ABANDONING BE GOOD TOO: The Builder Responds

16 May

Alpha 42 under sail

Back when I published my blog post about abandoning the Alpha 42 Be Good Too in January, I told Gregor Tarjan, president of Aeroyacht, builder of the boat, that I would publish in full any statement he cared to make about the incident. He declined at that time, but he has decided to make a statement in response to the story about the incident (which I also wrote) that has appeared in the current print edition of SAIL.

STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO INCIDENT OF “BEE GOOD TOO”

by Gregor Tarjan, designer of the Aeroyacht ALPHA 42 catamaran BEE GOOD TOO

The following statements are in reaction to SAIL magazine’s article in the May 2014 issue, “Abandoning BEE GOOD TOO”

I was not aboard this delivery so my opinion is purely based on the facts regarding the construction of the boat and the circumstances in which the crew founds themselves. Since the January incident I have answered 100’s of emails and phone calls from readers and customers who were eager to know more. The purpose of this statement is not to accuse or criticize but to share our perspective with those interested and provide information that was omitted from the article. Rumors are often based on theories deriving from incomplete information. This letter might help clarify.

“Casual” is the one word that comes to my mind when thinking of the misfortune of BEE GOOD TOO. It describes the entire preparation, execution and abandonment of our boat. Points below describe my perspective for this view and the circumstances leading to the accident which, otherwise, may have been avoided. Nevertheless, in spite of the odds, the boat’s integrity and structure withstood the worst weather and kept the crew alive!

1) TESTING: Alpha Yachts tested the boat for weeks before handover. On the final test I, personally, sailed the boat under very harsh conditions by sailing it shorthanded, counterclockwise around Long Island in blizzard conditions. Outside temp’s averaged -20 Fahrenheit (-28 Celsius) winds were up to 40 knots and (short) seas about 10′ high. My plan was to test to the breaking point. A constant sheet of inch-thick ice covered the deck and at one point the boat was buried under 30″ of snow. The generator, engines and all the systems ran, non-stop, for 14 days to avoid freezing and becoming inoperable. Every system worked flawlessly.

Was the boat perfect? Of course not, no boat is. There were issues: minor leaks (not dribbles) appeared through the seals of the saloon windows, emergency hatch seals, forward deck hatch seals and forward starboard to crossbeam attachment. Subsequently boats to be delivered this year by the builder, have been altered to eliminate these shortcomings. When I short-stopped in Port Jefferson, NY, all these issues were attended to so that I felt secure to continue the test and hand over the boat to the new owners in New Jersey.

2) SCHEDULE: Each and every crew member had a time based commitment to fulfill shortly after the boat arrived at its destination as they had verbally expressed to me. Anyone who goes to sea in a sailboat certainly well knows that a fixed schedule is a risk factor one does not wish to adhere to, most definitely when sailing a new vessel on a direct route offshore, in the North Atlantic, during one of the most severe winters on the U.S. meteorology record. Many readers on the forums have criticized the fact that when the crew was only 70 miles East of Norfolk, VA a forecast of an impending Low easily allowed a turn to shelter. Instead the opposite was decided—the boat was directed Eastward into the path of the storm. I will refrain from a critic of this decision made by the captain. I was not aboard. They may have felt sufficiently assured to face the worst.

3) PREPARATION: At the owner’s request I, personally, placed and stored the items, he furnished, aboard the boat; giving me first hand knowledge of the inventory of BE GOOD TOO. I noted that there were no spare parts provided, no voltmeter, no tools to speak of except for a small case of home builders’ tools—certainly a questionable manner of equipping oneself for a leaving shore.

No time was allotted for becoming acquainted with the boat. Should one sail aboard a brand new boat without a primary level of familiarization? No member of the crew had, because to do this, time did not permit it, since there were future commitments to be fulfilled.

Casual? Overconfident? In a rush? From my perspective all of the above.

