failures had, land would have been in sight, SeaTow/TowBoat US, etc. all would have been a VHF hailing away, and a local marina with competent assistance would have been available…the entire trip. Waiting in sunnier/warmer climes for prevailing conditions suitable to make the run to the USVI wouldn’t have been torture, by any stretch (compared to being busted out of harbor ICE just to begin the journey?!) May all of us learn that the safer way is always (while probably far more ‘boring’) the better way.

    It is wisest to learn from others’ failings, however; I think the Captain, Crew and Owners did the absolute best they could, with what they had, where they were, in the circumstances they found themselves in. Having been through the troubleshooting ‘think tanks’ more times previously than can be counted, I related well to their ideas, ideals, and surrender to the inevitable only after every other option had been exercised. Kudos to the facts that there were no injuries and no loss of life. God Bless the USCG!

  48. Bill

    “I´m always puzzled why SAR don´t scuttle vessels after an abandonment. In that region we know that boats seem to remain afloat for many months unmanned e.g. Wolfhound, Triple Stars. They are then a hazard, particularly for other small vessels, being unlit and of low radar cross sectional area and of course, no AIS transmissions.”

    Because SAR helicopters are unarmed and their mission is to get survivors on board safely and out of harms way ASAP. Not to linger around in bad weather taking target practice with a 50 cal..

  49. Steve Burrows

    I´m always puzzled why SAR don´t scuttle vessels after an abandonment. In that region we know that boats seem to remain afloat for many months unmanned e.g. Wolfhound, Triple Stars. They are then a hazard, particularly for other small vessels, being unlit and of low radar cross sectional area and of course, no AIS transmissions.

  50. KC Hank

    Thank God for cool heads and THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
    Please do not let congress gut their funding.

  51. Hakan usal

    hakan usal says:
    January 19, 2014 at 11:27 AM
    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.

  52. Bill

    “I have read the thoughtful comments, identify with the pluck of this crew, and find much heroism in this story. Still, the problem started with an wilderness sea venture on an untested boat. It is axiomatic that this should not be the case. Recent deaths aboard racing yachts on the West Coast owe their demise to this mistake.”

    If you read the comments first could you have not done something with your name to differentiate you from me? :-)

  53. Ronbo

    What about the fact there appears to be no rudder stops? Was that a building oversight in the owners’ rush to head south?
    Since the narrative indicates the rudders were hard over at the time the rogue wave slammed the boat head-on and maybe pushed it back. The tremendous forces on the rudders could’ve caused the bent shaft and broken set screw.


  54. Cory Belschner

    Well I take my hat off to the crew that showed great seamanship, once they were under way offshore. I have seen boats abandoned with much less wrong with them. As a working captian I know sometimes the hardest thing is to say no to an owner. Some of the best decisions I have made is not to go.

  55. Bob Fine

    This adventure points to the increasingly poorly built yet more expensive boats. Also, it points to our inherent trust in technology.

    Given the issues that occurred, abandonment was going to be the likely result. Although you can rig a monohull to sail in a straight line without a rudder with sail trim, cats are a different kettle of fish. Rigging an emergency rudder is much harder as well.

    A well found and well constructed vessel should have survived this without issue. Moreover, a simple reversal of direction should not have damaged the rudders. That’s on the manufacturer.

    Voyaging vessels should be built under the ‘graceful degradation’ concept. Rudders should have either a hole or eye on the upper aft corner for attaching a line to use as a tiller. It’s a simple enough modification, and it could save your life or vessel.

    I agree the trip should have included a coastal cruise to Norfolk if only to shake down the vessel.

    But the long and the short of it is that we, the readers, can’t ever know what is going on in the minds of the crew and how they feel about the challenges ahead. People are notoriously bad at risk assessment.

  56. Pingback: Boat Abandoned Story - SailNet Community

  57. Bill

    “and an untried and seemingly damage prone vessel presenting with multiple failures and unreliable systems.”

    In that we are in complete agreement. This vessel and many of it’s systems sure sound as if they were in need of a thorough shake down and going over before an offshore voyage such as this should have been attempted. Especially in the dead of winter.

    Lets not forget that a large commercial vessel took the time to alter it’s course to come to their aid while a CG helo crew and rescue swimmer risked their lives to bring them off a boat that perhaps should not have been out there in the first place.

  58. SaiLogic

    First, thanks Charles for writing this. You are correct that with instant communication, there’s already been much commentary on this.
    As a professional yacht captain and builder with over 200,000 offshore miles behind me, most of them on tris and cats, it is my humble opinion that anyone who was not aboard or involved has no business making a public judgement, especially criticism that provides no useful information. No doubt there are questions in many readers’ minds, lessons to be shared, and worthwhile suggestions. There are proper forums for that.
    I have experienced plenty of heavy weather, and encountered a wide variety of problems. Each situation is completely different; most can be addressed successfully, some cannot. Outside assistance is much easier to get now, than it was even ten years ago; that may or may not be a good thing. Again, plenty of opportunities to discuss.
    Fortunately, this one turned out well. The USCG are always amazing in their willingness and abilities to help those in distress, and any call for help should be made with full consciousness of the effort and risks taken by others.
    Again, i give credit to Mr. Doane for putting his story out to the general community. I hope those who read it learn something useful.

