Helo hoist

“I can say for certain that was the best helicopter ride of my life. It was also the best shower.” –statement by Gunther Rodatz to U.S. Coast Guard airbase personnel; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Jan. 14, 2014

THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN a lot of buzz about what happened Tuesday morning approximately 300 miles off the Virginia coast, when owners Gunther and Doris Rodatz, together with delivery skipper Hank Schmitt and myself, abandoned the 42-foot catamaran Be Good Too courtesy of a U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew. As is usually the case, much of it has been speculative, and some people have complained that we need not have left the boat. True facts have been a little hard to come by. Here on my own blog, at least, I can do what I can to correct that.

We departed Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, bound for St. John, USVI, at about 1430 hrs on Wednesday, January 8. It was bone cold outside, and the boat had been frozen into her berth by thin ice. The marina’s pump-out boat came around to act as an ice-breaker and helped bust us loose, and after a brief stop at the marina’s fuel dock, we headed down New York Harbor under power. We unrolled the solent jib after passing through the Verrazano Narrows, but Hank didn’t want anyone on deck handling the mainsail in the bitter cold. We motorsailed south all through the first night under the jib alone, staying inside the heated interior as much as possible, as the decks outside were soon coated in a skin of ice from the light freezing spray.

Liberty Landing ice

Frozen in Jersey City

By the following morning after breakfast it was warm enough that the deck was clear of ice and Gunther and I raised the mainsail, taking care to stay clear of the big chunks of ice that came toppling out of the sail as it was hoisted. We shut down the engines briefly and tried proceeding under sail alone, but the wind was getting weaker and soon we started up one engine and started motorsailing again so as to keep our speed up.

We motorsailed all through the rest of Thursday, until very early Friday morning, when the wind increased enough to shut down the engine. By sunrise we were close-reaching at 6-plus knots in 17-20 knots of southeast breeze. Not long afterward, however, the wind decreased and shifted to due south, and we spent much of the day motorsailing again, tacking back and forth, to make progress southward. After sunset the wind started building and we were able to proceed to the southeast under sail alone.

This was our best sailing during the entire trip. During my evening watch I had the boat running at 8-9 knots with spikes over 10 in 22-26 knots of apparent wind. Shortly before handing over to Gunther at 2130 hrs I took one reef in the main. It was also clear we had entered the Gulf Stream, as the water temperature had risen dramatically.

After midnight on Saturday, January 11, I noted from my berth that the boat’s motion had increased quite a bit. Coming on deck at 0400 hrs to relieve Hank I found the wind was blowing over 30 knots. There were two reefs in the main, and the jib had been roller-reefed to about half size. Waves were now occasionally falling on the center and starboard-side forward windows and some minor leaks had appeared around the edges of the window frames.

Heavy weather

Heavy weather, as viewed from inside

Very shortly after Gunther came up to relieve me at 0700 hrs an autopilot alarm sounded indicating power was low. Gunther started up the generator, but found it was not charging the batteries. We started up the starboard-side engine, but it also was not charging the batteries. In the middle of all this, the single-line sheet to the self-tacking jib suddenly parted. We knew the sheet lead for this sail was not ideal and probably should have already rolled it up by now, given the conditions. I now immediately furled the sail, while Gunther did something, I’m not sure what, that got the batteries receiving a charge from the engine. I woke up Hank at this point and informed him we were starting to have “adventures.”

We now set up the boat to motorsail itself in a fore-reaching configuration under just the double-reefed main (there was no third reef). We locked the helm off hard to port to keep her from rounding up and were making progress eastwards at 4-5 knots. This seemed stable, though we were still getting whacked occasionally by waves on the starboard bow.

At about 1130 hrs we took a huge direct hit all across our front windows. The wave that hit us seemed much larger than the rest and was running at a different angle, such that it hit us from directly ahead instead of on the starboard quarter. Hank and I were in the saloon right behind the windows at the time. A fair amount of water squirted in all around the edges of the window panes and one large piece of trim was blown right off one vertical frame. The windows themselves, thankfully, held up fine. The wave stopped us dead in our tracks and even seemed to back us up a bit. A large amount of water surged up our stern and blew a large teak step right off its mounts.

Missing step

The missing teak step

Immediately after the hit we found we had trouble controlling the boat. It seemed at the time that our loss of forward momentum had made it hard to steer, and the boat started spinning in circles, tacking and then jibing. We started up the other engine, and even with both engines running hard we could not regain control. After our second uncontrolled jibe, Hank ordered that we should drop the mainsail and lie ahull to the waves. The wind by now was blowing over 40 knots from the south and seas were running about 18-20 feet.