3) JIB LEAD: The self tacking jib lead from SELDEN never worked properly. I had noticed this on my test of the boat. SELDEN promised to send the correct fitting but it would take them another week to get the part to NY. Gunther, the owner, dismissed it, preferring to sail with the bad lead, opting for the replacement part be sent to the Caribbean for pick-up upon his arrival. I could not convince him to wait for it before setting off.

We were five months late, I must admit, with the delivery of his boat and he, obviously, was anxious to reach warm weather. Nevertheless, not a reason to leave a delivery of an item without which may put yourself, crew and boat at risk. I warned Gunther the bad jib lead would not hold up to strong winds for too long, especially on stbd-tack. In fact, and for this very reason, one of the first things to go wrong was the parting of the jib sheet.

Theoretically, because of the jury rig of the jib, the boat could not sail efficiently under the main alone. Had the boat been sailed with a proper jib lead and double reefed main, she could have been sailed with more speed up the wave face. Since she was slow (the skipper estimates 4-6 KNOTS) although I guess much slower, the boat was easily shoved backwards by the large rogue wave that hit them squarely. The disastrous effect was purely a matter of seamanship and a tight schedule.

4) RUDDER CONSTRUCTION: When I first saw the rudders as they were constructed I was concerned about their weight and how overbuilt they appeared. A complete overkill for a 42′ 10T cat, I thought. After the incident I thoroughly investigated the rudders’ construction. Alpha Yachts followed the standard specifications of the Edson Steering system rudder stock to tiller arm attachment and overbuilt the rest. Edson suggested two types: one with two locking bolts which affixed the rudder stock to the tiller arm, the other with a single smaller bolt and a key as is traditionally seen. The builder opted for the twin bolt set-up.

I have seen many rudders in my life: from custom to production catamarans ranging from 30-130′. Alpha Yacht’s was a monster. I tried to pick one up—it was overwhelming! Let’s get the record straight. The Alpha’s rudder consists of a 1.5″ stainless steel rudder post which tapers slightly at the bottom to receive the foam cored rudder blade. The rudder blade, itself, is affixed to the post by 3 horizontal and 2 vertical 3/8″ x 2″ wide thick stainless flat bar struts. They are all seam welded by a certified welder. I personally saw the welds. The rudder post is locked to the tiller arm by the use of two 3/8″ threaded bolts (not set screws, as they were identified in the article) with a 3/4″ bury that act as a lock, but also serve as a safety mechanism in case the boat is pushed backwards, so they could theoretically shear and leave the rudder undamaged. The massive tiller arm was a 3/4″ thick by 4″ wide stainless steel bar. Nonsense stated that the crew could not drop the rudder as it would float, is incredulous to say the least. At close to 130 lbs. of mainly solid stainless steel and a bit of foam, is floating, at all, possible?!

Let’s compare the Alpha 42’s rudder to a contemporary production 41′ cat that has been built more than 200 times by a major manufacturer. This production example has a smaller, 1.25″ diameter solid stock and 2 horizontal blades only, and no vertical blades to hold the rudder which also weighs 1/3 less.

I can say, with conviction, that the rudder of the Alpha 42 was completely overbuilt for the job. It is logical that the crew could not dislodge the rudder because the stock was slightly bent from being pushed violently backwards acting like a giant spring jamming itself in the upper and lower bearings. Only a crowbar, or attaching a line to winch the blade backwards, could possibly dislodge it. To know that a fighter jet will fly at Mach 2 forward but only at 50 mph in reverse, causing the plane’s rudders to flip back and fail, is elementary knowledge. As the captain described in his official insurance report “….no boat rudder could have withstood this”

5) ABANDONMENT: I was not on scene so I will refrain from commenting or criticizing the crews inability to fix the issue and their actions to leave the boat. The ocean is a chaotic environment. Put 4 people on a yacht, under duress, who are overconfident, on a tight schedule, with a minimum of tools on hand to fix problems, nor advanced preparation, establishes a too complex chemistry for outsider commentary. Nevertheless, I will always wonder WHY WASN’T A LOCATING BEACON LEFT ABOARD? The owner had a brand new EPIRB and the skipper a functioning, hand-held SPOT locator device. In fact I tracked their every move in the N. Atlantic with the help of this small device. The question will always remain: why weren’t either of these two locator devices left aboard to enable a salvage crew, the manufacturer or an insurance company to retrieve the boat? What does this tell us? There are far too many theories, most too controversial to mention.

