LAURA DEKKER’S GUPPY: Wrecked on a Reef in the Cook Islands

10 Sep

Guppy under sail

This definitely denotes a trend. A curse even. Call it the Curse of Famous Circumnavigating Sailboats That Have Been Donated to Non-Profit Organizations. The latest victim, you may have noticed, is Laura Dekker’s bright red 40-foot Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy, which carried her around the world back in 2010-11 and helped her become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world alone. Laura has posted details on both her blog and one of her Facebook pages, so I’ll let her tell the story:

I loaned Guppy long term in full faith to a non-profit organization [Ed: LifeSail, based in southern California] to sail with children after I had been promised to get paid for her by a couple who wished me to donate her to a good cause. The payment never happened – however I still decided that this future for Guppy would be the best and if she could inspire more children to live their dreams it would be all worth it. In April 2018 she left New Zealand with a crew of four, I was meant to be onboard for the first trip to Fiji but got very ill and was unable to take the weather window. The delivery captain who was supposed to sail Guppy to Los Angeles was also onboard. I had gone through the whole boat with him and had full confidence he would get her to LA safely – however during this trip someone else skippered the boat who decided sailing her reefed down with a storm jib in max 18 knots wind was a great idea. Guppy is a racer/cruiser – she likes lots of sail and yes she’s a very wet boat, anything over 10knots of wind means the decks will be wet and water will be in the cockpit. I’m guessing they didn’t want this but of course this caused the boat to sail slow and roll heavily on the ocean swell. Because of this, the delivery captain made a crash through the boat and broke his rib – he had to take a break in Fiji but was also not allowed to come back for reasons still unknown to me.

From there on Guppy continued her journey with a rather incompetent crew which one by one left the boat until one person with very little ocean sailing experience was left singlehanding Guppy. I often attempted to tell them how to sail & maintain Guppy well, getting a big shock every time a picture would come by. They started having trouble with the engines that I have never had trouble with and were perfectly maintained before I gave the boat over, the sun-cover of the Genoa started ripping, meaning the sail has been flapping too much or chafing somewhere. Lots and lots of canisters (and other things) were tied to the railing against my advice of not leaving anything on the deck. Guppy has a low freeboard and therefore very quickly has lots of water on deck. The chance that the jerry-cans will be swept away and tear out the railing is almost inevitable.

On top of that they sailed to many islands which weren’t on the planning, sometimes even in the opposite direction of where they needed to go, causing them to end up way too late in the season and actually unable to safely continue to Hawaii because of Hurricanes.

You can imagine how I anxiously watched the tracker almost everyday – seeing very strange sailing patterns and low speeds for winds in which I know she could perform much better. To my big shock and surprise Guppy was then anchored in front of an Atoll in the open ocean where anchoring is actually impossible and very, very dangerous to say the least. I wrote a message straight away but it was in vain. I watched how the tracker moved onto the reef and stayed there. I’ve been given very little updates or information on what’s really happened or going on now but it’s confirmed that she is indeed on the reef, she has been there for almost one week and I know that no boat, not even a steel one, not even Guppy – could possibly survive this kind of impact.

So far the report of damage I have been given means she’s a total loss. Manihiki is a very remote atoll with very little resources. The sailor who sailed her at the time is luckily okay although needed some medical attention.

Somehow the news that Guppy is gone forever hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’s unreal, yet real, and I will need to live with this…

The journey of Guppy ends here, but in my memory of course she will always sail on.

This was the middle of last month. As of August 31, Laura had received more info and was able to post the following:

Initial Damage Report of Guppy’s grounding in Manihiki Isl.
Based on information gathered from different sources.

Vessel Particulars when leaving Whangarei Harbour May 2018:

Build in 1978 Designer: Michel Joubert
Length: Originally 11.40 m now 12.30 m (professionally extended)
Beam: 3.76m Draft: 1.90m
Weight: 11 ton Cruising Speed: 6-7 kn
Bridge Clearance: 18.70 m

She was first thrown on the reef during a squall in the night which is very common throughout the whole Pacific.
The place of initial stranding was between rocks with big surge.

She was being bounced up and down for a few days before being thrown further onto the reef during another squall.
During rescue attempts the yacht moved resulting in her bow being completely under water.

The following is a list of damage known so far:

– Broken skeg
– Rudder and rudder shaft bend – the shaft is 80mm massive steel – different and much stronger then the original Gin Fizz.
– several holes in the hull resulting in water damage to the following:

>Batteries, Electronics & wiring ( Guppy had very extensive and complex wiring this would need complete replacement due to salt water intrusion)

> Engines (Both engines, their systems, props, shafts would need to be replaced completely )

> Interior (Partly broken out because of rocks sticking through hull, otherwise damaged by salt water which can never be washed out, the interior of this boat is part of the structural integrity and is now broken loose and would need complete replacement)

> The deck is balsa sandwich construction which was in excellent condition however with all this salt water intrusion it will rot away within two years – leading to a highly weakened and useless deck.

Since she’s on the ocean side of the reef there is constant movement and bouncing up and down this leads to a lot of structural damage that can’t be seen at first sight like:

> Besides the holes that are in the hull, big parts of the entire hull are delaminated.

> The entire rigging has suffered extreme forces it’s not made for, leading to delamination of chainplates under deck and metal fatigue of rigging, terminals & masts. – It’s absolutely amazing that the masts are still standing! (all parts would need complete sonar analysing to tell what could possibly be reused)

> Keel and keel construction, ribs are broken, delamination around keel structure.

Then there is also of course a very extensive list of small parts damage.