  59. Cior

    Having some inside baseball knowledge here, I am very curious to understand why this couple was unable to make their original delivery date on Dec. 3rd. The original routing plan (Long Island to Norfolk, ICW to Beaufort, Beaufort to USVI) was also scratched. I would like to understand what led to this decision, especially considering the fact that this was a brand new, relatively untested vessel. The LI-Norfolk leg would’ve provided a safe opportunity for coastal shakedown, ICW-Beaufort would’ve meant avoidance of the Gulf Stream entirely, and with any luck, the Beaufort-USVI offshore portion would’ve been shorter and on much better footing.

  60. Bill

    I have read the thoughtful comments, identify with the pluck of this crew, and find much heroism in this story. Still, the problem started with an wilderness sea venture on an untested boat. It is axiomatic that this should not be the case. Recent deaths aboard racing yachts on the West Coast owe their demise to this mistake.

  61. Mike

    Glad to hear all are safe. It was a fascinating read. I was with Hank one of those 5 times he lost steering. As to what you should have done or should have endured, I’ll leave to those confident enough to criticize. I think your matter of fact and unimpassioned account has deceived some into thinking your actions were under considered. As a crewman, whether you agree with all the owner’s decisions or not, after the fact opinions do not help, and discretion is best advised. For me, this was a terrific portrayal about unfortunate circumstances. This is the second case of a shorted out starter-motor on a new boat that I know of in 2 months. Is it just coincidence?

  62. Don Schagene

    I believe the boat may have been saved had the working engine been started , it’s starter removed and then installed on the non working engine.

  63. LN

    @Bill: I would guess that you’re a more experienced hand at repairs under way than I am, as you write with the nautral authority of an old salt, and as such I would defer to your judgement as far as the complexity and feasibility of such repairs at sea.

    It is not the risk of each individual repair that I think is at issue, but the compounding factors of the repairs, uncertain weather, crew condition and an untried and seemingly damage prone vessel presenting with multiple failures and unreliable systems. While on their own, each condition may not be critical, in combination the risk to crew increases exponentially. I think the ability to make the judgement to “just stop working the problem” and abandon is the very essence of Captain’s perogative.

    All that said, reading this account makes me question the seaworthiness of this particular class. I can have no real opinion, not being an expert on these cats and not having been there, so I’d be curious of Mr. Doane’s thoughts on that point once he’s had a chance to fully debrief.

  64. OPO Member Wes

    I have no doubt that lessons can be learned from this event, but Hank and Charles, just by themselves, have a HUGE amount of experience. The naysayers and doubters were NOT on the boat. The decision to abandon must have been extremely difficult, but was, from fully reading Charles’ account, prudent and responsible.
    Just one man’s opinion.

  65. Mike

    “Root cause”, “why”, “what-if” and other questions are clearly important to understanding and learning from this unfortunate situation. But please, let’s cut Mr Doane and company some slack so soon after– not even a week! It would take me more time than that to absorb and take stock of the different layers of involvement, options, accountability. Such a fine piece written BY A PARTICIPANT within 4 days…is quite remarkable. With such excellent reporting this soon, there will likely be more later.

  66. Bill

    ” rather than dangling from lines in the sea ripping rudders off the boat.”

    More than likely no dangling from lines in the sea would have been required. And if it was, you stop the work at that point. Plus if one rudder truly was just freely spinning on it’s stock you might only have to drop the bent one to regain the ability to steer with, or perhaps even without, the engines.

    That plus the fact that being properly prepared to go in the water to make repairs on a vessel making a true offshore trip is not unusual in the least. Basic dive equipment, or a hookah rig, and a helmet is about all that is required. And carried on many vessels that make offshore passages.

    What if they got hung up on a lost fishing net or heavy line? Just call it a day and abandon ship?

    ” complex engine repair ”

    Really, pulling off a starter is a complex engine repair? I beg to differ.

    And I find your theory of stopping all attempts at repair because it might add to the failure cascade a rather odd strategy. At what point exactly do you advocate just stop working the problem and giving up?

    I have another question. I wonder if there were Gumby suits aboard for each crew member? As I see no mention of them.

  67. JD

    For the love of God why leave Jersey City on such a voyage in the middle of January’s “Polar Vortex”? The pump out boat as an ice breaker??? Really?

