ABANDONING BE GOOD TOO: The Builder Responds

Alpha 42 under sail

Back when I published my blog post about abandoning the Alpha 42 Be Good Too in January, I told Gregor Tarjan, president of Aeroyacht, builder of the boat, that I would publish in full any statement he cared to make about the incident. He declined at that time, but he has decided to make a statement in response to the story about the incident (which I also wrote) that has appeared in the current print edition of SAIL.


by Gregor Tarjan, designer of the Aeroyacht ALPHA 42 catamaran BEE GOOD TOO

The following statements are in reaction to SAIL magazine’s article in the May 2014 issue, “Abandoning BEE GOOD TOO”

I was not aboard this delivery so my opinion is purely based on the facts regarding the construction of the boat and the circumstances in which the crew founds themselves. Since the January incident I have answered 100’s of emails and phone calls from readers and customers who were eager to know more. The purpose of this statement is not to accuse or criticize but to share our perspective with those interested and provide information that was omitted from the article. Rumors are often based on theories deriving from incomplete information. This letter might help clarify.

“Casual” is the one word that comes to my mind when thinking of the misfortune of BEE GOOD TOO. It describes the entire preparation, execution and abandonment of our boat. Points below describe my perspective for this view and the circumstances leading to the accident which, otherwise, may have been avoided. Nevertheless, in spite of the odds, the boat’s integrity and structure withstood the worst weather and kept the crew alive!

1) TESTING: Alpha Yachts tested the boat for weeks before handover. On the final test I, personally, sailed the boat under very harsh conditions by sailing it shorthanded, counterclockwise around Long Island in blizzard conditions. Outside temp’s averaged -20 Fahrenheit (-28 Celsius) winds were up to 40 knots and (short) seas about 10′ high. My plan was to test to the breaking point. A constant sheet of inch-thick ice covered the deck and at one point the boat was buried under 30″ of snow. The generator, engines and all the systems ran, non-stop, for 14 days to avoid freezing and becoming inoperable. Every system worked flawlessly.

Was the boat perfect? Of course not, no boat is. There were issues: minor leaks (not dribbles) appeared through the seals of the saloon windows, emergency hatch seals, forward deck hatch seals and forward starboard to crossbeam attachment. Subsequently boats to be delivered this year by the builder, have been altered to eliminate these shortcomings. When I short-stopped in Port Jefferson, NY, all these issues were attended to so that I felt secure to continue the test and hand over the boat to the new owners in New Jersey.

2) SCHEDULE: Each and every crew member had a time based commitment to fulfill shortly after the boat arrived at its destination as they had verbally expressed to me. Anyone who goes to sea in a sailboat certainly well knows that a fixed schedule is a risk factor one does not wish to adhere to, most definitely when sailing a new vessel on a direct route offshore, in the North Atlantic, during one of the most severe winters on the U.S. meteorology record. Many readers on the forums have criticized the fact that when the crew was only 70 miles East of Norfolk, VA a forecast of an impending Low easily allowed a turn to shelter. Instead the opposite was decided—the boat was directed Eastward into the path of the storm. I will refrain from a critic of this decision made by the captain. I was not aboard. They may have felt sufficiently assured to face the worst.

3) PREPARATION: At the owner’s request I, personally, placed and stored the items, he furnished, aboard the boat; giving me first hand knowledge of the inventory of BE GOOD TOO. I noted that there were no spare parts provided, no voltmeter, no tools to speak of except for a small case of home builders’ tools—certainly a questionable manner of equipping oneself for a leaving shore.

No time was allotted for becoming acquainted with the boat. Should one sail aboard a brand new boat without a primary level of familiarization? No member of the crew had, because to do this, time did not permit it, since there were future commitments to be fulfilled.

Casual? Overconfident? In a rush? From my perspective all of the above.

3) JIB LEAD: The self tacking jib lead from SELDEN never worked properly. I had noticed this on my test of the boat. SELDEN promised to send the correct fitting but it would take them another week to get the part to NY. Gunther, the owner, dismissed it, preferring to sail with the bad lead, opting for the replacement part be sent to the Caribbean for pick-up upon his arrival. I could not convince him to wait for it before setting off.

We were five months late, I must admit, with the delivery of his boat and he, obviously, was anxious to reach warm weather. Nevertheless, not a reason to leave a delivery of an item without which may put yourself, crew and boat at risk. I warned Gunther the bad jib lead would not hold up to strong winds for too long, especially on stbd-tack. In fact, and for this very reason, one of the first things to go wrong was the parting of the jib sheet.

