The Short, Brutish Life of a Luxury Cat
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:40AM - Comments: (10)
January 21, 2014
Last week, Charlie Doane, executive editor of Sail magazine, and delivery skipper Hank Schmitt, founder of the North American Rally for Cruisers, got caught in a very bad situation on a new-boat delivery in the Atlantic. The boat's new owners, a couple from Germany, were also on board. The boat was a brand new Aeroyacht Alpha 42 catamaran with wave-piercing hulls. It was abandoned and left to drift; the captain and crew were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. Even those of us who are not in the market for a luxury catamaran can draw something from the incident.
I’ve worked with Doane and Schmitt before, and their sailing resumes speak for themselves. Doane, much to his credit, provides a detailed account of what happened, even though it doesn’t cast the boat or the captain and crew in the most positive light. Schmitt issued a short statement on the builder’s website. In short, the new, $700,000 U.S.-built catamaran took a serious beating in a Gulf Stream gale. Thankfully, everyone got out alive.
I suggest every reader take a look at the history of this boat and what happened on the water. It reiterates what Practical Sailor has said before about carrying out due diligence with the help of independent professionals before purchasing any boat, new or used. In the case of a new build and design such as this one, having a qualified naval architect and a surveyor with a background in catamarans and boat systems take a look at the boat may help prevent a tragic outcome. However, as we've also pointed out, the sea—particularly the North Atlantic in winter—has swallowed more formidable boats than the Alpha 42.
What still gnaws at me are two things:
- Timing. North Atlantic in January calls for a special kind of boat. A lightly sea-trialed, wave-piercing cruising catamaran that was apparently rushed to meet its production schedule would not be my first (or second, or third) choice for this voyage.
- The litany of equipment failures: The jib sheet, both engines, the generator, glazing seals, and most conspicuously, the rudders all failed. Doane understandably says he expected some gear failures on an unproven boat, but when rudder stocks are the first or second thing to go in a gale (no one describes the weather as anything more), it seems obvious that some engineering calculations were off. According to Doane's account, a simple set screw was used to secure the rudder stock to the tiller arm—a shocking revelation, if true.
However, what I find most interesting is the stark contrast between the images and text in brochures and magazines prior to the boat's maiden voyage and the actual life-threatening experience of the crew. In the former, the sky is blue, the water is clear, and the wind is light. In the latter, the wind is howling at speeds over 30 knots, and the Gulf Stream is boiling over—crashing against cabin windows, ripping up steps, and slamming the boat backward on its rudders.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last, new boat to meet a premature end on the ocean. I’m sure there are boats I’ve written lovingly about that have gone down in a gale. (The Alpha 42 is still apparently drifting about.) However, it’s certainly the most vivid reminder I’ve seen in years of what can happen when a cruising fantasy sets out in the North Atlantic in winter.