Pratical Boat Owner: The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report into the loss of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki and its four crew in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 720 miles east–south-east of Nova Scotia, Canada on 16 May 2014.
Almost a year after the sailing community was shocked by the sudden and tragic loss of the British sailing yacht Cheeki Rafiki and its four-man crew, the findings of an official investigation have been published.
At about 0400 on 16 May 2014 the UK registered yacht Cheeki Rafiki capsized approximately 720 miles east-south-east of Nova Scotia, Canada while on passage from Antigua to Southampton.
Despite an extensive search that found the upturned hull of the yacht, the four crew remain missing: Skipper Andrew Bridge, aged 21, from Farnham, Surrey and crew Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset and 22-year-old James Male from Romsey, Hampshire.
At approximately 0405 on 16 May an alert transmitted by the personal locator beacon of Cheeki Rafiki’s skipper triggered a major search for the yacht involving United States Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft and surface vessels.
At 1400 on 17 May, the upturned hull of a small boat was located; however, adverse weather conditions prevented a closer inspection and the search was terminated at 0940 on 18 May.
At 1135 on 20 May, following a formal request from the UK government, a second search was started. At 1535 on 23 May, the upturned hull of a yacht was located and identified as being that of Cheeki Rafiki.
On investigation, it was confirmed that the vessel’s liferaft was still on board in its usual stowage position. With no persons having been found, the second search was terminated at 0200 on 24 May. Cheeki Rafiki’s hull was not recovered and is assumed to have sunk.
In the absence of survivors and material evidence, the causes of the accident remain a matter of some speculation. However, it is concluded that Cheeki Rafiki capsized and inverted following a detachment of its keel.
In the absence of any apparent damage to the hull or rudder other than that directly associated with keel detachment, it is unlikely that the vessel had struck a submerged object. Instead, a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs to its keel and matrix had possibly weakened the vessel’s structure where the keel was attached to the hull.
It is also possible that one or more keel bolts had deteriorated. A consequential loss of strength may have allowed movement of the keel, which would have been exacerbated by increased transverse loading through sailing in worsening sea conditions.
The yacht’s operator, Stormforce Coaching Ltd, has made changes to its internal policies and has taken a number of actions aimed at preventing a recurrence. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has undertaken to work with the Royal Yachting Association to clarify the requirements for the stowage of inflatable liferafts on coded vessels, and the Royal Yachting Association has drafted enhancements to its Sea Survival Handbook relating to the possibility of a keel failure.
A recommendation has been made to the British Marine Federation to co-operate with certifying authorities, manufacturers and repairers with the aim of developing best practice industry-wide guidance on the inspection and repair of yachts where a glass reinforced plastic matrix and hull have been bonded together.
A recommendation has also been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to provide more explicit guidance about circumstances under which commercial certification for small vessels is required, and when it is not.
Further recommendations have been made to sport governing bodies with regard to issuing operational guidance to both the commercial and pleasure sectors of the yachting community aimed at raising awareness of the potential damage caused by any grounding, and the factors to be taken into consideration when planning ocean passages.
Moving tribute from families of the lost sailors aboard the foundered yacht Cheeki Rafiki have issued a statement thanking all those who signed a petition to get the US Coastguard to re-start the search.
“We would like to say how indebted we are to the public for its overwhelming and unprecedented support. In the end this petition gained 240,000 signatures. That is equivalent to the population of a city the size of Southampton.
This has helped quell our distress somewhat, but in particular Paul, Steve, James and Andrew would have been enormously touched to have known that they were in the minds of so many people. It would have brought them great comfort in their moment of need and could, just could, have made a vital difference in saving their lives had the circumstances only been different.”
The yacht a Beneteau First 40.7 was lost in the North Atlantic while the crew were on their way home form Antigua Sailing Week.
A statement from the petition organiser, Nicola Evans, read: ‘On behalf of the friends of the Cheeki Rafiki crew, thank you so much for signing this petition and for all the support you have shown. Sadly, the outcome wasn’t a happy one, but your support has meant a great deal to us, and having started this petition for friends, we are so grateful.
‘Our thoughts are of course with all of the crew, their friends and families. In particular, members of last year’s Cheeki Rafiki Fastnet crew, including myself, who were due to take part in this year’s Round Britain and Ireland race with Andy. We were looking forward to sailing with him again.
‘In tribute to Andy, we will now be racing to raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The RNLI are an amazing UK based charity who save hundreds of lives at sea every year, and are dependent on donations from people like you. If everyone who signed this petition gave us a pound we could fund a new life boat! Anything you can give would help show your respects.’
For the full story on the tragedy see Yachting Monthly Summer issue.