Frankly, this was the one point in our whole adventure where I was most nervous. I have sailed in 40 knots or more several times, but I had never before just laid to the wind and let a boat drift broadside to waves in conditions like this. I had always believed this was a bad idea and that it is best to adopt more active tactics. But the boat was very happy. The beam of the Alpha 42 (we were aboard hull no. 1, which had just been delivered to Gunther and Doris) is very wide for a cruising cat of this size, with an unusually high bridgedeck, and we had remarked earlier that the hull was very stiff and its motion was remarkably comfortable. We now were amazed at how stable it seemed lying to these large seas. The rolling was not very pronounced and only rarely did waves slap the boat or land on deck.

That afternoon we contacted our weather-router, Ken McKinley, by sat-phone and he advised that we were now south of the Gulf Stream and that we could expect the wind to increase to 45 knots before switching to the west. We continued lying to the waves through the rest of the afternoon and all of the night, during which the wind did indeed increase into the mid-40s, with gusts to over 50. Gunther later insisted he saw one hit 60.The boat, however, was still quite comfortable, and we bided our time standing watches, reading, and sleeping.

Gale riders

Chilling during the gale. Yes, we were very comfortable!

On relieving Hank at 0430 hrs early Sunday morning, he informed me we now had no electrical power. He had started the port-side engine shortly after midnight and found it was not charging the batteries. Meanwhile, the wind had also shifted west and was beginning to subside.

After sunrise we took stock of our situation. We first tried our engines: the port-side engine now would not start; the starboard engine would start, but wasn’t charging the batteries; the generator would not start. So we tried sailing, as the wind was now only blowing about 25 knots and seemed much more manageable. We rigged a new sheeting system for the jib, with one centerline sheet and barber-haulers on either side, and tried but failed to get the boat sailing off the wind to the southeast toward Bermuda, which now seemed like our best destination. The best we could do was effectively heave to, with the bow cocked toward the southwest as the boat drifted slowly southeast.

Jib sheets

Our jury-rigged sheeting system. It worked very well

We did discuss raising the mainsail, but decided against it, as we had discovered that the top two full battens had become detached from their batt-cars when we dropped the sail earlier. There seemed to be no easy way to repair them, so we decided to wait for less wind before raising the sail again.

By 1100 hrs the wind, however, was increasing again, blowing over 30 knots I estimated, and curiously as it increased we found we had a little more luck getting the boat to sail. We first found we could sail on a close reach to the south-southwest at 4-5 knots. Later we managed to run off for a while on a broad reach to the southeast at higher speeds. Still, the boat was hard to control. It would periodically bear off or round up uncontrollably, do a spin, settle into a straight-line course for a while, do a spin, etc.

Through the afternoon the wind started diminishing again, and as it did the boat started spinning more and more. By early Monday morning, before daybreak, it was doing nothing but spinning in circles, so we rolled up the jib and decided to wait for daylight to see if we could figure out exactly what was wrong with the steering system.

Through all of this, too, we were now having to pump out the moist sections of the boat by hand. Water had been coming aboard continually in certain compartments for some time and now with no electric bilge pumps we had to attend to the chore ourselves. We weren’t sure where the water was coming from, and though the rate of ingress wasn’t at all alarming, it was annoying, as we had to pump for several minutes every one-and-a-half hours or so.

Come 0700 hrs conditions had become quite calm, with the wind from the south now at less than 10 knots, and at last we were able to embark on a deliberate examination of our problem. Inspecting all the steering gear, we found the port-side rudder stock was no longer connected to its tiller arm. Instead of being secured with a pin all the way through the stock, there was only one small set screw, the tip of which had broken off. There was, however, a hole through the stock for a proper pin, and after a long bit of head scratching, jury-rigging, and tiller-arm wrestling, we finally managed to pull the tiller arm up off the retaining ring on to which it had collapsed, line up the tiller’s hole with the rudder stock’s hole, and drive in an Allen wrench with a hammer.

Starboard stock

The starboard side rudder stock and tiller arm, with intact connection between the two

Port stock broken

Port-side rudder stock and tiller arm, before repairs

Port stock repaired

And after repairs. We had to remove the angle sensor and the connecting rod between the two tillers to do our thing. Afterwards, of course, we reinstalled the rod. With the tiller arm swinging back and forth in the swell with some force, this all took some care and patience

As you can imagine, we felt pretty proud of ourselves at this point and were confident we had solved our most important problem. Unfortunately, after we started up our one engine to see if we could steer, the boat still would only drive in circles, to port, no matter what we did with the wheel.

So now it was time to visually inspect the rudders to see what the hell was really going on down there. Gunther insisted he should be the one to go into the water to do this and soon reported that the starboard rudder blade was just spinning in place around its stock and that the port rudder blade was bent inward toward the boat’s centerline at a very large angle.

