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Old 28-06-2008, 14:44   #1
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BVI Charter Sailboat Sinks in a Squall

Friday a week ago (June 20th) we experienced some pretty severe squalls here in the northeastern Caribbean. I was attempting to move my boat from Nevis to Antigua to lay her up in a boatyard for the hurricane season. Three hours out from Nevis, I had only made 7.5 nm, and had been hit by two squalls sporting 40-50 kt wind gusts. I gave it up as a bad deal, and turned tail for home, getting slammed by two more squalls on the way back.

Three British charters weren't so lucky. According the the linked BVI Platinum news article, they experienced a knock-down, with in-flooding through open hatches. Their Moorings charter boat sank in about 160' of water in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The charterers called a "Mayday", abandoned ship into their dinghy, and were picked up by a nearby boat.

I expect that there was a lot of shredded canvas and soiled shorts in the charter playground that day.

Moorings Vessel Sinks in Sir Francis Drakes Channel | Virgin Islands Platinum News
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Old 28-06-2008, 15:08   #2
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It is a shame that those guys didn't secure the boat better. Closing open hatches is SOP, furling in or reefing the main and jib is a no brainer. Poor seamanship, IMOP.
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Old 28-06-2008, 16:47   #3
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We NEVER sail with hatches or ports open, even in the most benign conditions. Never!!
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Old 28-06-2008, 17:22   #4
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Here's a possible scenario for this sinking: unsecured cockpit locker.

The knockdown flips the locker hatch open and sea water begins flowing in. In a few minutes, there is enough water in the boat to allow the open companionway and other hatches to go under water and the boat sinks a few minutes later.
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Old 28-06-2008, 19:47   #5
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There must have been open portholes/windows in the hull that allowed the water to start to come into the boat during several knockdowns. It's hard for me to visualize a single knockdown that was a long enough duration to make the monohull sink. They must have had lots of sail up and taken multiple knockdowns to get enough water in the boat that it would sink.

Perhaps a prolonged microburst with 100 mph winds could have held the boat horizontal to the water long enough for it to sink. I guess that's what happened to the Pride of Baltimore out in the Atlantic.

I would like to know what really happened.
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Old 28-06-2008, 20:33   #6
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Dave,

I don't know what really happened there either, but the squalls hit me about 8 am, and the one that got the Moorings boat hit at 12 noon. Could have been the same system.

The squalls that I experienced came up very quickly, with less warning than any I've seen. Winds jumped to 35-40 kts sustained, with long gusts to 50 kts. If I'd been caught with my sails up and got knocked down, it could have kept the boat on it's beam for 3-4 minutes, I'd guess. With wide open hatches, that would let a lot of water in.
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Old 28-06-2008, 21:17   #7
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Dave,

I don't know what really happened there either, but the squalls hit me about 8 am, and the one that got the Moorings boat hit at 12 noon. Could have been the same system.

The squalls that I experienced came up very quickly, with less warning than any I've seen. Winds jumped to 35-40 kts sustained, with long gusts to 50 kts. If I'd been caught with my sails up and got knocked down, it could have kept the boat on it's beam for 3-4 minutes, I'd guess. With wide open hatches, that would let a lot of water in.
That sounds like impressive winds, especially in the hands of a charter party that may not have been experienced in how to handle those types of conditions.

We have never been caught on our catamaran with such rapidly intensifying winds. I'm glad.

I have a lot of respect for thunderstorms and their associated downdrafts. Every week I fly in a small twin engine aircraft up to Whiteriver Apache Reservation (where Fort Apache is located), and I get to see thunderstorms upclose and personal. At 12-14,000 feet, you can see the where potential microbursts are located, and we stay away from them. It can get pretty turbulent around those thunderstorms, but at least we can fly around them unless they are embedded in a cloud, and we don't know they are there. On the ocean, you can't sail away from them very well unless you make a major course deviation well ahead of time. So it's easy to get pummeled on a sailboat.
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Old 28-06-2008, 21:22   #8
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There were a few in depth discussions of this incident on ttol. Traveltalkonline: Eye Witness of the Boat that Sank
There were pictures posted of the yacht several hours before she sank showing her with no reefs and several hatches open. The best guess over there is that she was sailing with full canvass, heeled over until her open hatches took on water, then continued to heel uncontrollably until she sank. All hearsay, so take it for what it's worth. There were several stories of shredded sails and biminis.

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Old 28-06-2008, 21:37   #9
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That sounds like impressive winds, especially in the hands of a charter party that may not have been experienced in how to handle those types of conditions.

On the ocean, you can't sail away from them very well unless you make a major course deviation well ahead of time. So it's easy to get pummeled on a sailboat.
One report said the crew was 3 men from the UK. So if they had much experience sailing in the UK, they should be used to heavy weather, I would think.

Getting pummeled on a sailboat? Yeah, it's easy if you get caught with too much sail up. But squalls in the BVI's are usually so guick, the seas never build up. So it's all about the wind, and getting the sails down is everything.
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Old 30-06-2008, 12:38   #10
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The Sir Francis Drake Channel itself is a natural wind tunnel. If you have ever driven up the Channel road from West End toward Road Town... as soon as you hit the Channel drive you get hit head on by gust even in normal winds... I've had a hood on a jeep almost ripped off when I came around the bend and hit the channel's winds... they also spread large rocks all along the road making it even more interesting.

