Flipping Out

Flipping Out - on a catamaranBelow is copied an apparently first hand story that is currently making the rounds on the internet and is the subject of a tremendous amount of boating forum traffic.

The overabundance of opinion and baloney proliferating on the web makes me reluctant to participate in the melee but some limited commentary may assist our customers in assessing the true relevance to their own cruising catamaran experience.

The really notable part of this story is the level of its exposure.  If it concerned one of the numerous keelboats that get knocked down and sunk by its ballast in a matter of minutes, it would be the same old story and we would never hear of it (even if anyone lived to tell).   The proportional loss of life in the multihull fleet must be miniscule compared to the level of reportage.  In this case no lives were lost and the tale is freely told.

The Story of S/V Anna
Setting
The Event
Immediate Aftermath
Rescue
Post Rescue
Final Thoughts
The Rescue Video
My Thoughts – Comments by Ted Clements

Here is The Story in its entirety as received with some formatting adjustments;

The Loss of the S/V Anna,

Atlantic 57 Sailing Catamaran

Designed by Chris White.

On July 31 – August 1, 2010, Anna was lost in a sudden violent storm between Tonga and Niue, and Glen and I were rescued 17 hours later by a freighter.

Personnel

Glen McConchie, 46, Kiwi.
Kelly Wright, 58, Yank.

Setting

On Saturday, July 31, 2010, about 10 a.m. Tongan time, Glen and I escorted John, our third crewman who was returning to the US, to a guestroom in Pangai on the island of Lifuka in the Ha’apai chain of islands in Tonga, then returned to Anna and hauled the anchor and set sail for Niue, about 250 nm away to the ENE. The winds were from the E and the SE so that we had to beat into them and tack a few times. The winds were fairly constant, ranging from about 12 to about 20 knots, and the skies were almost totally overcast, although there were moments of sunshine. The winds had been stronger, in the 20s, for several days prior and the seas were quite lumpy so that we put the first reef in the main but used the full jib. We also used the lee daggerboard. These conditions prevailed for over 24 hours.

The Event

The following day was Sunday Tongan time, but because we crossed the International Date Line and our destination was Niue, we changed our ship’s time (as displayed on our main clock and all the navigation instruments) at noon to reflect Niue time, so that Sunday became Saturday, again July 31st.

With a crew of two, even if off watch one tends to remain in the pilothouse unless sleeping and be readily available to assist, and such was the case that afternoon, as I had the noon to 1800 (6 p.m.) watch with Glen right there at my side in the pilothouse. Sometime after noon we were on a starboard tack and were finally able to achieve a good layline to Niue so that we would no longer have to tack, and things seemed to be going our way. The skies were still cloudy but some time after 1400 we noticed that a portion of the cloud cover to the East was especially dark. I turned on the radar at the 12-nm range and it showed rain clouds almost all around with rain clouds to our NE, E, SE, and NW, but the radar displayed no apparent difference or special intensity in the dark cloud. Nevertheless we were somewhat wary of the dark cloud and paid extra attention to our monitoring of the weather. The barometer had dropped only from 1000 mb to 998 mb over the last few hours, which was no cause for alarm, and I hoped that the dark cloud held intense rain that would wash the boat and knock down the seas so that we could shake out the reef in the main and speed up.

Suddenly just after 1500, while observing the anemometer (wind speed and direction indicator), which was displaying apparent and not true wind since we were beating, I noticed that the wind was backing to the S so that rather than beating into the wind, suddenly we were on a beam reach. I began turning the autopilot so that we would remain heading up. Then the wind speed jumped from 18 knots to 25, then to 30, then to 35 in the blink of an eye, both Glen and I yelled “let’s reef” and we bounded out into the cockpit. When I saw the anemometer in the cockpit a couple of seconds later, the wind speed showed 45 knots, so I moved to the autopilot and again tried to head the boat up into the wind, while Glen tried to reef the jib. The wind was ferocious, however, and Glen could not control the jib outhaul line so that it started flapping wildly. I was afraid we would rip the sail (which I did last year because of my own operator error) and so shouted at him, “What are you doing?”, then reached over and closed the jammer cleat that prevented more line from getting loose. Realizing finally that the wind was overpowering us to a perilous extent, I next moved towards the mainsheet to release it, but in a flash we were up in the air, flying a hull as if we were on a Hobie Cat, and I lost my balance and started tumbling to port. We hung at that position — roughly 45 deg. — for a second then over we went. I used the S word. Loudly.

