Our sport must do better

Published on January 15th, 2019

It is the adventure of sailing that is among its attractions, with limits hindered only by dream and desire. But Mother Nature is not always an ally, and at those time we are thankful for international services that save human life from its clutches.

As grateful we are for a life to be saved, the ramifications of the abandoned boat linger. This trend has only increased, as rather than bring an injured boat back to port, technology has allowed for easy access to emergency aid.

When the sailor steps off the boat, what was their problem is now everyone’s problem. Commenting on this paradigm is Paul Newell from the Isle of Wight, UK:

There was an incident many years ago in the Needles Channel when a Fairview charter yacht was rolled in heavy seas whilst attempting to re-enter the Western Solent on the very last of a spring ebb tide.

The seas were big and the crew had mistimed the tide. The yacht was rolled in the overfalls, dismasted and three of the four crew where drowned (more details).

To cut a long story short, the yacht came in on the new flood tide and landed ashore some ten miles up the Solent at Gurnard. The surviving crew member, one of the dead crew sons, was found below beck in a very sorry state but still alive.

There was an attempt to refloat the wreck but she sank not long after.

A couple of years later a friend of mine, an ex-deep sea oil rig diver, had the job of inspecting an undersea gas pipeline that runs from the UK Mainland to the Isle of Wight. He came across said wreck leaning hard up against the pipe, and upon telling the yacht’s insurers how he had found the yacht, he asked what they would like to do with it.

“Nothing,” they said. “We have paid out on the total loss and don’t want anything else to do with it.”

But then all hell broke loose in the insurance office when they were told it was leaning against an 18″ high pressure gas pipeline and how the resultant cost of the damage should the pipe get ruptured would be in the tens of millions pounds.

The insurance company told my friend (who is also a salvage expert – he salvaged my half tonner in 1993) to remove the yacht with the utmost of haste and send them the bill. They paid by return as they could see this was by far the cheaper option.

My point being that even if a yacht is insured, once they have paid out on a total loss, the insurance companies would probably wash their hand of any further liability, especially if the wreck merely washes up on some remote beach. If that remote beach is in, what we in the west call, a third world country, they have less interest.

I don’t have an answer to this problem. There are still a couple of Vendee Globe yachts out there somewhere, and now several yachts abandoned during this current Golden Globe Race. What might become of them? If salvaged would the owners have to negotiate with the salvagers or just let the salvagers have the yacht and think themselves lucky they don’t have some sort of pollution lawsuit against them. Because that could be the way things go in the future.

Both the Volvo Ocean Race and Clipper Round the World Yacht Race made great efforts to salvage their respective yachts, not least because those yachts cost a vast amount of money and the salvage cost can be justified against replacement costs.

And remember all those yachts that have been destroyed in the Caribbean during the various hurricane storms. That’s a huge amount of fiberglass splinters in the ocean that will spread down-tide over the years.

I watch with great hope and interest, but I fear we have left our children with an insurmountable problem. Someday, some way, the citizens of this planet must decide the oceans cannot continue to be used as a dumping ground, either accidentally or on purpose.

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