Getting wet

Gunther goes for a swim

In retrospect, it is hard to imagine how all this might have happened. I think it is likely that most cats would have suffered some sort of steering or rudder damage from the hit we took, but our damage seemed bizarre. Securing the tiller arms to the rudder stocks with small set screws may not be a good practice, but in this case those screws should have acted as sacrificial fuses. Confronted with the huge force of the wave stopping the boat and thrusting it backwards, you’d think the screws would break off, leaving the stocks to rotate freely so the rudder blades would be saved. Instead the starboard set screw held and the welds securing the frame armature inside the rudder to the stock had apparently failed. Meanwhile, the port set screw had failed, yet the frame somehow bent anyway.

Thinking we might still be able to steer the boat with its engines if we had both of them running, we next spent some time examining the port engine to see if we could get it started. This emitted a burning odor whenever we lit up the ignition, and we soon figured out that the starter had shorted out.

Unwilling to admit defeat, we thought we might have better luck sailing the boat now that we understood exactly what was wrong with the rudders. We were also now willing to raise the mainsail again in the much calmer conditions. So up went the main, and we tried every possible combination we could think of, playing the sails against each other and the bent rudder, playing the engine against the rudder in both forward and reverse, but no matter what we tried the essential dynamic remained the same: with no sails up the starboard engine ruled, and the boat just turned to port; with sails up and drawing, in whatever configuration, the bent rudder ruled and the boat would only turn to starboard.

We were now about 300 miles from anywhere, equidistant from Bermuda, the Chesapeake, and New York, and reluctantly concluded that we weren’t going to be able to get the boat to shore without outside assistance. We discussed the prospect of organizing a tow at some length and called Alpha Yachts by sat-phone to see if they could arrange something. Hank, an eternal optimist, thought this was a real possibility, but I was more skeptical. Thinking out how it might proceed, we realized that, even if we could get an appropriate vessel to come to us, it would take days before we could rendezvous. The tow would then have to proceed quite slowly, at say 3 knots at most, due to the bent rudder. Meanwhile, there would be a continuing barrage of routine winter gales, and during each of these–we figured one or two at least–the tow would have to be dropped and the boats would have to lie ahull separately, waiting for the wind and seas to subside again before proceeding onward.

Finally, after listening to us bat this around for a while, Gunther reluctantly decided the only really viable option was to abandon the boat. He placed a sat-phone call to the Coast Guard in the late afternoon, and the evacuation wheels started grinding.

We assumed, of course, that we would be taken off by an AMVER vessel, as normally happens during evacuations far from shore. Hank had the audacity to suggest that we request a westbound vessel, so that we would arrive somewhere in the U.S. rather than in Europe, and the Coast Guard, to my surprise, readily assented to this, telling us that we could have a westbound ship pick us up at 0800 hrs the following morning. They also gave us a weather forecast: the wind that night would increase to 25 knots, hold at that strength through daylight hours on Tuesday, then increase to 35 knots with gusts to over 40 during Tuesday night.

Having made our arrangements, we treated ourselves to a little pre-abandonment party shortly after sunset, broke our dry-ship rule, and opened up some fine red wine. The mood was subdued, but upbeat. Gunther and Doris, in spite of the bitter disappointment of having to give up this boat they’d been looking forward to taking possession of for two years, were very philosophical about their situation, were very grateful no lives were at stake, and together we all laughed about the problems we’d confronted during our passage.

Also, at one point in the evening, a ship came to us from the west and announced via VHF radio that they were ready to bring us aboard and take us to Israel. We politely declined, insisting we had a ride west in the morning, and they went on their way. Later it occurred to us that the Coast Guard, who had seemed more worried about Tuesday’s weather than we were, had sent this ship to us hoping to get us out of there sooner rather than later. We had arranged to maintain a sat-phone call schedule with them, but initially asked for a longer interval than they wanted–eight hours instead of four–to save our phone’s battery. It may be that if we had been in contact more regularly they might have insisted, or have strongly urged, that we join the ship bound for Israel.

In any event, during our scheduled call at 0200 hrs they informed us they would be taking us off by helicopter at 0900 hrs. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from North Carolina would rendezvous with a U.S. Navy warship en route to us to refuel, and then again on the way back. We would be allowed to bring with us one small bag each.

Promptly at 0900 hrs the next morning we spotted a USCG C-130 search plane heading straight toward us at low altitude, followed five minutes later by the helicopter. I can’t speak to how Gunther and Doris were feeling at this point, but Hank and I were both looking forward to finding out how this would go. Hank has thrashed his way through an awful lot of trouble on the water–two dismastings and five different loss-of-steering incidents–but had always managed to get his boats home and had never before abandoned one. As for me, I had once before abandoned a boat, but in much more sanguine circumstances, in a river in Spain to a nearby dock.