Later Glen said that the highest wind speed he thinks he saw (he is not entirely certain) was 62 knots, and that was some moments before we were blown over so the wind speed was likely much higher.

Immediate Aftermath

I found myself in the water underneath Anna somewhere. I had fallen out on what started out as the lee side of the boat but which, when inverted, became the windward side. I remember struggling, seeing various things swirling around me — blue, white, dark, metal — and I hoped I would not get entangled and swam underwater to get out from underneath the boat as best I could. I surfaced on the windward side and swam to the stern of the boat, thinking to myself, “better play this one right”, but was not panicky and was surprisingly clear-headed, thinking that I should have released the mainsheet and other should-ofs. I quickly climbed aboard Anna’s inverted wingdeck that bridges the two hulls. In my memory the sun was shining and there was no wind, the seas calm, but that must be erroneous and perhaps it was just a sense of relief of not being swept away coupled with the relative protection afforded me being between the two hulls.

My first concern was Glen. I was standing or kneeling on the inverted wingdeck and looked around for him but could not see him and worried that he could not hold his breath that long. I moved over to a hull and started pounding on it, yelling “Glen! Glen!” Momentarily I heard an answering series of knocks, and I felt mega-relieved and a surge of confidence swept over me. In each hull of Anna there is an emergency escape hatch, which is basically a window under the steps that lead from the pilothouse down into the hulls. Soon Glen’s shiny head appeared in the emergency escape hatch of the starboard hull, now to port, and we gave each other the thumbs up sign. Although he could not hear me, I somehow made it clear that he needed to activate the EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) to notify authorities of our emergency, and he nodded assent and disappeared from view. Later he came back and tried to break open the hatch with a hammer and then a fire extinguisher, but was unsuccessful. (I may have the timing wrong: it could be that he tried to break the hatch first before moving off to activate the EPIRB.)

Whereas I had fallen out of the cockpit when Anna capsized, Glen had remained in it, probably holding on to railings around the binnacle. He found himself in an air pocket and simply turned around and with some effort and patience fighting the surging waves, was able to time opening the door just right and re-enter the pilothouse where there also was a pocket of air, although it was quickly diminishing.

Ultimately I saw that it was unlikely that I would get back inside Anna without having to swim underwater and to enter via an open door or hatch or port. I did not want to do that, so I looked around and tried to determine how best to shelter myself. I remember it being bright and sunny and quite comfortable, but again I doubt my memory. Soon I came to realize that there was another venue for my survival besides trying to remain on the inverted deck or getting inside of one of the hulls, and that was our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) dinghy that was floating right there at the stern of Anna. I suppose it was there when I first climbed on but I do not remember it as I was focused on locating Glen, but when I finally noticed it I immediately recognized the dinghy as my salvation. We had parked the dinghy on our aft deck, as was our normal practice, during the passage from Tonga and it was still attached to the dinghy davits. Evidently on capsize she popped up and self-righted for when I first saw her she was floating right side up.

I moved to the dinghy and got in her and began securing her with additional lines to Anna, which I knew would not sink. Ultimately I tied four extra lines from the dinghy to Anna around a stern rail, the rudder, and the saildrive, and then tied a line around my waist and secured it to the dinghy to prevent me from being swept away. Seas washed over me, filling the dinghy, and for a time I stayed busy bailing but soon determined that bailing out the dinghy was a useless waste of my energy, that water came in much faster than I could keep it out, and that the dinghy, being an inflatable, had enough positive buoyancy to stay afloat even if full of water. Luckily we had anticipated that the dinghy might someday be swept away or its outboard not start, so we had loaded some emergency supplies in her small anchor locker, and I now had them to rely on. In the anchor locker I found, besides the dinghy anchor and about 50 feet of anchor line, a floppy hat to keep the sun off, some tools for working on the outboard, a liter of water, a knife, and — most importantly — a handheld VHF radio. Except for the floppy hat I left everything in the locker and shut it tightly for I was concerned that the waves that were battering me would wash something away. I intended to preserve everything as long as possible because I had no idea how many days we would await rescue.

