ANOTHER MAJOR KEEL FAILURE: What Really Happened to Polina Star III?

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Polina Star III hauled

The genesis of this story was an incident that occurred back in July of this year in which Polina Star III, an Oyster 825, which reportedly had been extended to 90 feet and was just over a year old, was lost off the coast of Spain. The very first report came from Oyster, but contained no details, stating only that the boat “suffered a serious incident which compromised the integrity of the moulded hull.” A follow-up report by Yachting World, published in August, added little more, noting only that Oyster believed the boat may have run aground and there were rumors it had capsized before foundering.

In the last few days the Italian skipper of the boat has been sharing his account of the event, and photos of the wreck, which was recovered and has been closely examined, have also been circulating online. Though the exact causes are unclear, it is perfectly clear that there was no grounding and that the boat suffered from major hull delamination that led to its keel suddenly falling off.

The skipper, Alessio Cannoni, who has straightforwardly identified himself as “Alessiocannoni” in a Cruisers Forum discussion of the event, described the incident as follows:

FACT 1: (why I know what I know)

The owner built the boat with the target to sail around the world, then he asked to me to follow the commissioning, to prepare the boat for this long trip and to choose and to organize the crew. I arrived in the shipyard in the April 2014, and I stayed there every day up to the launch of the boat in July, then I have sailed on her as captain about 10.000 miles: Southampton- Norway and back, Southampton-Las Palmas, ARC rally, cruises in Caribe, Antigua-Alicante (we never arrived).

FACT 2: (the crew)

The boat had two permanent crew member, to be able to manage this aspect I have organized a turn-over of 5 people:
Alessio Cannoni
Dafne Mele
Giulia Visintin
Monica Rosini
Riccardo Salimbeni

during last trip the professional crew was: me and Dafne.

FACT 3 (the boat design)

the boat was not extended, she was designed and built by Oyster exactly as you can see in the pictures.

FACT 4: (the meteo)

we sunk in a sunny day we were reaching in 18 kn of TW with about 1.3 m of wave, sailing with staysail and 80% main sail.

FACT 5: (SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THE ACCIDENT)

3 JULY 2015 TIME 14:07′
strong noise with vibration from the hull
14:07’15”
big flooding in the engine room
14:07’30”
water over the service batteries; all systems KO
14:07’45”
I bear away, the crew prepare emergency bilge pump, life rafts, grab bags, furl manually the stay sail, send the may-day by standard-C and by VHF
14:13′
the keel disconnected completely and the boat capsized, in that moment I was standing up in front of the chart table (deck-house) sending the may-day, the water was already cooling down my balls.
a fishing boat “fished”us after a couple of hours.

FACT 6:

we made a video from the life raft, it show the two rudders pointing the sky perfectly intact, a big hole in to the hull; the relic float upside down all night long, the following morning we found the boat still floating about 15 miles from the capsizing point, one missing rudder, the other one partially broken.

FACT 7:

the CEO of Oyster knows exactly this story, he sent two people on site the following day, I told them every single detail of the accident and I gave to them all the pictures and movies that I had and that I still have.

The relic of the boat and the keel was rescued in October. This operation was a month-long, I participated to this operation and I participated also to the survey performed by all the insurance company’s surveyors. We are waiting for the response.

The photographs of the damage, which have been published by a pair of German and Russian sailing publications, are staggering:

Exposed grid

The hull’s interior grid structure in the area of the keel, with all the outer laminate torn away

Grid and laminate

Same, showing the root of the keel stub and some remaining outer laminate

Detached keel

They recovered the keel, too! It is still attached to the bottom of the hull’s keel stub

Keel stub detail

The top of the keel, showing intact keel bolts securing it to the bottom of the stub

Dry laminate

A sample of the damaged laminate suggests it is very dry and was not thoroughly wetted out during construction

Exposed wiring

Exposed wiring runs where the hull laminate tore away

More keel

A broader view of the damaged keel section

In the slings

The wreck in the slings before getting lifted out

Under sail

Polina Star III under sail before she sank

You can study the Cruisers Forum thread in detail if you want to read a lot of opinions about what went wrong here. Reading the thread and all of the skipper’s comments, it seems to me the design was in fact modified while the boat was being built to incorporate a transom garage and the keel was not modified to accomodate the change in the boat’s center of gravity. Instead a ton of extra ballast was placed in the bow. The most detailed analysis seems to be in this Russian publication here. Evidently the Russians are at the forefront here because the boat’s owner is Russian and after waiting four months in vain for Oyster to offer some reasonable compensation he has decided to go public with what happened.