You’ll have seen the video the Coasties have posted. If not, you can watch right here:

Hank asked me to be the guinea pig and go first, so Gunther and Doris could see what would be happening to them. This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I got to go up in the basket, all dignified and comfortable. After that first hoist, the helo crew decided to speed things up by bringing the others up in a sling, which to me looked decidedly inferior. Hank, as skipper, originally planned to go up last, but Gunther in the end insisted that he should go last instead. That cooler you see him carrying up in the video is not filled with beer, as some have suggested, but with personal possessions. I was very surprised the Coasties let him bring it along.

Doris aboard

Doris comes aboard

Be Good aerial

Be Good Too as viewed from the chopper


Gunther on left. Rescue swimmer John Knight on right

Really the worst part of the experience was having to sit through the three-hour long helo ride to shore in soaking wet clothes. This was broken by the fuel stop aboard the U.S. Navy missile destroyer Ross, during which someone threw a garbage bag full of beef-and-onion hoagies into the back of the chopper for us to eat. They looked disgusting, but in fact were very tasty.


Navy personnel look pretty in purple


Authentic Navy chow

On arrival at the airbase in Elizabeth City we were greeted by a swarm of people, including two Red Cross workers, who were eager to take care of us. From their perspective we must have seemed like disappointing survivors, as we were perfectly healthy, entirely untraumatized, and in generally good spirits. All we really wanted was a hot shower and some dry clothes.


Disembarking in Elizabeth City. Rescue swimmer John Knight on left, hoist operator Brian Light in the center, Gunther’s back on the right

Gunther dry

Gunther after his shower

Like Gunther, I can honestly say it was the best shower of my life. He really is an amazing guy. Shortly after he finished his shower he got a call from someone at home in Bloomington, Indiana, telling him the water pipes in his house had frozen and burst. And both he and Doris were just as chilled out about that as they were about losing the boat.

SPECIAL THANKS: Words cannot express how grateful we are to our helicopter flight crew. At a minimum, we can recognize them individually:

Lt. David Birky–pilot

Lt. John Poley–pilot

AST2 John Knight–aviation survival technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer

AMT2 Brian Light–aviation maintenance technician, 2nd class; hoist operator

Thanks, guys! You were great!

UPDATE: Since this was first published the controversy over the fate of Be Good Too has continued and can be followed in these subsequent WaveTrain posts:

Answering Critics

The Builder Responds

The Skipper Responds to the Builder’s Response

Related Posts

59 Responses
  1. Charlie

    Thanks, Wally. ATTENTION ANYONE READING THIS: I can’t run around all over the Internet responding to comments and questions. I’ll only be responding to comments here on WaveTrain. Thanks! charlie

  2. Thanks for a good description of the situation. I fully understand why you will not reply to my email of this morning.
    Seems to me that being hull #1, with little running time since the launch, exacerbated the steering problem.
    It is easy for people to say that the engine and generator failures should not have happened, but I know all too well from my own past errors that new installations can never be perfect, particularly on hull #1.
    You will have your share of Monday Moring quarterbacks, but I cannot see that anyone can say what you could have done better to get her to steer, given your efforts and experience.
    Glad you all made3 it home in one piece.

  3. Richard Elder

    Great news that you, Hank and the others are comfortably ashore. As with all situations that cascade into emergencies there are lessons to be learned, and I’m looking forward to your future posts about them.

  4. Eric Meury

    I have sailed on the NARC and a few years ago there was a loss of life, sadly, Do you feel that you did not have a good weather window. Would you have taken the boat out as the captain had Hank not been on the boat.

  5. Cotemar

    Thanks for sharing the details and facts and clearing up a lot of questions we all had.

    Your detail posted here will make a lot of future sailor safer and prepared for what they may face out on the open ocean.


  6. Rick

    Sir, The Coast Guard did an amazing job and I’m happy that all are safe! Thanks for the detailed facts! I’m curious, in a situation like this hull#1, will there be an attempt to track and salvage the yacht?

  7. DennyRay

    Had the rouge wave not tumbled the vessel back on its rudders the out come would of been different…….the crew did the right things, three cheers for the “COAST GUARD”
    Be well Charles

  8. Bill Gaughan

    Charlie, you haven’t done it all till you’ve done it all. Karen says you need to find a better way to relax! All things are good that end good. Bill Gaughan

  9. Charlie

    @Neil: Thanks for your e-mail, mate. The threaded rod is just the rudder-angle sensor.

    @Rick: The builder says they want to salvage the yacht. I personally don’t think that will happen. I expect the boat will sink eventually, as it was taking on water.

