The perils of edgy design offshore

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by CutOnce, Jul 18, 2011.

  1. CutOnce

    CutOnce Previous Member

    Sad news of two deaths in the Chicago Mackinac Race. This is the longest freshwater race in the world.

    The boat involved Wingnuts, is an edgy lightweight design where wide wings creating righting moment (with crew movement) necessary for the sail plan used are core to the concept.

    Offshore keelboat racing is a venue where conditions often change faster than crew can run for shelter - therefore the boats must be able to handle extreme conditions unsupported. It's sad that two veteran sailors died - and the so far unanswered question is "Would these people be alive today if the boat they were sailing was conventionally ballasted and designed for offshore conditions?".

    Compared to some of the edgy designs discussed here, Wingnuts seems pretty tame, old school and out-of-date. No required engines to sail, sliding ballast or complex mechanical technology.

    There is no doubt that Wingnuts should be capable of spectacular performance in the right conditions - a possible line honours boat, if not category winner ... but ... that speed potential in the right conditions does extract a penalty in worst case scenarios. Although we are talking about freshwater here, make no mistake that the Great Lakes can be as bad as extreme conditions encountered in maritime settings.

    I'm all for experimentation and pushing the envelope in controlled circumstances where the inherent safety factor reduced in the boat is made up for by close proximity of support, help and the ability to avoid extreme conditions. We had a concert stage collapse last night (while Cheap Trick was playing) here - a line of thunderstorms blew in at 60 knots sustained with under five minutes warning.

    How much safety should be eliminated in the quest for speed? Is racing between a safe (and realistically slower) boat and a riskier/dangerous speed machine fair? Should a owner/skipper be held liable for crew deaths when they leave the dock in a boat incapable of handling the worst case conditions encountered?

    I'm not talking about inshore testing of a boat like "Q" and it falling over with a support RIB present. But I do wonder about someone taking the same boat across the Bass Straight.


    I wish this were only a theoretical discussion happening before a tragedy, not after lives were lost.

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  2. Doug Lord
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

    A very sad story. What I've found so far:

    a. the boat was ready for the storm with it's sails down before it hit..
    b. gusts to 65 knots
    c. crew wearing safety harnesses
    d. very experienced crew( two crew that were killed apparently hit their heads or were hit in the head)

    Kiwi 35-designed by OH Rodgers, 5 built starting in 1984

    --LOA- 35.08'
    --Beam(with fold out wings)- 17.08'( 14' according to Scuttlebutt 7/18/11)
    -- Draft-7.08'
    --SA(upwind) 477 sq.ft.
    -- Displacement 2850lb
    a. ballast in keel-1100lb
    SA/D 36.29
    Capsize screening formula 2.35(controversial formula)
    Displacement /Length ratio 54.96
    Motion Comfort ratio-8

    From US Sailing CSF calculator page:

    FromUS Sailing Capsize Screening formula comments

    --A caveat regarding stability predictions: One of the greatest sailing disasters in recent maritime history, the 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race, offered a number or lessons regarding the performance of sailboats and crews in heavy weather conditions. The 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race Review Committee report, summarized by Peter Bush, the committee chair, reported the following as one of the significant findings: "There is no evidence that any particular style or design of boat fared better or worse in the conditions. The age of yacht, age of design, construction method, construction material, high or low stability, heavy or light displacement, or rig type were not determining factors. Whether or not a yacht was hit by an extreme wave was a matter of chance." (Ref: Rob Mundle in Fatal Storm, Publisher's Afterward p 249. International Marine/McGraw-Hill Camden, Maine.)

    --According to Andrew Claughton in Heavy Weather Sailing 30th ed. p 21 "This (the test data presented in the chapter) suggests that alterations in form (of a sailboat) that improves capsize resistance may be rendered ineffective by a relatively small increase in breaking wave height."

    from Scuttlebutt tonight(7/18/11) :

    COMMENT: We find it confusing that the record of WingNuts competing in the Chi-Mac Race has been erased from the event website. The team is no longer listed in the entry list or the results. While the incident involving this entry is tragic, is this cause to delete them from the online records? Since remedied-7/21/11-DL

    Pictures: far right-Tim Wright-others unknown-upsidedown AP:
    -click on image-

