Keel Failure off the Canary Islands

Published on December 8th, 2017

The Royal Artillery Yacht Club (RAYC), which aims to encourage sailing and seamanship among its members and to promote sailing in the Royal Artillery, got more than planned during a training expedition along the Canary Islands. The crew on the RAYC flagship, a Rustler 42 named St Barbara V, share the story:


Setting out from La Gomera at 0830 as planned on December 7, we beat all day into the teeth of an Easterly Force 5, rising to a continuous 6 gusting 7. We set sail with one reef in the main, the #1 Yankee and staysail, and made heavy going of the crossing to the southern end Tenerife, fighting an adverse current all day resulting in a tacking angle of 120-130 degrees.

There were times when we felt as if we were going backwards, but with sightings of a turtle, a pod of pilot whales, and bright sunny conditions, the moral was maintained. It rose further as the town of Les Galletas came into sight as we rounded Punta Rasca, 5 miles out. We did so in the company of another yacht also being beaten by the wind, a Comet 45S named Tyger of London.

We were sailing in close proximity around Punta Rasca for about 30 minutes when the wind began to rise to F6+ and we put the second reef in the main. Tyger followed suit 10 minutes later and as she came back onto the wind she broached and lost her keel. Her mast hit the water and she capsized, turning turtle within 30 seconds.

We sent a MAYDAY call, dropped our headsails, started the engine and turned around to assist. The off-watch were rapidly brought on deck as we approached the five crew members (four male, one female; German-Swiss) of the stricken yacht, one of whom had been trapped beneath it by her harness.

Her partner dived beneath to release her as the remainder drifted clear. They had floated about 200m downwind of their yacht which allowed us to pick up the first three in our first pass using St Barbara’s throwing line and a fender on a warp as recovery lines. Having got them alongside, we took them on board via the stern ladder and then went back for the other two.

All five were wearing inflated life-jackets which made them easy to see despite the high winds and rising sea. We got the same recovery lines to the last two casualties and brought them on board in a similar fashion.

Less than 30 minutes from sending the MAYDAY message we had recovered all five casualties and had taken them down below to assess them and provide first aid/warmth. We then motored directly into the F7 for the last 4 nm to the nearest harbour of Les Galletas and transferred the casualties ashore.

They were all very shaken and the female, in particular, was suffering from shock, but the harbour authorities took good care of them and we bade them farewell. They were most grateful.

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