After the news of the sad loss of sailing yacht Cheeki Rafiki thoughts must be with the crew’s families.
How this Beneteau First 40.7 yacht suffered catastrophic hull failure remains to be unravelled.
From the US Coast Guard pictures of the upturned hull it appears the vessel lost its keel and capsized in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with all four crew members sadly losing their lives.
The causes will be guesswork at best because the keel itself will have fallen thousands of metres to the ocean floor below. They could have struck a submerged object, anything from a washed overboard shipping container, to even a whale, or whether the keel worked itself loose in a gale will probably remain a mystery.
Beneteau are large, well known French makers of production yachts with many hundreds safely traversing all corners of the world’s oceans.
Sadly keel bolts working loose is nothing new. A participant in one around the world yacht race famously had to send their on board diver down to cut holes in the keel to enable spare rigging wire to encircle the hull in order to prevent it falling off completely.
Also judging from the containers of spares which accompany the ocean racers such as the Volvo 60, this and other eventualities are planned for with a large part of their cabins taken up with workshop facilities. A Beneteau 40.7 is much smaller and no ocean going greyhound, built with the summer Mediterranean cruising grounds in mind.
Closer to home in the UK a number of yachts have had problems with their keels working loose. A lot has been down to racing skippers hard use of their vessels rather than construction or design faults. A common one is running aground rushing to or from a start line. If a yacht runs aground it should be regarded as a major emergency, with the harbour authorities notified by radio, before being gently floated off and then retired hurt back to its mooring.
Instead, gung ho amateur skippers pile all their crew to one side to heal the boat whilst revving the engine to maximum and trying to slide the keel over the obstruction and in doing so placing dangerous stresses on the integrity of the hull. Many marine insurers include a condition that if the yacht is grounded it must be removed from the water and professionally surveyed before being used again.
If one of the smaller, mass production yachts has had an energetic racing season, given that it hasn’t got the on board the workshop facilities of the larger ocean racers, would perhaps be well advised to arrange a quick lift out in a boatyard prior to departure for an underneath check. Or at least arrange an underwater inspection by a commercial diver.
A skipper also needs to practice evacuation procedures and if the keel bolts start leaking with water coming above the floor boards then preparation to leave must be made. During WWII merchantmen on the Atlantic conveys in extreme danger of immediate sinking from torpedoes sometimes made off duty crew sleep on deck.