On the floor of the dinghy we had also put several items, like a fishing net, a plastic container full of salted-down cut-bait for fishing, a bucket with a sturdy line, other spare lines, and — most importantly — the awning we used on the aft deck. It was that awning that prevented me from perhaps suffering hypothermia that night, as all I had on was a pair of shorts and undies underneath, and waves were constantly washing over me, chilling me in the strong breezes that relentlessly buffeted me.
For several hours I was not sure that Glen had successfully turned on the EPIRB and regretted us not practicing with it. Finally, though, darkness fell and I could see the flashing light of the EPRIB through one of the escape hatches, and felt relieved to know that someone somewhere had been alerted that we were in a emergency.

Riding in the dinghy was very uncomfortable. I compare it to being in a thousand fender benders, because the dinghy was ceaselessly slamming into one of the hulls and bouncing on top of the wingdeck, then would float free only to fetch up with a violent jerk on one of the lines. Moreover, waves were constantly swamping me, ripping the awning out off my hand while I used the other hand to hold on. I counted for awhile and the most I was getting at one stage was about 12 seconds of peace before the next shock. The shocks were so violent that the 15-hp Yamaha outboard broke off its swivel and fell into the depths of the ocean, I suppose due to metal fatigue. It was absolutely the most miserable time I have ever spent, and if I had been forced to suffer another day of that I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to take it. I intended to try something different when dawn came, although I did not know exactly what. I tried every position imaginable and ultimately discovered that sitting on the anchor locker and hunkering down with the awning draped over me was the best position since it allowed me to sit as high as possible in the foot or so of water that sloshed around inside the dinghy. As I write it has been a week since we were rescued and I am still stiff and bruised.

Glen did not have it much easier inside. Fumes from the starting batteries wafted through the hulls where air resided, and Anna was getting knocked around herself a great deal and there was broken glass and dangerous items like our galley cutlery floating and washing about. He suffered the worst wound, a nasty gash right on top of his bald head. And while at night I had some light from the moon and stars and could see everything quite clearly, Glen was in total darkness except for the EPIRB’s strobe every three seconds.

Anna has a survival pod in each bow that stayed dry, and it was in one of those that Glen spent most of the time. He too was planning for the next and subsequent days. Although the pilothouse was filled with water, Glen ventured from hull to hull during daylight, tying a line between the hulls so he would have something he could pull on as he moved between the hulls. The boat being upside down was disorienting to him, he said, and it took him several attempts before it became clear to him that what had been starboard was now port, and vice versa, and to locate the EPIRB so he could flip the switch and activate it.

I am sure had we not been rescued in such a timely fashion Glen and I would have improved our living conditions on subsequent days for we had ample food and water in the hulls.

Rescue

At midnight — about nine hours after the capsize — I heard an engine. I opened the awning I had wrapped around me and looked around and saw strange lights in the air just a few hundred feet high moving away from us. I hurried to open the dinghy’s anchor locker and fetch the VHF, and I turned it on and start jabbering to the aircraft crew that they were to the North of us, that they had missed us, and please come back. “Anna, this is Kiwi Rescue Aircraft 4, and do not worry, because we have an excellent fix on your position and know exactly where you are.” I knew we were saved then, but felt no great sense of relief.

It was an Orion aircraft, not a helicopter which I had been expecting, and I was a little let down because I realized that this aircraft was not capable of performing a rescue itself but could only locate us, so that rescue was some time off yet. Sure enough, on asking about rescue I was informed that a freighter had been diverted and would arrive the next morning.

The aircraft came by every hour thereafter and checked on us, and I talked to them via the handheld radio. Occasionally they set off green flares which they had told me earlier was a sign they wanted to talk, but they could have saved the flares because I was eager to talk and called them as soon as they appeared on the scene.