  68. Nicolas

    I can imagine how difficult for the Captain to abandon his boat, but I give him lots of credit for putting more value to life than material object, he did not think of himself only but everyone on board. everyone on board new that the problem can not be fixed unless its brought ashore. with unpredictable weather, it was the right decision to make. great detail written and all the respect to the USCG.

  69. William Reynolds

    Thanks for the well written article. However, completely unmentioned are the most important matters that pertain to this situation.

    1. New owners of recently built vessel arrange for experienced operators to help them voyage south – most prudent.
    2. Experienced operators agree to do so.
    First question: To what extent had this new vessel been exposed in a controlled manner to conditions from mild to storm?
    Second question: What was the compelling reason to knowingly embark on a voyage into predicted severe winter weather?
    3. When informed of decision to abandon ship, Coast Guard outlines possibilities of proximate ship rescue during relatively calm conditions, with prediction of deteriorating weather the next day.
    Third question: what would cause experienced operators to decline a near-term ship rescue in calm conditions in favor of uncertainty and declining weather conditions ahead? A modicum of experience would provide insight about the difficulty of ship to ship rescue in declining weather and the greater risks and costs of helicopter rescue.

    The details of the story are only of minor interest, and relatively unimportant in the shadow of questions regarding judgment. The circumstances of this rescue are what cause the public and authorities rightly to question the Coast Guard policy of exposing personnel to risk of life and limb, and the substantial expense of ocean rescue of recreational sailors in any circumstance.

    There is a lot to be learned from this experience, but Charles Doane is silent on the fundamental issues that warrant serious discussion.

  70. Mike

    Your “just the facts” dispassionate style is excellent, much appreciated. We used video in Portugal a few years ago to make a record from surviving crew of a whale collision that had sunk a sailboat near us several weeks earlier, 300 mi E of Bermuda. For you, Hank and the owners, it has to be a challenge to sweep away the emotions so soon after the event as you focus on the facts. No doubt the owners are grateful for your presentation of the “record” as the boat builder and insurer begin to sort things out.

    Thank you.

  71. LN

    Thanks for posting this story.

    I’d like to respectfully shake my head and express my personal (well thought out but hardly expert) opinion towards some of the commenters who mistook your best efforts to make a good read out of a bad situation for a “very cavalier attitude” or took issue with the crew sitting with “big smiles on their faces” rather than dangling from lines in the sea ripping rudders off the boat.

    It is important for posterity to produce an entertaining and readable account, so that the story endures, and rings well with press, and thus is read widely so that others may learn. This presentation does not diminish from the weight of the tale.

    I’ve sailed offshore, and even in a storm at night, with Captain Schmitt and with other skippers. I know Capt. Schmitt to be the type of captain who will keep his smile stoically lit and his attitude cheerful for the sake of the morale of the crew regardless of circumstance, because he knows that a positive mental attitude is key to crew performance in an emergency.

    The decision not to play diesel mechanic in a damaged vessel 300 miles offshore, upon critical examination, represents an excellent lesson in stopping what is called a “cascade of failure,” the seemingly unstoppable process of one equipment failure leading to another and another. Crew response to failure cascades in airplanes and seagoing vessels have been studied; more often than not, chasing the failure cascade results in naught more than crew exhaustion, causing an otherwise manageable emergency to turn into a catastrophe. The decision not to attempt further repairs and to abandon the boat stabilized the human and equipment failure cascade, allowing the crew to be picked up at the CG’s discretion. Imagine if this crew had tried a complex engine repair — there they would have been, some hours later, at night, with wind picking up, exhausted and with much more repair work to be done. Then a seacock goes, or the leaks they were already experiencing get worse, or someone cuts themselves in the water while removing the rudder… clearly the electric system was not operating even with working engines, so now it’s a full on emergency, and a truly dangerous night time helicopter recovery in a storm. Of course, luck could have been on their side, and perhaps they could have successfully repaired the engine, removed the rudders without injury, and limped back to shore, but every hour of that trip would have been fraught. In modern times, when daytime helicopter recoveries by highly trained professional crews are known to be generally safe, the risk of forcing a true catastrophic emergency was sufficient to justify calling for rescue when they did.

    All that said, there are lessons to be learned here. Most importantly we should all think about crew management and the idea of failure cascades. Further, would a vessel of a different build or designed have fared better (rudder, leaks, engines, etc.) under similar conditions? Would it be prudent to have separate backup emergency power systems on a separate circuit for radio and bilge installed on larger seagoing vessels? There are many more of course, and we should thank Mr. Doane for writing this account so that we may discuss these issues and become better, safer offshore sailors.