At the end of the day, we have reached peace with the loss of our initial Alpha 42—a boat in which we invested our ultimate best. She was built like a tank. She withstood a major storm. I already knew that when testing her in the harshest conditions off Long Island. The proof that 4 sailors walked away, unharmed, had a chance to write about the incident, proves the boat protected them to the last minute. And to think that she was abandoned without a thought of retrieval! A 10T, 1000 sqft unlit, unmarked floating platform to be left as a hazard to navigation itself opens channels of wonderment… As noted above, was the boat flawless? Being our very first it had some minor, easily fixable issues; none of which reasoned abandonment. Yet in a perverted kind of way what happened is the best form of praise to the strength of our boat—she withstood 50+ knot winds, 20′ seas and a rogue wave. Much lesser conditions have put boats away forever. It should be noted that the area North of the Bermuda Triangle, especially in winter, has the highest waves on record. Confused warm water eddies and strong winter winds build towering seas. Commercial supertankers have been broken in half by 100′ monster rogue waves. The Alpha 42 was located in exactly that spot.

I am sure this writing will stir a new flurry of, in Charles Doane’s words, “armchair admirals.” 100’s of people who really wished to know the scoop behind the story picked up the phone to call me. I opted to leave it at that, however, after the publication of the May SAIL article I felt the need to publish my official statement.

The official insurance report submitted by the captain clearly blames the incident on a rogue wave. The owners have a new boat, another catamaran, and have been paid by the insurance company.

The crew is, thankfully, alive.

I hope that the incident has offered an element of the positive and that we all have learned something.

Our boat is gone and I hope that a poor fisherman in Spain will find her, salvage her and enjoy her with family and friends.

Gregor Tarjan
president, Aeroyacht Ltd

Gregor and Marc

Gregor Tarjan, left, president of Aeroyacht, and his partner, boatbuilder Marc Anassis

Editor’s Note: This is Gregor’s statement in full as I received it. I’ve had my say, so I will not comment on it, except to note that I am not certain why he spells the boat’s name with two Es in Be. On the boat’s transom it was spelled with one E, so that is how I have always spelled it.

Be Good Too transom

Also, I have more information regarding the insurer. Two days after we abandoned the boat, Falvey Insurance, the policyholder, commissioned a search. Two sorties were flown from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard a Lear 35 jet. The plane each time was only able to spend an hour on station at the vessel’s presumed location, and the search was not successful.

Comments

  1. Gregory Brock

    Going to sea requires to run through a series of “what if’s” What is this or that fails, what is my plan? Someone recently told me rudder failure is the #2 major component breakdown after dismasting. Yet many boat head to sea w/o proper plans for a rudder disaster. Rudders have taken out many, many boats (wasn’t “Rainmaker”, ultimately abandoned due to rudder failure?).

    Reason why when I make a crossing I do so with a stby rudder attached to the boat as well. It costs me a bit in speed. So what. It is as vital as any other safety item. But I also have hundreds of pounds in added weight for tools and spares, actually, probably over a thousand pounds. I don’t care if the boat is new, rehabbed or refit, something is always failing on a boat. If you can’t face that reality then you shouldn’t own a boat.