The night passed incredibly quickly, I suppose because it was such an active time with constant recovery from waves and jolts and because once I knew I was going to be rescued I was no longer worried about it. I used deep breathing I learned in yoga to fool myself into feeling warm, telling myself that the deep breath was going from my lungs to my midriff and hips and that the breath was bringing warm air to those parts of my body. For a couple of hours before dawn the seas relented, and whether it was a dream or hallucination, for a moment I thought I was sitting in a dry dinghy with boxes of dark chocolate lined up symmetrically on either side of me. I never once took a sip of the liter of potable water that I had in the dinghy, preferring to save it in the event our rescue was prolonged, but early I did nibble on some of the cut-bait to test whether or not it made me sick, but it was so salty I spit it out and determined to worry about food later.

Dawn came, the seas started building again and knocking me around, and the Kiwi Rescue Aircraft appeared, this time with a different crew whose English was much more difficult for me to understand. I was informed that Glen would have to make it out of the hull on his own, and that he and I would have to swim to the freighter where the crew would be waiting with lines and lifebuoys. I had not been in visual contact with Glen yet that morning so I had to leave the dinghy and make my way to the emergency escape hatch where I had last seen him. I was still tied to the dinghy so I knew that I would be alright, but the waves knocked me down and swept me away and I instinctively grabbed onto a steering cable with one hand in a vain attempt to stay near the hatch. I had the grapnel anchor in my other hand and beat like hell on the escape hatch for a few seconds, then would be swept away and grab a cable and water would wash over me, then I would make my way back and hammer away again, and then I would be swept away again and I would grab hold of the stainless steel cable that bit into my hands and the force of the waves would push me underwater and twist me around so that holding on the cable proved impossible. I thought I might drown at one point so I made my way back to the dinghy to recover and wait, hoping that Glen had heard my occasional hammering. Because he did not appear, I resolved to try again, only this time not hold the steering cables, but just beat on the hatch as I was passing by, not fighting the waves but riding with them and do the best I could. I did that for a few minutes and soon Glen reappeared and I quickly returned to the dinghy and from there, in a very demonstrative sign language, communicated to him that in twenty minutes the freighter would be in position and that he — Glen — would have to get out the hull on his own.

I waited patiently wondering just how Glen would evacuate the boat and begin to worry when I did not see him after several minutes. But Glen was just taking his time, trying to assure that he would not be entangled in any of the rigging. His best means of escape was to use the deck hatch of the sail locker which served as his survival pod, but the deck hatch was no longer on top of the hull but was instead on the bottom, in the water. Glen wisely tied a line to an empty jerry can and pushed that out first so he would have something to grab if necessary to prevent him from being swept away. That popped up and I started calling his name and soon he appeared with a mask and snorkel and his dive knife strapped to his leg, ready to cut through any entangling lines. He made his way to the stern of the boat, I still in the dinghy tied to one hull, he holding onto the other hull, and soon he was able to climb onto the hull and hold on to the upside-down rudder. We chatted a bit.

The freighter was moving close so that we were drifting down on them and the crew was shouting at us and showing us the lines and buoys and the net and ladder we ultimately would have to climb. When the freighter was a hundred feet or so away, I stood up, ripped off the floppy hat and flung it into the water, then told Glen, “here I go, good buddy”, and dove into the sea and began swimming. As I approached a crewman tossed me a line, then another dropped me a life buoy, and they started dragging me aft towards the net and ladder that was set up near the superstructure in the rear quarter of the ship. On reaching it I had to wait until a wave picked me up and set me high enough to get a foot on the ladder, then climbed aboard, maybe 15-20 feet, with some difficulty where a crewman wrapped a blanket around me and another held on to me in case I would collapse.

Glen stayed on Anna longer than I and was nearly smashed between the freighter and Anna, and pulled a leg up just in time to suffer only a small cut, but no broken bones. Glen waited for a wave that swept him up and clambered aboard the freighter just behind me. Whereas I shook the hands of the crew, Glen embraced them in a spasm of joy and relief.

I was rescued with only the shorts and underwear I had on. Glen came aboard with shorts and undies, but also the scuba knife strapped on his leg and, at the last minute, he picked up the floppy hat I had been wearing and had tossed into the sea as I dove into the water, and which had drifted right up to the ladder.

