Inquiry into sinking under way


The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has begun a preliminary inquiry into the capsizing of the maxi yacht Rambler 100 with 21 crew on board south of the Fastnet Rock on Monday.

A marine surveyor from the board was assigned yesterday to ascertain why the keel snapped off the 100ft yacht while it was leading the mono-hull fleet in the Fastnet yacht race.

The hull of the yacht – worth at least $10 million (nearly €7 million) before its capsize – was towed overnight to Barley Cove on the Cork coast by Castletownbere-based tug Ocean Bank , with a view to recovery once rigging is removed.

The Naval Service patrol ship LE Aoife stayed alongside the floating hull some three miles south of Fastnet throughout yesterday.

Owner and US businessman George David was taken out to the location to assess the state of the yacht and check if passports and other personal belongings could be retrieved.

All 21 crew are recovering from their ordeal, including Mr David’s partner, Wendy Touton, who was flown by Irish Coast Guard helicopter to Tralee General Hospital suffering from severe hypothermia on Monday night. She was treated by Irish Coast Guard helicopter paramedics Ciarán McHugh and Colm Hillary en route.

Ms Touton, Mr David and three other crew had spent more than two hours in the sea after they were thrown off the yacht. They were located by a dive vessel, Wave Chieftain , with guidance from Valentia Coast Guard.

The 16 other crew managed to cling to the hull when it turned turtle, and were rescued by Baltimore lifeboat.

The first four yachts were finishing the race in Plymouth on Monday night even as the rescue was under way.

The Fastnet race’s main organiser is the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Race manager Ian Lofhagen said he was aware that several competing yachts had passed close to the Rambler 100 after its capsize.

However, he said it appeared that conditions were such that the other yachts would not have known what happened. The racing club had first heard of a problem with Rambler 100 from its close rival, ICAP Leopard , he said.

ICAP Leopard owner and property developer Mike Slade told the racing club that his boat “knew there was an issue with Rambler ” but was not aware of “the full extent of what had happened [of its keel loss and subsequent capsize]” as there had been thick fog.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board will interview all the Rambler 100 crew and rescue personnel. It has been liaising with authorities on the Cayman Islands, where the maxi yacht is registered. The racing club says it will also co-operate with the investigation.

Mr Lofhagen said it would conduct its own review, with a view to “lessons being learned”.

It is not the first time that a racing yacht has lost a keel in the event. In 1985, the yacht Drum owned by rock singer Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran capsized in the Fastnet race and some of the crew were trapped underboard when the keel failed, but were subsequently rescued. The keel was recovered by divers nine years later.

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has paid tribute to the efforts of the rescue services, saying it was a “reminder of just how important it is for Ireland to have a well-resourced sea rescue infrastructure”. It was a “minor miracle” that there was no loss of life, he said, wishing everyone on board well.

“The Fastnet race is one of the most high-profile offshore yacht races in the world and Rambler 100 is one of the best-known racing yachts on the planet,” Mr Coveney said.

Two of the Baltimore lifeboat crew involved in the rescue, father and son Pat and Diarmuid Collins, have a particular association with the Fastnet.

Christy Collins, Pat’s father and Diarmuid’s grandfather, was coxswain during the 1979 Fastnet yacht race rescue, when a storm force 10 hit the fleet and 15 sailors lost their lives.