    @Eric: We actually had a great weather window, given the time of year. The real question, of course, is whether it was wise to try the passage in January. That was the owner’s decision. The boat was delivered very late, and he still wanted to get it to the Caribbean. He hired Hank, which was a smart move. From Hank’s perspective, if he’s going to make a living as a delivery skipper, he can’t turn down hard jobs like this. I’ve crewed a few winter deliveries like this; I’m not sure I’d want to skipper one.

  10. Ann Hoffner

    I have no quibbles with your actions on board, the Coast Guard was great, I just really question heading off on an untried vessel at that time of year on that trip! Hank’s agreeing to take the job was not a service to the owners.

  11. Charles, glad you and everyone is safe. Having gone through almost the same thing with our small Cat on the way to Japan, i feel for everyone. Our rescue was much nicer though spending three days on a oil tanker in the Captain’s quaters. We also did not have to jump in the water off the coast of Mexico. Still it was heartbreaking to lose our retirement home at sea. Many are quick to say what should have. Been done from the comfort of their computer. Better to lose a boat than a life. I was quite surprised to see you in this story. Not having seen you since sailing The Zen24 in Maryland. We are resetting life in Osaka, Japan. Fair winds.

  12. Don Warren

    I can’t fathom (no pun intended) abandoning a vessel such as this. I probably would have went down with the ship trying to repair the steering… Glad all are safe. Does insurance cover a loss such as this? It boggles my mind!

  13. Charlie

    @Don: That’s the spirit! Wish we’d had you onboard. I do think Gunther has insurance to cover this.

    @Zen: Thanks, mate! Good to hear from you.

    @Ann: You raise a good point. I discuss it in a new post I just put up. Pls. check it out.

    @Ben: I will be making a donation to the Coast Guard Foundation after our talk yesterday.

  14. I would be interested to hear from the builder whether they pursue the designer. None of that will happen until the carrier completes its process. Presumably the carrier has been asked to cover as a total loss so I wonder why they are not spearheading the recovery effort.

  15. I’m not second-guessing the actions – as I don’t have this level of experience, and I wasn’t there first-hand – so I’m just trying to learn and understand. t seemed like the decision was based on more of an assumption that a tow company wouldn’t be able to deal with this in an expeditious manner. With such a large stake here, wouldn’t it warrant their input? Hypothetically – they may have (coincidentally) had a vessel close-by already.

  16. Mike McFarlane

    Thanks for this first-person account. I’ve been following this story for the last couple of days and you filled in a lot of the missing details here. I’m just glad that everyone is safe!

  17. Matthew Guerreiro

    Thanks for this thoughtful, detailed account. Reports like this help the rest of us imagine all the things that can wrong and think through how we might respond if we found ourselves in a similar situation. Did the boat have SSB? If not, and you hadn’t had a working sat phone, your adventure would have been considerably more “ineresting.” I wonder if a sat phone isn’t rapidly becoming required equipment for venturing off shore.
    Finally, I’m very glad that everyone made it home safe and sound.

  18. jim bond

    Just curious, any word on the fate of the boat? Did the Coasties leave some kind of AIS beacon on the ship so she wouldn’t be a hazard to navigation and could be tracked?

  19. Jeff Braisted

    Ok so why did you not secure the rudders with rope into a fixed position? Latest issue of Cruising world has an article of sailing w/o a rudder using Danforth type anchor and even just buckets and cloth tied to a rope on the starboard side of the boat. The drag would keep the boat on even keel. Why the open ocean instead of the ICW which is what it was designed for?

  20. Will

    For all your experience you made some critical errors in planning and execution of this voyage- no sea trials, no back-up steering gear- leaving too late in the season-no matter what the pressures and you got lifted off a sound and floating hull. PATHETIC

  21. blah, blah, blah… PATHETIC

    WTF, Will? Who appointed you Lord High Judge of Seamanship? And did you somehow in your righteous fury miss that Charlie was just a crew member on this voyage? I think he only signed up a few weeks ago and had nothing to do with the planning (not that Hank or the owners made any wildly ‘pathetic’ decisions either, in my experienced view).

    The bigger point is that none of us except Charlie were actually there. But we are all here and hurling anonymous criticism while staying anonymous is truly and demonstrably pathetic.

    Charlie Doane is who he is. It’s easy to know what he looks like, where he lives, and what he thinks. Me too. Now how about you, “Will”? What’s your full name, where do you live, and please share some the vast experience that must be behind your strong judgement. If your own seamanship is so perfect, surely you don’t mind telling us who the hell you are.

  22. Thanks for the great reporting, Charlie. I just have a few questions.
    Was there a shake down cruise prior to departure? i assume not. shake down cruises always seem to be a good idea.
    What will happen to this cat? Were there lights placed on her so other boats and ships won’t hit her?