The crew filmed the rescue and Glen will upload it to YouTube, but the insurance and salvage people have our only copy at the moment.

Post-Rescue
The ten-person crew on the freighter, Forum Pacific, was comprised of a Fijian master, Tonga 1st mate, Fijian 2nd mate, Fijian boatswain, and the rest were from Sri Lanka. They were not only competent in rescuing us but wonderful people, too. They gave us clothes, tended to our wounds, fed us well, staged a kava drinking party for us, and were at our beck and call as if we were on a cruise ship. The 2nd mate, a youngish fellow, even gave us $560 out of his own pocket and said we did not have to repay him!

The Forum Pacific is 87 meters long, displaces about 30,000 tons, and runs a circuit from Auckland to Tonga to Niue to the Cook Islands then back to Auckland, largely delivering aviation fuel in large canisters, vehicles and containers. Lucky for us they were in route between Tonga and Niue at the time of our capsize and did not have to divert far out of the way to rescue us. There was some delay, though, and the people of Niue were eagerly awaiting the ship when she arrived, especially because there was a toilet paper shortage on the island.

The Forum Pacific previously sailed in the Indian Ocean and was captured by Somali pirates and the crew held for ransom for six months. Only one of the present crew, the Sri Lankan electrician, had been held hostage. He said, except for the initial attack with RPGs, the Somalis were nice. The ransom paid he said was $1.8 million.

On arrival at Niue the New Zealand High Commission took over and began processing Glen and contacted the US Embassy to start getting me a replacement passport. I emailed my insurance agency and arranged for a wire transfer of funds. We were sort of local celebrities and had to repeat this story umpteen times to all the yachties.

Niue has only one flight per week, and it is to and from Auckland, and we were able to get tickets and returned to NZ after about five days. Glen flew on to Christchurch on the South Island to visit family while I have been busy here in Auckland with the US Consulate General, insurance, and a potential salvager, who coincidentally owns the Forum Pacific.

Final Thoughts
Glen and I were unlucky that such an intense wind hit us, but on the other had were very fortunate that things fell into place for a quick rescue. Having the EPIRB that sent out our GPS position was key to that, as was the competency of New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Committee who sent an aircraft to find us 1400 nm away! Lucky were we too that the Forum Pacific was nearby and that she had a competent crew. And we were also lucky we had not secured the dinghy to the aft deck as we sometimes do for a long passage, but had instead just set her down on her chocks which allowed her to float out and provide me with shelter.

The EPIRB incidentally continued to transmit for four days. Anna moved at a leisurely half knot to the NW, and is still afloat awaiting salvage.

I never thought I was going to die. As soon as I hit the water after the capsize I obviously realized that my chances for an early departure were suddenly greatly increased and that I must focus on surviving, but I never for a second felt the fear of death. Some of that comes from many disaster experiences (set out below), and the knowledge that catamarans do not sink. A couple of days after rescue, though, about four in the morning as I lay in bed in Niue, I thought how damn close Glen and I had come, and chills swept over me.

People here in NZ are telling us that Anna is the largest cruising (that is, non-racing) catamaran ever to capsize.
I have now had the following disaster experiences at sea:

  • Was on a catamaran that sunk to deck level due to a maintenance oversight in False Bay, South Africa, 2001, and was rescued by the SA Navy.
  • Was on a catamaran (the same as above) that was breaking up and the hulls separating from the bridgedeck, on a voyage planned to be from South Africa to Portugal, about 2007, and we barely made it into port in Namibia.
  • Was alone on a motorcat in Labrador that lost both engines and was floating among icebergs and was rescued by local fishermen.
  • Was on a catamaran that lost both headstays.
  • Was on a catamaran that ripped its jib.
  • Was knocked overboard by the boom in an accidental jibe.
  • Was on a catamaran that had a trampoline track torn away.
  • Was on a catamaran that had three stanchions knocked over when deploying a sea anchor.
  • Was on a catamaran that lost its hydraulic steering.
  • Was on a catamaran that lost its cable steering.
  • Was on a catamaran on which a radial drive (quadrant) came loose from the rudder post.
  • And now, was on the largest known cruising catamaran to capsize, saved by NZ rescue aircraft and a passing freighter.