Diagram keel

Somewhat incomprehensible Russian diagram showing Polina Star III’s keel construction with some information on scantlings: 15mm laminate (presumably solid) in the walls of the keel stub, 45mm in the bottom of the stub, and 5mm in the stub’s interior structural grid

Diagram 2

A more incomprehensible Russian diagram demonstrating I’m not sure what. Presumably something about loads

According to the skipper of the boat Oyster has sold three more 825s since this incident occurred, one of which is now sailing in the ARC.

I haven’t had the time yet to pick through the translation of the Russian article, so I’m not going to speculate or comment much on what exactly went wrong here. In that the skipper insists the boat was never grounded, it would seem to be a design/construction issue and judging from those photos it does look like the laminate is awfully dry. But I can’t really say more than that.

The major take-away here, however, is something we discussed during the awful Cheeki Rafiki tragedy last year: there are too many frigging keels falling off production sailboats! In their endless quest to reduce weight and cost, builders in this respect have found the boundary and have stepped over it. They need somehow to be prodded back over to the other side of the line.

I want to say also that Alessio Cannoni, judging from his description of the incident, did a great job managing this emergency. The 5-member crew had less than 7 minutes to act (according to Cannoni’s timeline) and all came away safe and sound. It is a shame the crew of Cheeki Rafiki did not enjoy the same fate.

UPDATE: Per the comments below, please note the author of the Russian article linked to above, in Yacht Russia magazine, is Artur Grokhovsky. He also took those photos you see of the damage to the boat. He was on site when the wreck was hauled and examined, and, as I noted above, I am sure can provide the most detailed analysis of what happened. Hopefully he will share some of this in English! The drawings posted up there are by Anton Shibaev.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I have spent some time now fiddling around with several different translation programs online, trying to get a decent computer-generated interpretation of Artur’s Yacht Russia story in English. Follow this link here to see the best one I was able to come up with. It is still extremely imperfect, particularly the more technical discussions, and the labels in the diagrams are not translated.

Evidently problems with the keel bolts had twice mainfested themselves prior to the yacht’s sinking in that a gap appeared between the ballast and the keel stub. Oyster undertook a repair the first time (it seems they simply tightened the bolts, which were not torqued to spec) and reportedly did not acknowledge the problem the second time it occurred. The overall conclusion of the article seems to be that insufficient laminate thickness was the probable cause of the accident. You should try to read the article yourself to see what you make of it. Hopefully Artur, or some other bilingual human, can provide a much better translation.

Note at the end of the article Oyster does submit that they will be releasing their own report on this incident. We obviously look forward to seeing that! They refused, however, to answer any questions from Yacht Russia.

And here is the photo (credit Artur Grokhovsky) of the extra ballast in the bow someone down there in the comments section wanted to see!

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44 Responses
  1. john kretschmer

    Another great piece Charlie, this is really crazy. It seems incredibly strange that the laminate failed, there’s simply no excuse for that.

  2. Yachticus

    not real happy with OYSTER’s approach – sounds like media management of the facts – which always ends up smelly for all concerned.

  3. Michael de Angeli

    What strikes me is not only the laminate failure, which is inexcusable by itself, but it’s also clear from the pictures that there was no metal connection between the keel and the structure of the hull – just a rather skimpy fiberglass box. The rig loads and the keel loads should be connected by strong structure, preferably metallic, and take the fiberglass out of that equation. Fiberglass is great for making surfaces, not so good in tension.

  4. Keth

    You mysteriously left out the photos of the crude brick and concrete trimming ballast Oyster put in the bow to balance out the boat for the added dinghy garage on the stern. Totally hack and not what one wants to see from a boat that their marketing department touts as being a blue water cruiser.