    As far as tight schedules are concerned. Understanding that the sea will dictate your arrival to destination is critical. I once left port in a place where the wind blew steady trades for 3 months straight. As soon as I left it dropped to 5 kts. Were I on a tight schedule, I would’ve been turning back. I basically calculate the time of my passage then double it. That is how long most trips take. It all averages out in the end. That aforementioned trip was planned at 84 hrs, ended up take me 139. A month later the next passage was planned at 10 days, ended up taking me 5.5 (winds more favorable than forecasted).

    It’s hard for me not to agree with most of what the Gregor Tarjan writes as his more or less official explanation of the outcome.

  2. Bill Tunney

    As a licensed captain and an owner operator of commercial fishing vessels for 35 years I would like to comment on the loss of the Alpha Yacht’s first production boat “Be Good Too”. 15 years of my fishing experience has been in the North Atlantic with vessels that ranged from 35′ to 75′. In my opinion it was completely ludicrous to head out to sea so ill prepared as they did in January 2014. I would like to hear the basis for that decision from the owners and the hired captains of “Be Good Too”.

    To the crew and captains of the “Good Be Too”, All of you are lucky to be alive.

  3. Al

    I enjoyed finally getting a chance from the builder to respond. My feeling on my initial reading of the failed voyage was, “how could a group of people be so ill prepared and depart even with all the well know problems that already existed”. My thought was only failure “at Best” was inevitable. The best is no one got hurt! But I have to say, what did such a competent builder/designer turn the ship over to a bunch of sealess fools?

  4. thor

    its a shame that the insurance company paid that easy and obviously in full. I stand to my earlier somewhere else placed comments that the crew and their non existing preparation is to blame for this easily avoidable abandement of the boat. Now we all pay the price in higher insurance rates. The whole thing would have been very avoidable. Who in his right mind is going out for a trip like this without a droque ? Who in his right mind would have not skippered down the ICW and only peeked out when the weather was perfect. Shame on that delivery captain. If I would have the money I would buy a boat from Aeroyacht in a heartbeat.

  5. Oz

    My comment is structural related. I am not going to play “Armchair Admiral” or “Stool Captain” on all the issues.
    As an Architect whenever(and my engineering friends in the profession) encounter a structural issue,for whatever reasons, we take notice & go back to your structural calcs. It is speculation(because we don’t have the cat to check out) but it appears 1 1/2″ SS rudderstock could not take the forces applied and exceeded the ‘modulus of elasticity’- Struct 101 – the SS bent beyond springback. Even though you can calc 1 1/2″ SS stock can take your ‘assumed’ shear forces it could not resist against the high torsion loads and to note sudden loading at that. Larger diameter hollow SS thick wall tubing would resist better and may even weigh less. But now you may not want to deal with a thick rudder chord for fluid dynamics etc. This is the quandary of melding design & engineering. The entire assembly – shaft/bearings/attachment points – should be tested to breaking point for future boats.(I want to see that if I was a customer) Time for Kaisen: focus upon continuous improvement & not being punitive.

  6. Anna

    At no time before this abandonment was Long Island the site of -20 degree temps and 30 inches of snow. There was a snowfall of 7.1″ on January 2nd but I’d guess the boat was already delivered by then. Honestly, that point #1 makes me seriously question the honesty of this article.

  7. Keith

    Wow, Who made the call,too leave,for an offshore ocean crossing,on-board a non ocean tested, brand new designed and built catamaran?.
    1)With sailing gear not working properly.
    2)Weather not respected.
    3)Peoples and or crews personal schedule, given as this catamarans first priority.
    I would also ask if.
    1)Was there a rigged and ready for immediate deployment sea-anchor? and also a rigged and ready for immediate deployment drogue.

    This story of “Be Good Too” is the perfect example of, poor seamanship,and three of the top reasons why, people get into serious trouble at sea. The amazing part is, the insurance company paid for this…. wow— just wow!

  8. frank

    builder says that the boat was tested around long island in minus 20 degrees F? Doubtful!!! It never gets that cold on Long Island. I lived there for 40 years.