I don’t blame anyone who is reluctant to go sailing with me.

Finally, I often tend to be cynical and fear that people are getting worse, more violent and criminal and selfish, but this experience has given me new faith in my fellow human being. Except for one know-it-all yachtie from California, we found everyone empathetic and generous.

See the video of the rescue;  

This is actually serious subject matter but you wouldn’t be able to read it all without some relief, hence the illustrations, forgive me.

My thoughts, here goes;

1  ) “Chris White” shows up prominently in the title and every commentary I have seen.  This smells of fallen celebrity syndrome.  The fellow has been idolized up until now, his name an automatic endorsement for a vessel, whether it’s appropriate for its owner or not.  Subtly singling him out for a bashing may satisfy some chicken-inspired pecking hierarchy instinct but it is not really appropriate and rather sneaky.  The vessel is what it is, an intentionally (expensively) very lightweight, heavily canvassed, performance first vessel that also has some cruising amenities.

Chris White’s unfortunate commentary on his own website declaring the vessel’s suitability for management single handed or by a cruising couple appears to be the only egg on his face I can see.  See Chris White on the Atlantic 57 at http://www.chriswhitedesigns.com/atlantic_cats/a57/

His qualifier suggesting that a typical couple can easily learn to safely do the necessary sailing procedures properly and in sequence on these vessels is a dodge as far as I am concerned.  But, if you are a potential buyer who chooses to believe that, you probably won’t listen to anyone anyway so he may as well say whatever he wants to.

Emphasizing sailing speed before all other considerations appeals to the imagination of many buyers.  There is considerable pressure to emulate racing vessel performance in cruising designs and terrific marketing pressure to go oversize (higher builder’s margins).

Eggs of face

Note the catamaran eggs

The consequent marketing coercion to think that bigger and faster translates to safer, more comfortable and easier to live with, or just plain better, goes largely unchallenged.  I would like to think that some reconsideration of the rationale delivered to potential and trusting owners would be engendered by this incident.

The two guys that survived this story were apparently fit and experienced but lost everything in a matter of seconds.  Are you an expert offshore sailor with impeccable weather judgement? Is your wife?  Is anyone?  I don’t imagine for a moment I would be generally better at things than the protagonists.  There is always a human element.

What risks are you prepared to take?  How close to the edge do you like to live?  How long are you willing to (or can you) endure hardships and high levels of vigilance?

Select your craft accordingly.  If, having done your homework, you decide on a Chris White Atlantic 57 and it capsizes who’s to blame?   It looked nice and provided the thrills.

Chris White says this 57 is a 55 with 2’ added at the bow so presumably both vessels have the same beam but the 57 can carry more sail with the crossbeam moved ahead.  Having undertaken similar design studies myself, I would speculate that the extra two feet consist of a refinement of the cutwaters with fairing into the original 55’ lines?  This alteration would do very little to increase bow buoyancy while adding a structural weight burden.  There is also usually a proportional loss of expanding volume above the waterline to resist planting the bows.  The resultant sharper bows look consistent with ultimate performance boat trends and have an automatic visual appeal but at some cost to seaworthiness.

Although some stability threshold was perhaps crossed, the factors contributing to the capsize incident should rightly be attributed to the combination of vessel, crew, and expectations. Chris White can only be blamed for giving people what they think they want and careless marketing has reinforced the idea that what he wants for himself is good for everyone.

It is anticipated that boats like Hydroptere will eventually capsize; no surprise and even some satisfaction that the envelope was pressed, but when the Atlantic 57 turns over while a number of like designs are marketed as a cruising couple’s package, with a fawning and gushing marine press approving of every extreme, what are people thinking?  What did they expect?  Thanks to the Atlantic 57 incident, the boundaries of the cruising safety envelope have been demonstrated, fortunately with no loss of life.

Hydroptere

Hydroptere – right side up

Hydroptere

Hydroptere – Upside down

We need to recognize that Chris White unabashedly operates at an extreme end of the market spectrum and hold appropriate expectations for his vessels.