    When hedge funds buy boat builders as what has happened to Oyster they care about the bottom line not about sailors lives. So sad another good brand destroyed by a hedge fund buyout.

  5. Poil Koop

    The builder has mistaken what should be a welded steel stub/fin for a fibreglass one! That’s the only explanation. Or maybe missed out an internal frame

  6. DrSea

    Oyster being referred to as a “production boat” will certainly rankle anyone who has paid multi-millions for their boat. The stripping of the hull laminate from the grid structure sounds–and looks in the photos–like the frequent critique of production boats like Beneteau, Jeanneau, Hanse, and Bavaria that bonding a liner and grid matrix into a hull is inherently weaker and more trouble prone that the classic construction of “blue water” boats. I think my 1996 Oyster just dropped in value!

  7. Artur Grokhovsky

    Could I kindly ask the author of this article to correctly credit the author of the original Russian article, photos and pictures? We did a hard job to investigate this case and it is not too good when our colleagues are using our own materials without the name of our magazine and authors?

  8. Peter Jacops

    The yacht being above 24 M did not fall under the Recreational Craft Directive. Was the boat build under class or just no supervision?

  9. Anonymous

    This story would not be public, or you earn your pound of flesh had it not been for the original article. Pure plagiarism. Credit the original authour and article.

    Could I kindly ask the author of this article to correctly credit the author of the original Russian article, photos and pictures? We did a hard job to investigate this case and it is not too good when our colleagues are using our own materials without the name of our magazine and authors?

  10. Paul Gelder

    Don’t know what planet the ‘plagiarism’ critics are on… you have shared all your sources and links. It’s another excellent and fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Thanks for sharing, Charlie.

  11. Artur Grokhovsky

    Don’t know what planet the ‘plagiarism’ critics are on… you have shared all your sources and links. It’s another excellent and fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Thanks for sharing, Charlie.

    Sure, we did it. The article is open for viewing and copying.
    But the article has its own author. All the photos and drawings – too. And it is absolutely normal (more than that – decent) behavior of the journalist’s to credit his colleagues, who has prepared the reprinted article. It’s just common courtesy to those people and to the magazine, which made all the possible to create this publication.
    Excuse me, but at the shipyard where the boat is now, I did not see you. I do not see there any another journalist – except when I have looked in the mirror. This is the first point.
    The second point is. If you bother to contact to the staff of the magazine, who prepared this material, we’d explain to you the meaning of the diagrams and you would not have to write about the “incomprehensible Russian diagrams.”
    So I once again insist that you should credit the authors of the material (as did our colleagues from Germany’s Yacht magazine).
    Text and photos – Artur Grokhovsky/Yacht Russia
    Drawings – Anton Shibaev/Yacht Russia.

  12. Anonymous

    It collided with the whale. Stop wahle shooting then they do not care boat.
    A lot of collision happen in Boston too. Should start wahle catching again.

  13. Paul H

    Quality control has gone out of the window , a once quality boat build is no more since is was sold to a bunch of money grabbing people with only one thing in mind maximum bottom line regardless, I am sure someone somewhere warn them of what could happen, but if if was no for a very cool headed skipper and and in daylight it could have a fatal to some of the crew

  14. Charlie

    @Artur: Many thanks for putting in an appearance here! I am very sorry if you feel I am trying to take credit for your work. But as Paul points out, I have cited every source and have linked to it. I am not pretending I developed any of this information. I would certainly have referenced you by name if I could read Russian! This is a very important story and I urge you to provide an English translation of your article. You can post it here under your own byline, or you can post it elsewhere and I will link to it and do my best to drive traffic to it.

  15. JohnnyPark!

    ….The rig loads and the keel loads should be connected by strong structure, preferably metallic, and take the fiberglass out of that equation. Fiberglass is great for making surfaces, not so good in tension.

    Which is exactly why you don’t see many yachts with composite structures…. oh wait….
    What a idiotic statement. In fact the ultimate tensile strength of E-Glass is comparable to stainless. It’s all about how you use it.