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 21, 2011
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Any technology that is cutting edge and non-self regulating through feedback and involves fighting immense natural forces runs up against limits, usually with unfortunate results and sometimes tragic. I think of boats like this as more like experimental aircraft that take constant piloting not to crash.
    Old-fashioned boats are designed often for more realistic real-world conditions and may have survived. Many can take care of themselves in bad conditions if the crew if injured or sick. Racing however demands constant innovation for advantage, and sometimes that can push a vessel past the edge of relative seaworthiness. I say relative because every boat has that limit, kind of like a "do not exceed" speed in an aircraft. Don't take this boat is any weather/wind/sea worse than X.
    I have several times gone through force 9-10 which this sounds like, on my old wood 23 ton yawl while I had a comfortable dinner and sleep below and she took care of herself for many hours at a time, but it is an ancient work boat design that did not come from any one designer but was designed by the ocean, is not a racer and neither am I.
    I am very sorry to hear of these fatalities and wish this stuff would stop repeating itself.
    In the CG I learned some rules.
    1. Don't be stupid.
    -I am afraid getting too far from support in marginal conditions in an inadequate boat is a bad call for the skipper, even if leading a race.
    Also if the injuries were to the head and that was a risk maybe helmets would have been a good idea with the harnesses. Light racing rigs certainly fall down often enough to make me want to wear one in a hard ocean race.
    2. **** happens.
    -See rule 1 above.
    3. Bring beer.
    -Save it for after you are tied to the dock and have some one else drive home. See rule 1 above.
  4. Stumble
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    Stumble Senior Member

    Sadly the people who passed away onboard died not from doing something wrong, but because they did everything right. The crew was down in the cockpit, and the two who passed away were upon deck maintaining a watch when the boat was hit by 70kn winds for an extended period of time, with no sails up. At some point she broached (I do not have an answer as to why) during this squall, and the two men on deck couldn't get their tether undone in time and drowned.

    I have spent a lot of time sailing in a sister ship kiwi 35, and while she is certainly tippy, not extremely so. All in all I think the boaters suffered more from an acute stroke of bad luck, than from poor design. The proximate cause of the fatalities here was in the inability to quickly release safety tethers, a problem I can't even imagine how to prevent.
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Thanks for the further information. As sad as these accidents are, as always in boating, we learn from the deaths of others and take more caution ourselves in the future. One would hope.
    Sounds like rule #2 was in full force this time.
  6. eyschulman
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    eyschulman Senior Member

    An old salt who gave me some pointers way back said that a sharp sheath knief easy to reach is a must item on a sailboat. As a youngster he was on a broached boat tangled in lines and only lived to tell the story because he had such a knief.
  7. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    All racing craft, cars, aircraft, boats, etc. generally have to accept a level of risk to remain competitive. You can't engineer all of the possible situations out of the envelop, so these things happen from time to time. I'm sorry for the families of the fallen, but I don't think anything was fundamentally wrong here, just unfortunate. A knife is always a good idea, but being dragged backwards and upside down, at speeds that cause arms and legs to stretch out and become immobilized, can make it's use all but imposable.
  8. bntii
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    bntii Senior Member


    I believe this accident has little to do with "offshore conditions" and a use of the boat outside of its safe envelope.

    We have all been hit by these squalls which can happen a 1/4 mile from shore or off in the blue.
    I had a storm come down the bay whose front was black horizon to horizon. At its base a pure white wall as the wind picked up the water and a couple of water spouts to boot. The gusts pushed our spreaders nearly to the water in a Cal 27 and send some crew into the water on other boats.

    In these racers case I believe that those killed got tangled up as the boat went over:

    "They saw on the radar the storm was coming," Linda Morley said, recounting the story of hers and Mark's brother, Peter, who was on board when the boat capsized. "They dropped sail. … All had life jackets on, all were tethered, 'clear the deck' was yelled, and everybody jumped," she said, describing the moments as the boat was capsizing.

    Some of the boaters managed to free their tethers. But Linda said nobody saw Mark Morley or Bickel as the storm came through with waves of 4 to 6 feet and reported winds of 52 knots."
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    As a crewman on tallships from CALIFORNIAN to NINA to HM BARK ENDEAVOUR, one thing was always beaten into me, and later as bosun I beat it into others, and that is to always have your sharp knife and spike kit belted belted outside your foul weather gear. I know this is not racing sailing, but the hazards and precautions are the same.
  10. Doug Lord
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

  11. Doug Lord
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

    The Perils of Edgy Weather in Any Boat

    From Scuttlebutt tonight:


    Hearing that it's windy and rainy is one thing. Hearing that water is
    vaporizing all around you is a completely different tale of horror
    . That
    was the scene being described during the Chicago Yacht Club's 103rd Race to
    Mackinac, presented by Veuve Clicquot.