Here is rough overview of the minimal costs in Euros to repair Guppy:

Hull holes: € 30.000
Hull delamination: actually unrepairable but when wanting to: € 90.000
Fairing and painting: € 10.000
Broken Skeg & Rudder: €10.000
Batteries, Electronics & complete wiring:€ 60.000
Engines, engine systems, props, shafts:€ 55.000
Interior: € 35.000
Replacement of deck core: € 30.000
Rigging, chainplates, masts: € 50.000
Small parts: €15.000
Total: € 385.000

This is exclusive of salvaging costs, shipping, environmental costs (already going on). It shows clearly that Guppy is a total loss already and not worth fixing – especially considering the fact that she will never be as safe as she once was and LifeSail’s intention is to sail with kids. LifeSail should have Guppy insured according to our agreement, however the insurance probably won’t pay out more then the market value – which is around €70.000. In this particular case I don’t know how the insurance will handle the situation since Guppy was anchored purposely on a very dangerous spot.

LifeSail is still under the impression that they can salvage Guppy, but after making this damage report and the cost involved repairing her it’s clear to me that this is not an option. With a heavy heart and many tears in my eyes I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is get her off the reef as soon as possible to limit more damage to the coral and environment and then scrap the boat.

Though LifeSail has yet to post anything about the grounding on their Guppy webpage or on their Facebook page, they evidently have provided Laura with photos of the grounded boat:

Guppy wreck 1

Guppy wreck 2

Guppy wreck 3

The last shot shows where Guppy initially grounded out (outline in black) and where she is now.

To remind you of the other victims of the Curse:

American Promise

Dodge Morgan’s American Promise, which he gave to the U.S. Naval Academy, which soon sank her in 1991 in a collision with a tugboat. Promise now belongs to another non-profit, the Rozalia Project, which is taking very good care of her

Gipsy Moth IV

Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth IV, which was refurbished at great expense, then was grounded on a reef at Rangiroa in the South Pacific in 2006 while circumnavigating in a program organized by the UK Sailing Academy. Like American Promise she was salvaged and now belongs to the Gipsy Moth Trust.


And let’s not forget Tania Aebi’s Contessa 26 Varuna, which was abandoned in the North Atlantic last August, not by a non-profit organization, but by a private owner. 

The exception that proves the rule, if you will.

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Leo

    A good deed never goes unpunished
    So sad for you and your dad to see your vessel destroyed by morons
    Hope you had insurance.
    Your voyage has been so inspirational to me asi was born in Holland
    Followed all your endeavors and wish you all best in your bright and shiny future
    Greeting from San Diego
    Leo an family

  2. Leo

    A good deed never goes unpunished
    So sad for you and your dad to see your vessel destroyed by morons
    Hope you had insurance.
    Your voyage has been so inspirational to me asi was born in Holland
    Followed all your endeavors and wish you all best in your bright and shiny future
    Greeting from San Diego
    Leo an family

  3. Margaret


    I am so sorry to find out out what has happened to your “Guppy”. I ( an ocean single-hander also) met you at Sail Expo quite a few years ago. This tragedy cannot be justified by the “Non-Profit” in any way. It is my hope that you will be able to salvage what you can, donate what you cant use to the residents of the atoll, and start again. Take heart, Bernard Moitessier lost 3 of his vessels (all steel) to reefs (the last driven ashore at anchor by a hurricane) and still built again from scratch all 3 times to continue sailing the worlds oceans.

    Margaret I will include my email for you may contact me if you wish

  4. Ronald Deshaies

    You would think someone like Life Sail who teaches kids how to sail would have sailors who know how to sail sailing Guppy ,such a loss Laura trusted them with Guppy and they let her down. SO SORRY !!!!

  5. Faith Worthley

    Laura, I am so sorry for your loss. Your heart must be breaking as I know mine would be if it was my Sea Jewel. Please know that you were the inspiration for me getting Sea Jewel and believing I could single hand her at almost 60 years of age. Her spirit is what drives me as I know Guppy’s has been for you.
    Thank you for your spirit, courage and love of sailing that inspires so many.

  6. fred54

    Laura learned a valuable lesson. NEVER loan anything without surety. I have a lot of tools. When I was a kid I loaned a tool to a friend. It came back ruined. Every time I loaned a tool after that I demanded twice the value of the tool in a surety deposit. Every one came back in perfect condition. Laura should have told the Non_Profit to raise the value of the boat however they could for either a surety bound or a surety escrow for the replacement value of Guppy. If they complained they were a charity the response should have been ” You are obviously not that committed to your cause. When you are and have raised the money give me a call”. If she had done that this never would have happened because their own money would have been on the line.

  7. Rob Savinell

    That is such a sad loss of a beautiful boat. If the skipper knew how to sail in that area it would have made the trip without a problem. One major issues I have with ocean trained skippers/captains is that that don’t know how to handle the sudden storms, short wavelength, and whatnot. As a skipper on the Great Lakes, I feel I would have been able to drive out of that jam, knew my charts ahead and where safe stopping points would be located. Not to be harsh on the non-profits, but perhaps it is worth gathering funding for a professional crew prior to making a voyage like that. Laura, I am so sorry for that tragic loss of a beautiful classic yacht.

  8. David VanDenburgh

    In fairness, most of these non-profits are dependent on volunteer captains and crew, and crew are limited so they can take the maximum number of “trainees” (or campers or whatever they call them). And because of the number of volunteers it takes, no on has a very good grasp of the total nor the authority to make the big decisions. I’ve skippered for some of them an it was often a surprise to discover what I was handed by the volunteer skipper before me. Often with a tight timetable to meet the schedules of other volunteers flying in and out. If you decide to donate your boat, be prepared to LET IT GO.

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