    And finally; this is why I am such a big fan of the ICW.. the ditch might be a bit boring and take more time but it is a mellow way to get south in the winter months

  23. @ Ben Ellison: well said!

    [quote name=”Will”]blah, blah, blah… PATHETIC

    WTF, Will? Who appointed you Lord High Judge of Seamanship? And did you somehow in your righteous fury miss that Charlie was just a crew member on this voyage? I think he only signed up a few weeks ago and had nothing to do with the planning (not that Hank or the owners made any wildly ‘pathetic’ decisions either, in my experienced view).

    The bigger point is that none of us except Charlie were actually there. But we are all here and hurling anonymous criticism while staying anonymous is truly and demonstrably pathetic.


  24. Val Doan

    Always sorry to hear a loss of a boat, and glad crew are safe. It brings to mind the story in 2011 when Hurricane Shaun popped up south of Bermuda and we listened to weather router Herb Hilgenberg. Herb clearly told the couple on the Island Packet-I believe- to turn west and tuck into the Chesapeake. The woman told Herb it is a strong little boat and they will be fine. She was washed overboard the next day. It was very sad, with a clear message that we are only as strong as our weakest link, which in her case might have been a fitting her harness was attached to? Herb clearly did everything to convince them to leave the area for calmer waters. They wouldn’t take his advice. I am writing this as a tribute to Herb for all his years of hard work and effort and care he took, did his best to convince us to stay safe, turn back, run for cover, don’t leave the dock, when the weather was nasty. I hope he is enjoying his retirement. I will miss his voice in the storm, giving great advice.

  25. Charlie

    @Tony: Yes, there was a short shakedown from Patchogue, Long Island, where the boat was built, around Montauk and along the North Shore into the city.

    @Jeff: We discussed trying to get lines on the rudders, but there was nothing to attach them to. We thought about drilling holes, but figured the lines would pull out pretty quickly. It’s not a bad idea to mold proper holes into rudders when building them for just this reason.

    @Cotemar: There are rudder stops that don’t appear in the pix.

    @Jim: There is no beacon or light on the boat. It seems to be standard procedure to leave them afloat. The CG never advised otherwise. I expect her to sink, as she was taking on water.

  26. Charlie

    @Matthew: We had no SSB, just two portable sat-phones. I’d recommend having a phone or an SSB radio; otherwise we’d have had to set off the EPRIB to get help. Do that and the authorities assumes you’re in immediate distress, which we were not.

    @Brad: There was no chance of a towing company having any assets any closer than 300 miles. There is no towing company that does ocean salvage of yachts routinely. We called Alpha Yachts with names of fishermen we thought might be willing to come to us, but this never came to anything. I have frankly never heard of a yacht in the North Atlantic being salvaged at this distance.

    @Jim: No word yet on the fate of the boat. Again, there is no beacon or light aboard.

  27. Thanks for the great article. I hope it helps someone else in trouble to do the smart things you did. If ever you need help on a delivery I would be happy to sail with you.
    All the best.

  28. Heather Davies

    I am curious as to what happened to the starter motor. Brand new engines rarely have such troubles. I am also curious as to why the batteries were not charging, apparently on both the engines an the generator.

    Since the boat presumably had two identical engines, including starters and alternators, why not use one as a spare donor for the other? Take the alternator to the engine with the good starter, or else the good starter to the engine with the working alternator.

    That would have restored electrical power to the pumps, bought time and decreased the stress level.

    That done, why not take the Allen wrench out of the port rudder stock, leaving both rudders ineffective, and then steer the boat with warps?

  29. George Day


    Glad you made it home safe and sound. The report is very interesting and I understand how frustrating it must have been to have to give up after all that effort. I certainly hope the boat can be salvaged. It looks beautiful and I am sure it sails like a witch.


  30. Paul

    Thank you for this level-headed account of what transpired leading to the loss of Be Good Too. If anyone takes this as an opportunity to criticize, rather than learn, more fool them.

  31. Patrick Childress

    Hi Charlie,
    Nice job and good call for you and Hank Schmitt getting everyone to safety from a derelict boat which had no usable future without a tow shoreward. If someone criticizes abandoning the catamaran, they can go sit on that boat for the next 9 months and see where the Gulf Stream takes them.

    Any sailor who has done enough deliveries between New England and the Caribbean knows that the weather you ran into in January also happens from late October on.
    Patrick Childress

  32. jean michel

    YESS? DROPPING AT LEAST THE BENT RUDDER is exacly my first reaction whhe I read youre story, specially looking at the pictures now, : It’s all new, non corroded! But for finding myself in such a bad situation, I know for shure that you can easily miss THE solution . For the rest : water leaks or.. batteries connexions?

  33. Phil McLean

    Thank you for the write up. Very informative. I learned much from your approach, and appreciate the levelheadedness of yourself and (especially) the owner’s approach to problem solving and decision making.