  9. Esteban

    Just a comment that a) the weight of a rudder is not particularly indicative of it’s strength (in whatever form you are interested); b) without knowing the dimensions of the rudder blade, one can’t really calculate whether a 1.5″ shaft is overkill or radically inadequate, but the straightforward calculation of the bending moment on the shaft is a pretty easy calculation if one does know the blade dimensions (by comparison, my 36′ Soverel with skeg-hung rudder has a 1.5″ shaft, which implies that the cats shafts were not particularly overbuilt as he tries to imply); and c) all that aside, taking the ocean route south rather than along the coast for a new, untested, boat without at the least someone experience in yacht mechanical and electrical systems and the tools to deal with the inevitable new-boat problems is NOT a sign of wisdom. For my money the owner bears the brunt of the fault.

  10. joe hunter

    I believe it is the US Coast Guard who rates the boat for sea travel. A new design, boat #1, Builder-certified, et cetra.
    I would hope that the CG would require a senior experienced member to attend the first sea-trial(s) for this certification and require formal proof of correctly implemented problem solution(s).

    I learned to sail 1951 (community sailing club, Charles river; then Boston harbor to the cape; Chesapeake bay to/from Miami and now at 81 the Chesapeake/Delmarva. When I see a Government Certification I would always like to believe it.

  11. Capt. Scott

    It is hard to tell the full truth in any loss like this. Nobody wants to come out and say: “I messed it up.” Usually the truth is a blend of the various stories and justifications.

    At the same time I have a stable datum that I have arrived at after I have taken thousands of new or seasoned sailors to sea on hundreds of different boat.

    For over 20 years I have been teaching my students a core datum; “A boat does not let down it’s crew. If there was a problem, the crew let down the boat.”

    The boat makes no decisions. The crew decides the time to go, the tools to bring, the weather to sail in, the supplies, the compliment of the crew and more. The boat does not inspect it’s parts for wear. The boat can not say that it does not feel up to the task at hand or that it is more suited for a calmer day.

    The boat may or may not be up to the task at hand, but it decides nothing. The crew does. My students are preparing for life and a boat is the perfect school for that. They each learn that they are the final decision point who choose on path or the other and who gets to claim the glory for success and the weight of failure. The boat is only a willing partner.

    Having a bad result means that you made the best decision that you could at the time, but that you had some bad data. We then teach our students how to find better data so that future decisions are better.

    The craftsman is not a bad craftsman if he has to rebuild something but he is questionable if he blames his tools for his choices.

    Capt. Scott

  12. Kenyon Coats

    Mr. R. Quesada, the writer did not compare the large ship with the smaller vessel. He wrote of the sea state which caused the break-up of the ship. Tom, his points are valid and his point of view is by nature, subjective, to which he, as a manufacturer, has a right to share.

  13. Don WAMBACH

    If it’s floating it’s worth saving, I wasn’t on board, but their is always a way to fix a predicament , calm cool minds, always needed!

  14. David

    A group of fools went to sea in the dead of winter in extreme weather conditions in a boat they had never before sailed upon. A boat which apparently was not carrying proper tools for even simple repairs. One word comes to mind….STUPIDITY.

  15. Ralph

    The comparison of a small sailing craft with a commercial ship breaking up in a rogue wave is totally irrelevant. The forces to which a long steel hull is subjected in extreme weather conditions are much greater than those is a small catamaran.
    Ralph Quesada – merchant mariner
    Chief Officer

  16. Tom Mays

    Wow 1-1/2″ rudder post when a 1970 monohull like a Cal 29 has a 2″ ++ heavy wall tube for a much lighter and stronger rudder

  17. Tom

    “The purpose of this statement is not to accuse or criticize but to share our perspective with those interested and provide information that was omitted from the article. Rumors are often based on theories deriving from incomplete information.”

    The quote is what you said you would say. It was very disappointing to find that you didn’t hold to this stated purpose and instead go on to suggest some form of sinister plot. You surrendered your objectivity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*. Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.

More from the AIM Marine Group