I was in Nanny Cay on the 20th but the 19 also had the channel whipped up and full of whitecaps but winds were more consistent and not as gusty as on the 20th. Several boats were damaged and ran into one of the bays on Peter and Norman Islands. I'm told several cats with paid Skippers aboard had a few people banged up because they didn't reduce sail or get them down in time.

About mid week last week, another squall line moved through and knocked out power to the East End of Tortola and part of Road Town. It was however just after dark when the charter boats by contract are suppose to be at a mooring or anchored so little in the way of problems was reported except for the need for clean underwear for some of the crews.

West Indies is a great place to sail... normally very safe but you have to understand they are surrounded by huge bodies of water and fronts can move in very fast any catch you unaware unless you keep informed of the marine weather... which unfortunately most charter people stop doing after a few days out.

Dumping the wind from sails appears to be something people do not think about in sufficient time when on a fast sail... I've seen dozens of boat wash the rails only to round out and flag in the wind when they get over powered when they could have easily reefed a step or two and let the main ease some but you still need to be aware that in the Sir Frances Drake Channel the winds can and frequently do get into venturis due to the steep mountain sides with varying size coves and bays... winds can change 180 degrees if your passing too close to these pockets of disturbed wind even in lighter air... and in the BVI lighter air is often considered to be just under 20 knots... not the 7 to 8 knots many sailors are more familiar with.

Put my boat on the hard for season last Thursday, but wish I was still sailing the BVI now.
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Old 01-07-2008, 05:56   #11
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" Put my boat on the hard for season last Thursday, but wish I was still sailing the BVI now."

Just in time--NOAA is tracking a wave that just came off the African coast that they say has the potential to develop into a tropical storm!
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Old 01-07-2008, 15:10   #12
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I Hope it dosen't, that could be bad for buisness down there right now.
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Old 05-08-2010, 19:20   #13
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Hi,

What is it about a 50 knots gust keeping a boat on her ear? A mono?

My boat gets the gust, heels to (50?), maybe 60 degrees, then rounds up or something goes, etc, but I never got the water to the level of our cabin windows. Never once. (No windows in the hull here). Let alone the hatches (which are wisely positioned on the cabin's top and on the center line of the hull).

So a 50 knots gust and then the rest of the story - is it real that bad in say a Benne or Bavaria, etc?

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Old 05-08-2010, 19:36   #14
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Hi,

What is it about a 50 knots gust keeping a boat on her ear? A mono?

My boat gets the gust, heels to (50?), maybe 60 degrees, then rounds up or something goes, etc, but I never got the water to the level of our cabin windows. Never once. (No windows in the hull here). Let alone the hatches (which are wisely positioned on the cabin's top and on the center line of the hull).

So a 50 knots gust and then the rest of the story - is it real that bad in say a Benne or Bavaria, etc?

barnie
Nah - not really - its all about easing sheets, luffing up, reefing even as far as dropping all your sails. And understanding what's going on.

Unfortunately, and we see it here all the time, its a combination of lack of experience, lotsa rum (or beer), a lackadaisical approach to being on the water in conditions which are 99.9% of the time very benign - c'mon now - that's what the Holiday Brochure said - right? But it keeps the sailmakers employed in what is, after all, Low Season.

I delayed my start from BVI to Florida by 5 days because of that particular weather system then, when I was confident that I'd be following it up, but far enough behind to avoid the quite normal kick in the rear that can occur, had a relatively quiet 9 day passage. Tony
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Old 05-08-2010, 22:29   #15
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2 year old thread - but whatever happened there is a lot of missing information. The bareboat charter boats in the Virgins are "dumb-shitted" by the charter companies specifically to address barely competent sailors. This means the foresails are small and the mailsail full size. This gives the boat a lot of weather helm. If you do nothing but release the wheel the boat will round up into the wind. If you hold the wheel the main will still overpower the foresail and cause the boat to round-up. Once the boat goes over to the point that the spreader tips are close to the water the sails will unload and with the keel now close to parallel to surface the boat will pivot into the wind.
- - Given that the boat was a mono-hull and a bareboat charter and not a private crewed boat - then the crew had to fight to keep the boat heeled over. Which does not sound unreasonable given the psychology of a renter that this is not their boat so let's see what will happen. There had to a lot of incompetence and arrogance to not release the sheets and let the boat do its natural thing. Even if the mainsail gets water in it, released sheets will allow the boom to swing out to empty the water.
- - There had to be some major "rest of the story" in this incident missing.
- - Privately owned boat (not rentals) are in serious danger if they have huge foresails and little mainsails. Sailing with only a foresail out and no main is a recipe for disaster if a squall hits you. Not being prepared to instantly release the sheets - by cleating them or using jammers/clutches - is another recipe for disaster. Unload the sails and the ballasted boat will pop back upright. You may flog the sails to death but you won't sink the boat.
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