  16. Mark the Skint Sailor

    The hull material on that brand-new, hi-tech, ocean-going, blue water boat looks a lot less substantial than my mate’s 40-year old 18ft Valiant coastal cruiser and my father’s 30 year old Dawncraft canal cruiser! 🙂

  17. Jo Roesler

    @Charles Doane: I will be happy to provide a free analysis of the relative resin content in the laminate for you, if you have access to small, representative samples. Speculating based on the posted pictures, it seems to me that 1) Secondary bonding between grid structure and hull is clearly not good, and is often the weakest point in many a composite hull. More details on request. 2) Laminate schedule of the failed keel box appears minimal. With all the major parts recovered, it should be very possible to determine how much margin (i.e. in % of maximum static load) was designed into this keel box. Special attention needs to be given to actual fiber amount and direction in the various laminate layers. Additional questions I would ask: Was the keel box built in a single setting? What technique? Given its complicated structure, I’m guessing the answers are a) multiple steps and b) hand layup. Then: what was the procedure between multiple laminating and bonding steps? Removal of any mold release residues? Surface preparation like thorough sanding and acetone wash? If the keel box was built the same way the grid was bonded to the hull, maybe this cascade of events had its origin in a secondary bonding failure within the keel box. In your pictures, multiple ribs/bulkheads have clearly detached from the hull surface. That is not a good sign. Contact for further discussion: JoeRoesler(at)gmail.com.

  18. Paul Newell

    Really poor design, badly executed. The keel bolts should be tied into the frames of the boat and those frames should extend up to the gunwales. The shrouds should pick up on these frames and the loads should be transmitted through this continuous stress taking system.
    If boats are going to be made lighter then the strength of the boat has to come from a properly designed system, not the mickey mouse, penny pinching, poorly designed structures that are all so prevalent in most modern designs.
    If this boat, and others like it, are being built to any form of standard then that standard is obviously not worth the paper it’s written on.
    Keels should NOT fall off. It’s a basic principle that surely even the dimmest of naval architects and builders should be able to understand.

  19. Michael de Angeli

    I’m glad Paul Newell agrees with me that this was a terribly poor design! Sure, E-glass is good stuff, but it ain’t steel!

  20. Matthew Shaw

    Crikey I’m shocked by this. I have an X Yacht and have been looking over and over at these photos wondering why they could recover the hull and keel but not the steel grid that I have laminated into the hull. But reading these comments it appears that it is not designed to be connected by a steel grid to the mast, Hull, base of the stays… I thank the dear lord that I didn’t afford to buy the Oyster. It was a serious contender.

  21. M LaSarge

    We’ve been in the fiberglass repair and boat building business for over 40 years and recently repaired an older Oyster 41 that was beginning to fail in a similar manner. We also rebuilt the mast step of a Nelson Merrik 61 a few years ago that nearly lost its keel in the Bermuda race, building a transverse carbon fiber reinforced beam to take the loads. The mast loads were essentially transmitted to the hull skin near the front of the keel adding greatly to skin loading. We like to see the mast step sitting on a beam that extends from one side to the other, controlling mast, keel, and side stay loads.
    A couple of other observations:
    The laminate looks like a normal delaminated laminate in that as the resin fractures allowing the layers to separate, it will look dry.
    The welds bonding the grid to the hull look reasonably good, and aren’t the cause of the problem.
    Most likely this has been slowly and progressively worsening, and isn’t a single event.

  22. Anonymous

    knowing grp and hull construction as well as oyster hull lay up, i have looked at the photos there are a few concerns, 1) the secondary bonding has not ripped and exposed fibers as seen in normal de-lamination, 2) unlike all other oyster hulls this hull has a pre moulded grid system rather than the normal PU foam former fully encapsulated, 3) the keel stub area has 5mm thick framing instead of the 100mm PU foam frames as per standard oyster, 4) the keel bolts are not near the outside edge of the stub, this to me is the starting area for failure as it allows flexibility under load ( hull on heel) which will start the failure at the keel stub edge as per photos, if the other 825 hulls have the same keel bolt spacing’s and pre moulded grid i would certainly be flagging this up as a concern,