I am never going to get written up as a designer of cutting edge performance vessels (I hope) but we continue to believe that a cruising vessel should be able to take care of itself to the greatest practical degree as you never know what may occur.  There are no guarantees but we are obliged to work toward that end, non-thrilling as it may be, and hope for quiet success.

2 ) The non-openable escape hatches are a real alarm bell in this story, everything else has shaken out predictably.   It would be interesting to know what hatch design the Atlantic 57 had installed.  The air pockets that form in the hulls (and keep the floating “altitude” reasonable) may have put the hatches under enough pressure to hold them shut, but only if they opened inward which seems rather unlikely. Bashing them with a hammer, a fire extinguisher and a grappling hook?  Huh? Some kind of a mystery.

Goiot Hatch

Outside view of typical approved hatch

I have heard from a mole in the cat cruising fraternity that often the escape hatch openings get glassed over to solve leaking hatch issues.  That is demonstrative of a bizarre sense of values.  The Antares 44 design uses costly Goiot hatches configured for the job and approved by the ISO for the offshore application.  They open from both sides and have a self-releasing locking bar if inverted.  I have not heard that they have any endemic leaking issues.  I hope the hatch cost is money well spent, but only as insurance.  (Though it is very enjoyable to open them when anchored in a pleasant spot.)

As an aside;

The placement of the escape hatches is something to consider as the higher they are in the hull when upright the lower they are when inverted.  This could help with maintaining the air pockets.  The survivor of the 1995 Catana loss in the Med (follow link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7111417.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1) reported a lot of “blowing” going on when the vessel was inverted and the outrush of air that occurred when the hatch was opened settled the vessel deeper in just minutes.  Our hatches lead out onto the bridge deck and are about as high (upright) as they can be.  I tried to make them as practical as possible, considering the physics and the ergonomics.  I don’t think they should be dismissed as just some annoying CE approval requirement and largely ignored as a design element.  We should all do the best we can and encourage their regular inspection and maintenance.

The video of the Atlantic57 rescue illustrates the issues rather too well.  The vessel is floating down by the stern to a degree that puts the hatches periodically awash.  I would presume that figuring the hydrostatics for inverted and uncontrollably flooded compartments would be a futile exercise so without a test, we can only hope for a better situation.  A vessel like the Antares 44 has transom locker compartments unoccupied by saildrives etc. that we might anticipate would help hold her ass up in similar circumstances, but I don’t know for sure and would rather not find out.

In order to maintain the hull air pockets, it would be a reasonable procedure to try to close the bilge pump discharge and sink drain sea cocks if possible to keep compartments from venting and consequently flooding.

3 ) The difficulties inherent in swimming around the inverted 57’ vessel sound a little understated in the account. We have equipped boats with padeyes on the bridge deck which are probably a good idea if you think you may be testing the envelope but rigging some temporary jacklines to pass under the bridge deck when offshore might be more practical and you could configure them to accord with the specifics of your particular vessel and your inverted swimming imagination.  It sounds like the Atlantic 57 has exposed steering cables under the bridge deck, a configuration I don’t know the details of.  They seem to have had an unexpected second function in the play of events.

4 ) The fellow inside reported his disorientation with the vessel interior upside down.  I find this interesting as it seems to be surprisingly difficult to conceive of the complicated interior spaces upside down.  I can cheat by inverting the view of the computer model but perhaps as an owner all one can do is perform handstands to pass the long hours of a solitary watch.

5 )The dinghy must have been very lightly secured to bob along right way up after the vessel inverted, hard to figure the dynamics of that one and I wouldn’t want to rely on it happening again.  We encourage owners to tie the rigid inflatable securely to the davit structures to prevent the swaying and bouncing which can generate high dynamic loads.  I have no doubt our dinghies would keep company with the vessel; another interesting exercise of the imagination.

6 ) The rescue video is frightening for reasons outside the inverted cat issues.  I wonder why the lads didn’t just get in the dinghy and make their way over to the rescue ship?  The first man’s choosing to dive in and swim for it in rough seas with no buoyancy aid of any kind appears to have been a rash decision.  The second fellow came so close to being mashed between the rescue ship and the inverted cat’s rudder while the two vessels ground against each other that I would say that was his moment of greatest danger.  The ship was there and made the rescue, all credit to them, but what a finale to a series of near misses with tragedy.