Theoretically, because of the jury rig of the jib, the boat could not sail efficiently under the main alone. Had the boat been sailed with a proper jib lead and double reefed main, she could have been sailed with more speed up the wave face. Since she was slow (the skipper estimates 4-6 KNOTS) although I guess much slower, the boat was easily shoved backwards by the large rogue wave that hit them squarely. The disastrous effect was purely a matter of seamanship and a tight schedule.

4) RUDDER CONSTRUCTION: When I first saw the rudders as they were constructed I was concerned about their weight and how overbuilt they appeared. A complete overkill for a 42′ 10T cat, I thought. After the incident I thoroughly investigated the rudders’ construction. Alpha Yachts followed the standard specifications of the Edson Steering system rudder stock to tiller arm attachment and overbuilt the rest. Edson suggested two types: one with two locking bolts which affixed the rudder stock to the tiller arm, the other with a single smaller bolt and a key as is traditionally seen. The builder opted for the twin bolt set-up.

I have seen many rudders in my life: from custom to production catamarans ranging from 30-130′. Alpha Yacht’s was a monster. I tried to pick one up—it was overwhelming! Let’s get the record straight. The Alpha’s rudder consists of a 1.5″ stainless steel rudder post which tapers slightly at the bottom to receive the foam cored rudder blade. The rudder blade, itself, is affixed to the post by 3 horizontal and 2 vertical 3/8″ x 2″ wide thick stainless flat bar struts. They are all seam welded by a certified welder. I personally saw the welds. The rudder post is locked to the tiller arm by the use of two 3/8″ threaded bolts (not set screws, as they were identified in the article) with a 3/4″ bury that act as a lock, but also serve as a safety mechanism in case the boat is pushed backwards, so they could theoretically shear and leave the rudder undamaged. The massive tiller arm was a 3/4″ thick by 4″ wide stainless steel bar. Nonsense stated that the crew could not drop the rudder as it would float, is incredulous to say the least. At close to 130 lbs. of mainly solid stainless steel and a bit of foam, is floating, at all, possible?!

Let’s compare the Alpha 42’s rudder to a contemporary production 41′ cat that has been built more than 200 times by a major manufacturer. This production example has a smaller, 1.25″ diameter solid stock and 2 horizontal blades only, and no vertical blades to hold the rudder which also weighs 1/3 less.

I can say, with conviction, that the rudder of the Alpha 42 was completely overbuilt for the job. It is logical that the crew could not dislodge the rudder because the stock was slightly bent from being pushed violently backwards acting like a giant spring jamming itself in the upper and lower bearings. Only a crowbar, or attaching a line to winch the blade backwards, could possibly dislodge it. To know that a fighter jet will fly at Mach 2 forward but only at 50 mph in reverse, causing the plane’s rudders to flip back and fail, is elementary knowledge. As the captain described in his official insurance report “….no boat rudder could have withstood this”

5) ABANDONMENT: I was not on scene so I will refrain from commenting or criticizing the crews inability to fix the issue and their actions to leave the boat. The ocean is a chaotic environment. Put 4 people on a yacht, under duress, who are overconfident, on a tight schedule, with a minimum of tools on hand to fix problems, nor advanced preparation, establishes a too complex chemistry for outsider commentary. Nevertheless, I will always wonder WHY WASN’T A LOCATING BEACON LEFT ABOARD? The owner had a brand new EPIRB and the skipper a functioning, hand-held SPOT locator device. In fact I tracked their every move in the N. Atlantic with the help of this small device. The question will always remain: why weren’t either of these two locator devices left aboard to enable a salvage crew, the manufacturer or an insurance company to retrieve the boat? What does this tell us? There are far too many theories, most too controversial to mention.

At the end of the day, we have reached peace with the loss of our initial Alpha 42—a boat in which we invested our ultimate best. She was built like a tank. She withstood a major storm. I already knew that when testing her in the harshest conditions off Long Island. The proof that 4 sailors walked away, unharmed, had a chance to write about the incident, proves the boat protected them to the last minute. And to think that she was abandoned without a thought of retrieval! A 10T, 1000 sqft unlit, unmarked floating platform to be left as a hazard to navigation itself opens channels of wonderment… As noted above, was the boat flawless? Being our very first it had some minor, easily fixable issues; none of which reasoned abandonment. Yet in a perverted kind of way what happened is the best form of praise to the strength of our boat—she withstood 50+ knot winds, 20′ seas and a rogue wave. Much lesser conditions have put boats away forever. It should be noted that the area North of the Bermuda Triangle, especially in winter, has the highest waves on record. Confused warm water eddies and strong winter winds build towering seas. Commercial supertankers have been broken in half by 100′ monster rogue waves. The Alpha 42 was located in exactly that spot.

