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Owner comments on trimaran abandonment

Jan 1, 2003

I read the recent account of the shipwreck of the trimaran Triad and the rescue of its crew with great interest, as I happen to be the owner and master of the vessel ("Chartroom chatter," Issue No. 77). While the account is most entertaining and fairly factual, I'd like to correct a few inaccuracies about the disaster in order that others may learn from my experience.

A rotating wing mast must be stepped above deck level, not several inches below it, as stated in the story. This type of rig is not inherently unstable in a seaway. The failure occurred in the blocking at the base, which allowed the mast to lower about six inches onto the deck, not through it. After an hour, the walls of the mast suffered compression failure, knuckling under in accordion fashion before the base split up the back along the track. At this point the mast "walked" forward about a foot, found unsupported deck beneath it, and crashed through like a pile driverat about 0430 local time. For the most part, the crew assisted from the cockpit, steering the boat, handling lines, and navigating while I searched for the cause of the slack rigging, struck the jib, and secured halyards fore and aft, thus stabilizing the rig for an hour before the dismasting.

We had ample supplies and equipment with which to patch and jury-rig the vessel, including sufficient fuel and provisions to allow us to motor to the shipping lanes and survive for weeks. We also had accurate weather forecasts available to us. Since this weather information predicted worsening conditions, we decided to take all possible means to save the vessel and rescue the crew, including setting off our 121.5 MHz EPIRB at 0545.

The EPIRB signal was detected by Coast Guard Air Rescue Team 1504 after four hours, at 0945, while we were in the process of clearing debris in preparation for patching the deck and hull. They contacted us on VHF 16 from their C-130 aircraft. Our emergency antenna (16-inch coil-up variety) enabled reception, but not transmission (the radio checked out fine when recently bench-tested); we were therefore forced to rely on our handheld VHF units for communication.

The cruise ship Royal Majesty arrived on the scene five hours after the first Coast Guard contact (11 hours after the initial mast failure). Mr. Bryan-Brown, who is handicapped with multiple sclerosis, was the first crewmember to be evacuated from the stricken vessel, not the last. The crew chair-carried him to the edge of Triad's wing deck, strapped him into the lifting harness, and helped get him aboard the cruise liner. They were neither exhausted nor elated, and definitely did not "scurry up the boarding ladder" leaving their handicapped helmsman behind. The "easy three-foot swells" made for difficult and dangerous footing as the two vessels surged into each other repeatedly, splintering off the entire port toerail and sending Mr. Bryan-Brown tumbling over the deck when he emerged from the protection of the cockpit. I learned some valuable lessons from this experience:

· It is critical not only to have an adequate inventory of safety equipment aboard but also to test it before going offshore.

·It's prudent to monitor VHF channel 16 when passage-makingthe crew of a vessel navigating less than a half mile to port during our dismasting was not monitoring 16; they could have provided assistance to us.

· When forced to abandon a vessel offshore, leave her in as operable condition as possible with everything secured and all mechanical devices in their stowed (for towing) position.

· An encoded 406 MHz EPIRB can assist in the recovery of a vessel.

· Setting a sea anchor will reduce drift, thereby assisting any salvage operation.

Triad was successfully salvaged and is currently hauled out awaiting repairs. Many consider me to be lucky; I consider myself to be fortunateno one was injured, Triad was recovered, and I survived to tell the tale. Many thanks to the able officers and crew of the Coast Guard Air Rescue Team 1504 and the Royal Majesty.

Check on Triad's progress on her World Wide Web page at .

Tom Cox is a real estate appraiser and freelance writer/photographer based in Gloucester, Mass.