7 ) Kelly Wright provides a list of his unfortunate experiences at sea.  I noticed how prominently steering gear failures figure therein.  It gratifies me that we use shaft and gearbox steering and would not likely make cause to grace his list.  On the down side; we don’t use any steering cables inside or outside the vessel however so they will never be there as substitute lifelines.

8 ) The claim to fame that “The Atlantic 57 is the largest cruising catamaran to have capsized” assumes that it may indisputably be categorized as a cruising boat.   The Atlantic 57 has amply demonstrated that it is not a cruising vessel for the vast majority of owners and certainly none that I have had contact with.  At this size, it looks like you really need crew.  Would they be cruising too or just working the passage?

9 ) Mr. McConchie and Mr. Wright should be recognized as having done a remarkable job of dealing with very challenging circumstances.  Anyone inclined to second guess their decisions ought to remember the adage, “There but for the grace of god go I”.  The presence of mind exhibited, especially by Glen on the inside, is an example of levelheadedness that we may all hope to exhibit should such circumstances occur in our own experience.

How many times have we identified with the surge of despair reported by the survivors huddled in a liferaft as they watch their monohull sailboat slip beneath the waves, dragged inexorably down by its ballast keel; the tiny liferaft with all its limitations becoming the sole patch of survival territory in a sea stretching to the horizon in all directions.  It is interesting to note the nature of the discourse when multihull sailors contemplate similar disastrous circumstances, a discussion of challenges, procedures and possibilities to adapt and make do with the floating platforms loaded with potential resources.  As one owner recently commented, “If there is an inch of boat showing, I’m staying with it.” All vessels may be overcome by disastrous events but how encouraging it must be for survivors of cat inversions to have a platform of hope beneath them, how much better still when the escape hatches actually open.

TC

About these ads

10 thoughts on “Flipping Out

  1. I think your analysis underestimates the effects of hypothermia, fatigue, disorentation, and demoralization of the skipper and perhaps his crewman. The skipper didn’t eat or drink anything, was cold, and was repeatedly banged very violently.

    I think what designers should take from this is the importance of focusing on thinking more of the environment of an upside down catamaran. I think lower, wider rigs, multiple watertight compartments, and floatation placed so as to be useful upside down should be considered. I have put all of these things in my larger catamaran designs. I also think provisions should be made for lifelines on the underside of bridgedecks on any boat large enough to make extended passages. Tim Dunn, http://bigcatcatamarans.com .

  2. The irony is that CW’s bigger is better trek started when he went through a storm in a medium sized trimaran, I think it was a 35 footer. From that he designed Juniper, at 52′ His emphasis was on easy speed from large boats, and his own trajectory started with very simple sails/rigs, eventually replaced with higher performance ones. He has written extensively on his ideas. He does get across that one shouldn’t build overloaded roomarans, he doesn’t suggest setting more sail than you can safely handle. Not really sure why there should be an aha moment in all this.

  3. “The survivor of the recent Catana loss in the Med reported …”

    I am not sure what you are referring to. I couldn’t find any info on this anywhere.

    Whiskey.

  4. What “recent Catana loss in the Med” are you talking about? I am not aware of anything recent happening involving a Catana. It may be interesting to provide a link or a source.

    Thanks,

    David.

  5. Thanks Ted for this article and comments.
    Your are always very down to earth (if that can be said about a sailboat Construction engineer? :-) ) in your thoughts and comments about different design options that may influence and make safety issues not be on the top of the list to priorice.
    That´s why I feel VERY safe becoming an Antares 44i owner in the future ! No other cat brand shows the same determination to present a real liveable catamaran with practicality and safety as the most important guide. Not following mainstream ideas about building a large and fast ship shows that here you have a Company to whome people are more important than anything else.
    I take of my hat to that attitude, it wins in the longterm !!!

    Best Regards
    Ingvar Wobbe
    (the future owner of hull #44 when all the pieces of my puzzle are ready! ;-) )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s