    I have a couple of questions to which I hope you can respond.

    1. Do you think more than just water pressure caused your bent rudder posts? Could you, in fact, have hit a submerged object which altered the boat’s movement in a way that caused the wave train to hit your windows with such force? Was there any damage on the rudders to suggest such an event? I suppose if the object was a whale it might not leave trace evidence after a day of sea action.
    2. Was dropping the rudders an option that was discussed, and why was it rejected?
    3. Could an attempt have been made to straighten the rudder posts, and might that have improved navigation?

    Thanks for replies to any of the above. Glad you are safe!

  34. Charlie

    @Phil: I’m very glad you found the post useful and informative. To answer your questions: 1) the rudder posts, properly called rudder stocks, were not bent. It was the frames inside the rudder blades that seemed to have been damaged. On the starboard side the blade frame had apparently broken loose, as the blade was spinning around its stock. On the port side, the frame had bent. The rudder turned freely, but the blade was always pitched to starboard, even with the wheel hard to port. And no, we certainly did not hit anything.

    2) We did discuss trying to drop the rudder with the bent frame, but it was quite buoyant and we had no way to push the stock down the bearing tube. Also, it seemed it would be impossible to extract the Allen wrench we’d hammered in to pin the tiller arm in place.

    3) Bending the blade frame straight again was out of the question. I can’t imagine how you’d do it at sea.

  35. john reeder

    In response to patrick childress.I know you by reputation and we have good friends in common.If brick house lost its steering and you abandoned her would rabbeca be patting you on the back saying what a good job you were doing?I dont think so.These guys failed miserably at a job they were hired to do.Some people are made of better stock than others.

  36. Phil McLean

    Thanks for your responses.

    Please consider writing up your lessons learned, as they develop, and publishing them for sailors’ benefit. I am thinking in term of multihull design for offshore vs coastal cruising, voyage planning and weather windows, pre-delivery inspection, emergency steering gear, tools for the delivery skipper, crew decision making under stressful conditions, and maintaining morale aboard the busted ship. I often purchase movies for 5-20$ and would gladly skip one in order to benefit from your hard-won insights.

    Again, I’m glad all are safe.

  37. Brian Cline


    Thank you much for taking the time and considered effort to put this event into clear detail. I recognize that you were present as crew and not the owner nor skipper. With this in mind, I seek your personal opinion on the decision to not scuttle the vessel and the danger to other mariners an unlit drifting vessel presents.

    I do also understand that this particular vessel is likely to sink of it’s own accord, per your description of her taking on water. In general, it seems that this practice of scuttling as principle of basic seamanship is under discussed or underestimated in it’s importance. Even in the event of possible salvage, can an argument be made to put the lives of other mariners at risk in a relatively busy corridor such as the one in which Be Good Too traveled?

    Again, this is not a criticism and I understand your role aboard. I just seek to gather the seasoned perspective of yourself and others.


  38. Charlie

    @Brian: We briefly discussed whether we should scuttle the boat and did note it was very likely to sink anyway. The Coast Guard generally does not seem to encourage it, but in this instance we never discussed it with them. This time of year there is little or no yacht traffic. Large ships will not be damaged by colliding with the boat. You’d probably be surprised by how many abandoned boats there are out there, and I’ve never heard of anyone coming to grief hitting one. Though, of course, it is possible.

  39. dan

    This upsets me So So much! Having performed an offshore rescue myself, last year solo and offshore, I have more than a clue. I was shocked that the man I rescued brought “luggage”, not unlike the cooler here. This rescue should not have taken place. A series of bad decision and sailors unprepared to deal with breakage and the adversity of offshore passage making. This coverage is like a trip to Disney. See us in the helicopter! This is not a smile at the camera thing. Rescues are not a part of passage making. The only lesson here is that we have too many people, calling themselves sailors with inept ability, and the money to get themselves in trouble. Shame on you for putting the Coast Guard through that.

  40. James H. Newsome

    Thanks for sharing about the mechanical problems that led to abandoning the boat. As a sailor/cruiser I look at these situations as an opportunity to learn from others misfortune or mistakes and hopefully avoid the same fate. I do have a couple questions if you are willing to answer them.
    1) Was there a sea trial to check out and test the boat’s systems?
    2) Why didn’t you stay near shore for a couple days until the weather improved?
    3) There appear to be design issues with the rudders, which I assume the manufacturer is addressing, and mechanical issues with the motors. What does the boat’s designer and/or manufacturer say about this?
    4) Was the boat lost or was it salvaged?