  23. Mdz

    The diagrammes are not that incomprehensible (if you know any Cyrillic alphabet, a bit of Russian and some physics). The red arrows and text shows the forces from the keel and how they are distributed through the hull (and hull’s skin). When the boat is heeled, the leeward side of the keel stub is “compressed”, the windward side of the keel stub is “stretched”. The hull’s skin is being “pulled off” the hull in the lower part (between the keel stub and around the water surface line) and is “sheared off” above. The red dots indicate the points where the skin was ripped off.

    hope it helps

  24. MARTIN PETCHEY

    I have been in the Fibreglass Business for over 50 years!!! why is it that whenever white matting shows people assume it is not wetted out properly!!! If you hit a piece of Fibreglass with a hammer it will shatter and show the white shards of matting!!!
    I suggest some people should try this test before giving such opinions!!!

  25. Vincent C.

    Lake Boat, Bay Boat, or Blue Water Boat??? I would say from the spacing in the grid, the lack of steel or aluminum reinforcement where the keel was attached, etc……..that was not what I consider a blue water boat! There’s something to be said for some of the old US boat manufacturers that started building boats before the oil embargo. Unfortunately, almost all have disappeared. Trying to compete with mass produced boats, boats designed for charter fleets, and foreign boats, while still trying to make a quality product and a profit just weren’t compatible or realistic goals. I sail a 30 year old boat that doesn’t creak and pop like a popcorn popper everytime I go over a wave or someone walks up the steps to the cockpit.

  26. Ray Smith

    I have spent my life working in the Glassfibre industry ,30 years with a major boat builder ,Having read and looked at the attached photos ,I agree with Martin Petchey and M Lasarge in their explanations regarding shattered GRP, it will have a dry white appearance ,this is a sign of good bonding ,being exposed to excessive force . Jo Poesler has concerns with the bonding material ,fixing the floor girder system to the hull , I agree ,looking at the photos this material seems to have failed , it is showing very poor bonding quality’s , could be as stated ,contamination ,failure to remove any mould release ,or inadequate preparation of the bonding surfaces before assembly of the two parts . I have one other major concern ,that the Glassfibre / composite construction of the Hull in the keel area ,has not been moulded to the specification, in regard to the material thickness . This can be tested,

  27. richard

    having seen the number of recent keen failures with high end production yachts, I am increasingly motivated to construct my own vessel from high end ply and glass. All the plans I have been looking at have substantially better engineered keels/ballast and don;t merely rely on the strength of the chassis to keep the keel in place. Personally, I’m loathe to trust my loved ones in a boat whose keel and hull I have not seen being made and whose integrity I know is bullet proof.

  28. Anon

    The keel bolts have already been attended twice by oyster? Then surely this is due to movement/flexible stub base. 2 concerns keel bolt spacing as mentioned in another comment. Grid to hull skin bonding showing no signs of tearing/ripping fibres again as per comments by several people. Keel stud spacing down to designer. Poor laminating adhesion down to quality control at moulding yard. Time to get out the cheque book

  29. Paul Newell

    Looking at the other comments, and further to my original observations below, it would appear that some of you have missed the point all together. It’s not a fibre glassing issue. To me the the fibreglass looks OK but it was being asked to do a job that it could not do. It was being asked to take all of the dynamic loads of the keel all of the time in a structure that, although was designed to take the load, could not because the design was fundamentally flawed from the conception on the drawing board.
    The dynamic loads of a keel, when the boat is in motion, are colossal and the structures that hold them to the boat have been under engineered on many boats for a long time.
    The rig imparts the leverage to make the boat heel over. This is countered by the keel that wants to make the boat stand upright again. Basis observation I know but the structure between rig and the keel has to be strong enough to accommodate these dynamic loads over millions and millions of cycles over the entire live of the boat (which could be fifty years or more). That is why the whole structure has to be tied together properly. Which is not the case in this instance. And nor is it the case in every other keel that has fallen off over the past years. It can’t be otherwise these keels would still be attached and I wouldn’t have to write this.
    Designers and builders HAVE to get a grip on this situation. We, as owners, put our lives in their hands when we step aboard one of their designs and we should not have to worry that there may be a fundamental problem with the basic structure of the boat.
    This Oyster may well have cost a vast amount of money but it’s been built on a penny pinching budget. Both the builders and designers had better get good lawyers because it’s only a matter of time before they get taken to the cleaners and someone goes to jail.

