Where does the responsibility lies

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by joz, Jan 14, 2005.

  1. joz
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    joz Senior Member

    Latest News from Scuttlebutt Europe 13 JAN 04 about what can happen in ocean racing or racing/cruising in general.

    Grant Wharington, owner and skipper of the maxi monohull "Skandia" which
    capsized after losing its canting keel during the Rolex Sydney Hobart
    race, released the following notice today concerning a lawsuit filed
    against the designer of his boat's canting keel hydraulic system:

    "The super-maxi yacht Skandia, previous line honours winner of the 2003
    Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, was forced to abandon the 2004 Rolex
    Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race when the hydraulic system designed to control
    its canting keel failed.

    "Extensive damage was caused to the yacht as a direct result of the
    failure. The keel subsequently detached from the yacht completely, and the
    yacht was towed to safe harbour.

    "Today, proceedings were issued out of the Supreme Court of Victoria
    against the designer and manufacturer of the hydraulic system, seeking
    unspecified damages arising out of the failure. It is the intention of the
    plaintiff to seek a speedy resolution to this litigation.

    "We would like to take this opportunity to stress that we have 110%
    confidence in our Chief Designer, Don Jones - in what he has done with
    Skandia and what he continues to do with our latest VO 70 project. This
    action should send a strong message to all that Don is in no way
    implicated in any of this, and he should continue to enjoy his well earned
    reputation as one of the most innovative and safest yacht designers of our

    My Question is:Where does the responsibility lies with the designer(s), boatbuilder(s) or the sailor when the vessel is sailed out at sea in various weather/sea conditions

    And is modern technology better than proven old technology i.e. fixed keel as opposed to a decanting keel?
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    D'ARTOIS Senior Member

    Fodder for Lawyers and Tabloids

    In this particular case of Skandia, the damage is limited to a racing yacht that had to leave the race because of predictable damage. The case itself should be not so complicated when a few issues can be determined.
    The first one is who is the mandatory; The 2nd is how good are the exclusions of responsibility in the contracts between the participants - the designer, the manufacturer of the hydraulic system and the shipyard that carried out the works.
    Will the court accept that this is an experimental design, working under the most undesirable circumstances.
    Will the court accept the position of the shipyard and designer that the mandatory is or was fully aware of the experimental issue in the design.
    In my opinion, the owner of Skandia is in the lower position. He is the mandatory and should know or have known the full implication of such a design c.q. design-change.
    That he is looking for financial recompensation is locked in a few facts: no 1 - his insurance will definately exclude the addition of any high-risk factor applications as that specific keel design might look at first sight.
    The ball will go round the circle from designer to manufacturer to yard to boatcrew. Then back to the mandatory who is the instignator of the particular application.
    If you go really deep into this problem, you will land in the everglades of juridical abacadabra.
    Who is in the first place responsible for ship and crew, or to be held responsible? Yes, the captain of the boat. Not the owner, unless the owner captained the boat himself, which they mostly do not.
    The 3rd factor in this little drama is the fact that the owner of Skandia lost his face publicly, or, apparently felt so. Seeing his exaggerated reaction.
    Ipso facto such racing machines might be excluded from any kind of insurance, so this might be a good reason for the court to dismiss the case. Because nobody is able to predict - other than that of increased chance of failure - by changing an existing design to another one. As I understood, but
    I might be wrong, the Skandia received the canting keel as an addition.

    This case will be blow a little dust, but in a few weeks time everything will be forgotten. Designers and yards will adapt their contracts with future owners in such a way that they cannot held responsible for failure or damage caused by the application of canting keels.
    Anybody proceeding, will do so on own risk, if that hadn't already been the case.
  3. SeaDrive
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    SeaDrive Senior Member

    From what I read, the boat was uninsured.
  4. Doug Lord

    Doug Lord Guest

    Canting Keel Technology

    To answer the last part of your question: no, this problem with Skandia has no implications for canting keel technology as a whole except if the failure analysis is made public and that could serve to improve the technology.
    See the Sydney Hobart thread under Sailboats..
    Canting keels are reliable, safe and very fast as shown by the recent victory by Nicorette in the same race Skandia had trouble and the victory by Wild Oats in the Pittwater Coffs race just after the SH.
    Keep in mind that dozens and dozens of fixed keel boats had to retire for various reasons including the maxi Konica Minolta due to problems with their fixed keel in the SH.
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    D'ARTOIS Senior Member


    As I am sure and of course I have to agree with you and stated that also in the other post, problems of this kind will be only temporarily, because it is basically only a problem of finding the right metals to withstand those high forces and hydraulic systems to cope with.

    I would not give the impression of being against the idea of the canting keel, why should I? I am from the same breed as you; the only thing is that if you alter something then do it in a way that these sort of "beginners-problems" or
    monday-illnesses are avoided.

    Your particular design in that respect makes a canting keel believable and understandable. If you make the engineering right, nothing is wrong about it.
    Only you must make sure that those inflicted forces are not concentrated in a small panel but dispersed over the surface of the underwatership of the hull. You have to "hang" it in a subframe like an engine in a car and having a push/pull system with a back-up to move the keel in its arc from one side to the other side and a central lock at mid-station. Being underthe waterline, the extra weight doesn't count that much.