  72. Dale

    Charlie, Hank, Gunther and Doris: I am so thankful you all are safe.
    Thanks for sharing Charlie.
    Welcome home Hank.
    Sorry for your losses, Gunther and Doris.
    Coast Guard = heroes.
    Warm hugs,

  73. Jeff Sippy, OPO member

    Very grateful all are safe and well. Appreciate the excellent, detailed article, step by step troubleshooting and attempts at resolve, and the calm demeanor in what was a difficult, dangerous circumstance. Congratulations to the USCG, their professionalism, and excellence in rescue. Thanks to Charles for generously sharing this report. Grateful all are well and safe. We continue to learn and care for one another.

  74. Bill

    In almost all cases starters can be swopped from one engine to the other.

    It was apparently fairly calm at times. And based on the picture of them sitting around in the saloon with big smiles on their faces I guessing the conditions and the stability of the vessel while laying ahull were not so bad at all times to preclude working on the engines.

    If you could get both engines running and the rudders removed you could easily steer the vessel with the engines. Lack electricity is not the end of the world, unless the boat was taking on water at a rapid rate. Which according to the story it was not. Navigation could be accomplished with a compass and a chart in the worst case. Or a hand held GPS in the best case.

    Power failures, engine failures, genset failures, window failures, steering failures, etc. Sure some of this is attributable to the wave strikes but much of it sounds like questionable build quality and lack of proper seatrials before the trip.

    Here is a quote from a sales pitch for the Alpha 42:

    “She can be an entry level boat for the first time owner as she is easy to single hand and maintain yet on the other hand represents a capable and tough ocean going cruising multihull that can take a live aboard family safely around the world.”

    Anybody want to go around the world in one now?

  75. David

    Hats off to the Coasties, very professional. Hindsight is so easy. Without a keel and bent rudder made it impossible to steer. The no electricity can be a real game changer and altho not sure of engines on board, the alternators could be swapped possibly, but usually not the starters. Might not have made a difference anyway. Working in a engine room is never easy on a boat. Not fun with those waves.

    It had to be a very tough decision to leave their investment and dream boat. They had been on the boat awhile and tried several things and pretty sure they did not just give up the ship. glad everyones safe.

  76. zdenek Ulman

    I’m glad that all involved parties made it , for me personally there is lot to learn from this story.

  77. Steve

    I second BB’s comment. You seem to have a very cavalier attitude about this event. I’m not questioning the decision to abandon ship – that’s a captain’s call based on the circumstances and I would never disrespect that by playing armchair quarterback. I’m questioning the jocular and “throwaway” style of your writing. That seems disrespectful to sailing, seamanship, emergency services. I have been a long time reader of yours. You should not be proud of this article, Mr. Doane. But I am glad you and your crewmates are safe and am thankful that we have a capable, professional USCG out there to help us when we get into trouble.

  78. Bill

    I have a few of questions.

    Was any kind of proper shake down cruise done on this boat before attempting a winter delivery to the VI?

    Did you ever consider just taking the working starter off the running engine and use it to start the other engine?

    Seems to me you could have then just dropped the rudders, plugged the holes (you did have proper wooden plugs on board, correct?) and motor sailed to shore using the engines to steer and/or counter steer with.

    I’d have a big issue with rudder stocks held in place with only set screws. Not to mention leaking forward window frames.

    Based on some of the things you have described, the boat doesn’t sound very well build and never properly shaken down for a cruise like this. It sure seems this could have all been avoided if some very basic lessons had been applied long before a trip like this had started.

  79. Jesse

    Charles, Thanks for setting the record straight in your thoughtful and professional fashion. So many seem so quickly and thoughtlessly to rush to judgement from afar when it comes to other people having problems out at sea. Your thoughtful and deliberate accounting of events, not only should put to rest any hastily manufactured unwarranted criticism of all of your actions and even inactions at sea, it should silence those who think they knew better while they were safe and dry at home. What it should suffice that we as fellow sailors simply say, is that we are very glad you are all ok, none of us surely could have reacted to the curcumstances any better, and bravo to those onboard and the brave men of the Coast Guard who went about their everyday jobs with their usual outstanding professionalism to perform yet another successful rescue at sea.

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  81. Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream Puff

    I was initially sent the link to a news report of your incident. As you can imagine, after viewing, I had so many questions. I appreciate the time it took to detail this account and describe all of the issues. Thank you for a most interesting read. Wow!

    I am glad so sad for Gunther and Doris for the loss of their boat. Hopefully they will continue with their dream to sail.

    Hat’s off to the USCG for doing what they do best. Respect!

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  82. BB

    It is just so terrible that the captain had to abandon his $400,000 brand-new catamaran in the Atlantic in January after chipping it out of the ice to sail it south.

    A lot of people risked their lives to pluck you out of the ocean. Running a navy helicopter out to you, hovering, and back is not free. The captain should be billed for the rescue.

    “Really the worst part of the experience was having to sit through the three-hour long helo ride to shore in soaking wet clothes.”

    That quote says it all.

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