  30. Søren Dolberg

    Good seamanship saved lives that day, respect!
    We´re sailing our 3. X-YAcht from Denmark, the very heavy steel frame in the superstructure to whitch the keel, the rigging and the mast i connected makes me sure a failure like this never would be possible – even with areas of bad lamination. Insist of steel superstructure when buying blue water yachts.

  31. Derek Ratteray

    I could never figure out what all the excitement was about Oysters. Now I know that they are pretty exciting. Perhaps it’s not the sort of excitement most of us would wish for. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that there are a lot of modern boats sailing around just an inch from disaster. It’s a real pity for the innocent yachtie who just wants to sail safely across an ocean.

  32. Anon

    So oyster have admitted it is a build/design problem (press release on thier website) the other boats built like this have been reworked to ensure they are stronger. In the last few years they have regrouped and slim lined the company losing many long time employees, managers and sub contractors. Some of these holding key posts in quality control and project management. These people have not been replace, thankfully no one was hurt in this incident. As the saying goes if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. dig deep and pay up

  33. Lara

    Charlie, re: the crew size, the skipper’s account reads that the boat had two crew aboard at the time of sinking. The mention of 5 crew simply explains that he used a rotation that included those 5 people in order to meet the 2-person crew needs. He probably mentions them all simply as reference for who has worked aboard the boat and knows its history.

  34. Charlie

    @Lara: That’s one possibility. Alessia isn’t writing in his native language, so there’s some potential for confusion. As I interpret it, he’s saying there were 2 full-time professional crew on the boat (him and Dafne), plus 3 temporary delivery crew who were aboard just for this passage. This is standard practice on yachts of this size and type.

  35. Paul Newell

    Further to my previous two comments below I decided to send this article and link to a naval architect I know and then phoned him to see what he thought.
    He was initially speechless with incredulity when he first saw the photographs.
    He was appalled that ANY boat should have been built with such an obviously design flaw.
    He, like me, knows that the highly stressed structure of mast/keel/rigging should be tied together as a unified piece of engineering and that the boat itself should be secondary to this structure.
    Some modern naval architects and most yacht builders would seem to have missed this lecture in their degree courses at collage. Or worse still, think that this bit of engineering does not apply to anything they design.
    To have a properly designed mast/keel/rigging structure in any sailing boat should be almost the first criteria before things like interior are even thought of.
    The fact that this very expensive yacht’s keel fell off only goes to prove that some designers, some builders and perhaps some classification societies have some lessons that they need to either learn or relearn.
    If this all sounds like a swipe at the marine construction industry then good. As I’ve said before “keels should not fall off” EVER.

  36. Jason Maude

    I don’t think you need to be a naval architect to see that the whole keel arrangement looks wrong. A basic sense of leverage shows you that bolted on keels and ones with a very narrow section, such as this one, look wrong. It’s always amazing going around a boat yard in the winter looking at the hauled out yachts how so many look wrong with near flat bottoms and thin, bolted on keels. Do owners just look at the inside and never underneath? I have an Ohlson 38 which I think is a proper boat. I keep hoping for a backlash against these poorly designed and built modern boats and resurgence of values for these wonderful old boats from the 60’s and 70’s which can be bought for a 1/10th of an equivalent quality- if it exists- new boat.

  37. Michael H.

    Was the structure of the boat examined and approved by a classification society? Since it is over 24 meters in length and although class is not an obligation it is often selected by the owner or the builder/naval architect. Rob Humphreys I believe designed many Oyster yachts.

  38. Anonymous

    I worked for oysters and 82 02 came back to sys with a cracked keel after only two mouth. The keel was gel planed back to glass and 18 layers of 600 csm was layed on to the hull . This was all so done to the two boat in build at the time this was around 2001 .

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