I am sure this writing will stir a new flurry of, in Charles Doane’s words, “armchair admirals.” 100’s of people who really wished to know the scoop behind the story picked up the phone to call me. I opted to leave it at that, however, after the publication of the May SAIL article I felt the need to publish my official statement.

The official insurance report submitted by the captain clearly blames the incident on a rogue wave. The owners have a new boat, another catamaran, and have been paid by the insurance company.

The crew is, thankfully, alive.

I hope that the incident has offered an element of the positive and that we all have learned something.

Our boat is gone and I hope that a poor fisherman in Spain will find her, salvage her and enjoy her with family and friends.

Gregor Tarjan
president, Aeroyacht Ltd

Gregor and Marc

Gregor Tarjan, left, president of Aeroyacht, and his partner, boatbuilder Marc Anassis

Editor’s Note: This is Gregor’s statement in full as I received it. I’ve had my say, so I will not comment on it, except to note that I am not certain why he spells the boat’s name with two Es in Be. On the boat’s transom it was spelled with one E, so that is how I have always spelled it.

Be Good Too transom

Also, I have more information regarding the insurer. Two days after we abandoned the boat, Falvey Insurance, the policyholder, commissioned a search. Two sorties were flown from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard a Lear 35 jet. The plane each time was only able to spend an hour on station at the vessel’s presumed location, and the search was not successful.

UPDATE: Since this was published the skipper of Be Good Too has asked that I also publish his thoughts on this subject:

The Skipper Responds to the Builder’s Response

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9 Responses
  1. Muckraker

    Gregor did a good job pointing the finger away from himself.

    I wonder if in the owners manual of the A 42 he instructed people to make sure they sail as fast as they can and certainly above 6 knots in the worst storms in case there is a rogue wave! The comparison to an unknown rudder design iis not credible. K The captains comment that ” no boat rudder could have withstood this” may be true but it’s just as likely not true and actually just one mans unsubstantiated opinion. A two week test sail on a new boat design, while useful , is hardly proof a blue water cruiser has been born.

  2. Damon Gannon

    Mr. Tarjan’s response may be a little self-serving and he may be prone to exaggeration. But you cannot argue with his conclusion that this delivery skipper was too casual, overconfident, and in a rush.

  3. Murray Greep

    Good to see the Aeroyacht President response. A pity the boat has not been recovered but from what we have seen in the South Pacific abandoned Cats have been recovered months later. Why do we always seem to get negative comments from this guy called “Anonymous” Muckraker seems a good choice.

  4. jimmy

    the one thing not covered from the side line couch captains is that a contributing factor is clearly the disconnect from the conditions that can happen when sailing from inside the cabin .cats more than any boat need to be actively sailed in weather and clearly do not fare well when left to woolier at low speed.the jib and main must work together on even the most basic cat in any sea at all.i only mention this because it seamed like this group went back to a old fishing book i read when it came to surviving a storm .I half expected to hear that they let whale oil go from the stern to reduce the waves breaking .any way nice to here from the builder and i would side with him on this only I would not be so nice.

  5. Norris Carlton

    I will believe Gregor. As to weather during testing in Jan anyone who can search will find true http://data.newsday.com/long-island/data/weather/snowfall-temp/ this page gives temps and snowfall on LI during Jan. Temperatures offshore are generally colder over water. This was the 1st result for a search “January temps LI 2014”. My last comments as a pilot a case of gotta get there tends to kill you, preparation is everything. Knowing of known issues and going anyway is a recipe for disaster.
    Lastly Gregor has logged over 80,000 miles in multi-hulls and is known the world over for his books on multi-hull design and bill. In one such book he states what a multihull gives that a monohull can’t is Speed and the ability to sail out of harms way. So why did this crew & captain decide to sail into the teeth of a lion when safe haven was attainable. They had a case of gotta get there’s leaving rational judgement behind. It is not the boat and the designer, it is the sailors and captain!

  6. kris

    he”s confusing 20 below while sailing, with 20 below while stationary. Yes, most big rudders float, Seems’ he hasn’t tried to install one while a vessel is in the water.

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