    Tim Prophit, owner and co-skipper of Fast Tango, a North American 40 out of
    the Bayview Yacht Club, and his crew have seen the other side. In fact,
    their descriptions of the 'strobing' lightning and 'white water everywhere'
    are on an entirely different level than anything that racing sailors in
    North America have seen in many, many decades.

    But then again, how often have North American Corinthian sailors seen
    sustained winds of 100 knots? Answer: never.

    Tragically, WingNuts, a Kiwi 35, capsized during this meteorological melee
    and two sailors, Mark Morley and Suzanne Bickel, from Saginaw, MI were

    Some back story: For the 361 raceboats entered in the Chicago Yacht Club's
    (CYC) 103rd Race to Mackinac, the first 30 hours (tack on 24 hours for the
    cruising boats) were brochure-quality sailing. No bugs, plenty of breeze
    from the right angle, a kindly sea-state, warm air and spinnakers
    punctuating the horizon as far as the eye could see. Nothing broken about
    this picture at all.yet.

    The dogs came howling off their chains on Sunday night (July 17), sometime
    around 2300 hours, EST. According to several different sources (all racing
    sailors), the breeze (18 knots) was coming from the south before the
    maelstrom struck. Sheet lighting started illuminating the sky, and the
    scramble became one of getting the kites down and hoisting heavy-air sails.

    For Prophit and his Fast Tango crew, the feeling was that this storm would
    produce intense, short-lived winds of the one-or-two minute variety - the
    sort of squall that simply requires running off and letting the action pass
    before resuming the race. According to Peter Wenzler, Prophit's co-skipper
    aboard Fast Tango, this was a very, very different situation. -- David
    Schmidt, Chicago-Mackinac Race, read on:


    DETAILS: A report in the Detroit News provides further information
    regarding the tragic events that led to the deaths of skipper Mark Morley,
    51, and his girlfriend Suzanne Bickel, 41, after the Kiwi 35 WingNuts
    capsized between Beaver Island and South Fox Island, about 13 nautical
    miles off the coast of Charlevoix.

    "They saw on the radar the storm was coming," Linda Morley said, recounting
    the event along with Mark's brother, Peter, who also was on board. "They
    dropped sail...All had life jackets on, all were tethered. 'Clear the deck'
    was yelled, and everybody jumped," she said, describing the moments as the
    boat was capsizing. Some of the boaters managed to free their tethers, but
    none saw Mark or Bickel, she continued
    . -- Full report:

    Race website:
  12. BATAAN
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Wow! Glad I wasn't there.
  13. Doug Lord
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

  14. MikeJohns
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    MikeJohns Senior Member

    Come-on! Would it really be possible to design a more un-seaworthy boat if you tried?

    Yes it's clearly the wrong boat for the course. The design would be best suited as a sheltered water round the buoys racer.

    Those wing decks sticking out make the vessel dangerous, they not only make it stable upside down but they provide a dangerous tripping mechanism when beam on to waves.

    Then the same waves are not even large enough to re-right the vessel.

    Poor family, but with hindsight anybody should be aware that the boat was quite unsuitable for the conditions it encountered.

    Boats that invert and remain inverted for more than 3 minutes have often killed people aboard, it's common Unfortunately. And it's just as often young fit men as older people.

    If you don't want to operate a seaworthy boat then a really good feature would be a harness clip you could undo under tension. Forget trying to find the knife. Then make people practice it underwater in the dark so as to learn not to panic.

  15. CutOnce

    CutOnce Previous Member

    Yes. Some of the edgy designs discussed here appear to qualify. The unspoken reality here is that chasing the highest performance levels comes at the reduction of safety margins, the requirement of perfectly functioning technology and many more variables that can go wrong.

    As you've said, these edgy designs are acceptable in the right venues, acknowledging that externally-provided safety margins (safety boats, inshore venues, controlled conditions) are allowing these boats to compete safely.

    It is impossible to fault the seamanship and handling of this situation after reading the accounts in terms of crew preparations and actions. The fact remains that of 361 boats entered, many encountered the same situation - and although others sustained damage, no other boat lost crew. Yes, the situation was unique, sustained, outside expectations and prediction. Seeing pictures of the boat in calm water afterward floating stable in the inverted position with the fully intact keel bulb exposed was why I asked the original question.

    My heart goes out the crew and all that participated in the rescue. That picture of the stable inverted hull holding the keel bulb skyward is what members of this forum might want to consider.


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