    By the way, are you familiar with the "Jongert" keel?
  6. The boat did operate sucessfully. Experimental seatrials were fully accepted as O K by all parties. After that, it is a joke to even suggest there is any time period for the boat to survive in it's intended use. Which is a life of try to break it in competition. Some body does not have enough money to play in that league any more. He should remove himself as a man , not a spoiled child whose toy has broken. Let the races continue as if he was never a part of them. Richard Petersen
  7. ChrisF
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    ChrisF Junior Member

    As a working designer, this p's me off bigtime. I try very hard to do a careful, conscientious job, but I have never designed anything that some idiot couldn't break if he tried hard enough. That same idiot can turn around and sue me, and just the cost of defending against an unsuccessful suit will put me right out of business and send me down to the supermarket begging for a job bagging groceries. If you're a boat designer, you have a great big target on your back, and don't kid yourselves otherwise!

    According to the article in Yachting World:

    The boat was uninsured. So having made the decision to save a few euros there, Wharington is now trying to make somebody else share the risk he took. Bet the designers didn't get a share of the insurance premiums he saved!

    A few hours before the hydraulic keel rams failed, the boat struck what Wharington described as a four-tonne sunfish, leaving the steering "a bit wobbly." Thereafter, the boat was crashing down off wave after wave. The rams actually failed when the boat "landed on a rogue wave."

    Admittedly, I don't have all the facts in this case, so I will withhold the impression I get as to the integrity, intelligence, honesty, forebears and descendants of one Grant Wharington. Maybe he'll come to his senses and accept his loss. Maybe the engineers really were at fault, and the keel should have survived racing through rogue waves and collisions. What I do know is that you will not catch me designing any canting keels, or anything else the least bit outre, now or in the foreseeable future. You guys who think designing cutting-edge stuff is fun can have it, and good luck to you. Just watch yer backs, okay?

    Sorry, I'm a little upset today.
  8. Tad
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    Tad Boat Designer

    Nice one Chris ;)

    Absolutely true as well. I gather that, in the US at least, any decent lawyer can get around a release form?

    What about the "owner shall hold the designer harmless from all claims....that do not arise solely as a result of designer's negligence." clause? Is this any good at all? I seem to be telling quite a few people these days that, "the contract is only as good as the people who sign it".

    On Friday afternoon I warned a client that if he wanted to switch from an outdrive to a surface drive it would be at his own risk as far as control & maneuverability differences in the boat. We'll have to get that in writing before cutting metal

    All the best, Tad
  9. tspeer
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    tspeer Senior Member

    One question to ask is, "Did the hydraulic system fail to perform to its specifications, or were extreme loads experienced in that were not anticipated by the chief designer in drawing up the hydraulic subsystem specifications?" I suspect the latter, as predicing such dynamic loads would be at the cutting edge of the state of the art and would require a CFD and simulation effort more along the lines of what you'd see in an America's Cup campaign. I'm amazed at the statement of confidence in the chief designer, given the circumstances of the failure.
  10. cyclops
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    cyclops Senior Member

    If you want the big boys money to design and build their toys, you have to expect some of them to be spoiled brats. The owner decides how brutally his boat is raced. How can you get a nut to honor anything. All he cares about is winning at everyones else's expense. They used to put "no goods" on a Black List, and they where shunned by all.
  11. cyclops
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    cyclops Senior Member

    I am assuming Wharington told the designers to have the boat be built strong enough to survive striking a submarine and not lose any speed or sustain any damage. Bad and good luck are very real parts of high and low stakes racing.
  12. ChrisF
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    ChrisF Junior Member

    Hey, Tad! Va bien?

    I think all the disclaimers you can put in the contract are to the good, and the price is right. So is setting up the right kind of business entity to be. Hopefully if you're not negligent the illegitimati won't be able to win a suit.

    Unfortunately, the idiot wouldn't have to sue me successfully, he'd just have to sue me, and the court costs would sink me whether he won a nickel or not. Personally, I think the best defense, besides doing your best work always (and yes, avoiding the bleeding edge), is to not be worth suing. So far this brilliant plan is working incredibly well for me. ;o)
  13. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Clearly, recovering costs from a damaged, uninsured craft requires a suit. These types of suits are rarely successful unless a reasonable argument can be made against a manufacture, designer or installer, which seems rather unlikely, if found driving hard with a slightly broken boat in survival conditions. No judge in the world will rule against mother nature in light of the very plausible counters that can be expected.
  14. ChrisF
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    ChrisF Junior Member

    PAR, yes, of course, but so what? If I get seriously sued, it's irrelevant how the judge rules. If he rules for me, the lawyers get my little all, the plaintiff gets nothing, and I'm wiped out. If he rules against me, the lawyers get my little all, the plaintiff gets nothing, and I'm wiped out.

    Maybe the guy's lawyers will advise him not to pursue a suit he's not likely to benefit from. Maybe he'll listen. (What upsets me about the Skandia case is that these particular walls seem to have been breached.) Maybe I can countersue for legal fees. If the suit is particularly frivolous, maybe the judge will award them to me. Lots of maybes.

    My point is, if you're designing boats these days, you should be very careful what you agree to do, how you do it, and that you have it carefully described in legal documents. And a low profile and shallow pockets is a better defense than being right, IMHO.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2005

  15. cyclops
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    cyclops Senior Member

    I think all, Professionals need to become a non- profit corporation. I am deadly serious. That way in the USA they can only sue the corp. IF it is set up as a legal non-sueable business. You are legaly listed as a simple employee and cannot be sued and held liable. This should protect your personal assets. If you play with SHARKS, act like them. Get a GOOD lawsuit DODGING lawyer to draw up the corporate papers. Some of you need this protection to return to enjoying your lives again. Constant fear can destroy what was a wonderful and respected vocation. Approach your company to see if they would hire you as a "corporate consultant" or the legal equivalent. Your GOOD lawyer should tell you how to do this correctly. You need to have a closeure on this problem. One of you out there may know of just this type of lawyer. Post his name and approach him as a group client.ALL of you would need to check out his court, win lose, record before signing on.
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