  41. Charlie Doane

    Hi James: Glad you found the post interesting. To answer your questions:
    1. As I understand it, the sea trial consisted of the boat being sailed from Patchogue, Long Island, where it was built, to Jersey City, where the owner accepted delivery. They had problems with deck leaks, which were supposedly resolved.
    2. Considering the time of year, January, we had a good forecast. We did expect to have endure at least one gale on our way south. Sailing south at this time there’s really no way to avoid it. To ensure good weather meant waiting for months.
    3. The builder doesn’t have much to say about the problems we experienced. He seems to think it was all our fault for leaving when we did. I published his statement here: http://staging4.wavetrain.net/news-a-views/588-abandoning-be-good-too-the-builder-responds
    In our defense, I will say the builder made no comment about our passage plan prior to our leaving Jersey City.
    4. The boat has not been salvaged. The insurance company made an attempt to find it, but failed. My understanding is the boat’s hull is fully cored with foam, so I would expect it to stay afloat, though swamped, as it was taking on water. With yachts now moving freely across the Atlantic, I am a bit surprised no one has spotted it yet.
    I think the most important lesson to be learned about this episode has to do with accepting delivery of brand new boats. It is common practice among delivery skippers like Hank to take brand new boats offshore in poor weather, and usually there’s no problem. In this case the new boat was the first one ever built by a brand new builder and it clearly needed more sea-trialing. To be safest, of course, you simply shouldn’t wait until January to sail down to the Caribbean!

  42. Julian

    Hi,whatever,still think it’s a great boat, intelligent interior design. Great. Mmmmmm,Boeing was a tad late delivering the Dreamliner to Air NZ,from where I write,Mmmm Rolls Royce had a “spot of bother” with an engine on a very early A380 (potentially catastrohic) QANTAS flight…it HAPPENS. I,d buy one tommorrow and happily sail it home to Auckland.

  43. John Dean

    About changing starter motors: In the late 1960s I crewed on a party fishing boat out of 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro, California, the ‘Sharpshooter’, when one starter motor burned out and no replacement was immediately available. The skipper started one engine, crawled under the running engine, removed the starter and installed it in the other engine and started it. He then left the first engine running and was able to take the party to Catalina Island to fish for a night and day. These were big Cummins diesels and he was one tough dude.

  44. greg b

    This upsets me So So much! Having performed an offshore rescue myself, last year solo and offshore, I have more than a clue. I was shocked that the man I rescued brought “luggage”, not unlike the cooler here. This rescue should not have taken place. A series of bad decision and sailors unprepared to deal with breakage and the adversity of offshore passage making. This coverage is like a trip to Disney. See us in the helicopter! This is not a smile at the camera thing. Rescues are not a part of passage making. The only lesson here is that we have too many people, calling themselves sailors with inept ability, and the money to get themselves in trouble. Shame on you for putting the Coast Guard through that.

    Why you gottu’ be such a prick, Dan?

    The CG guys I know live for rescues. It’s the job they signed up to do and each one is a new “real-world” learning experience for them. Anyway, it was the CG’s ultimate call to do the rescue instead of an AMVER participating vessel.

    Sound to me like they tried everything. Sure they could’ve drifted at sea for weeks on end hoping to make landfall but any major storm could have easily flipped that boat seeing as how they lost steerage. So they made an early conservative decision to abandon ship. It’s easy for everyone to armchair qtrback but unless you were there you don’t know. I’m sure nobody wants to abandon their new yacht and doing so is a decision that isn’t taken lightly.

    It doesn’t sound like they were pushing the vessel at all. Just one stroke of bad luck after the next.

    Glad all are safe.

  45. allan from Toronto

    The boat finally washed ashore in Ireland on Jan 18 2107 see article in sailing anarchy. You don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes you think you know and you don’t. Most importantly have an open mind and learn. So glad everyone made it must have been scary. I am looking to do a run to the Caribbean one day in my own boat and will ensure I have the right spares, know the boat inside out, crawl into every corner, check bolts, wires, connections, hoses, fittings, hinges, hatches. have a sat phone , ssb, spare alternator & starter. Emergency steering gear which means a system I will have figured out before I leave the dock instead of trying to design one when I need it most. Wind and solar is a must as is a water maker (with manual operation capability). AIS, SPOT, personal ais with VHF connectivity. At sea there are no gas stations to pull over at and have a mechanic fix it while you sit in the waiting room. you better be handy, have the tools & spare parts for engine & electrical. know how to harness yourself to sturdy connection points. A friend of mine said you don’t need to worry about being washed overboard if you are always properly tethered (close to centerline whenever possible). An engineered hole in the rudder to attach steering sheet to is an interesting idea. always have spare lengths of various vectran 1/8 to 3/8. easy to splice strong as an ox. keep the odds in your favour, know the weather, plan for the worst and hope for the best. when in doubt don’t go out!

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