Should Thomson have scuttled his yacht?

In the early hours last Friday morning, the 33rd day of the Velux5Oceans race, Alex Thomson abandoned his yachtHugo Bossafter suffering severe structural keel failure. Thankfully, Thomson is now safe onboard Mike Golding’sEcover- albeit with a now fractured mast – and on his way to Cape Town, but what of his yacht?

Left drifting 1,000 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, with an unsupported canting keel smashing up into her hull, Thomson admitted that the chances ofHugo Bosssoon sinking were high: ‘I would say that within a couple of days she’ll be at the bottom of the oggin.’ The Sat C stopped transmitting on Saturday morning, meaning that the boat has probably already gone under.

But until the moment she is, or was, finally sunk, the unattended 60ft yacht is a hazard to navigation – raising the question as to why she was not scuttled. After all, if Robin Knox-Johnston was to surf down a wave straight into 10 tonnes of boat, the chances of his craft surviving would be slim.

Is sinking your own vessel a step too far in an emotionally fraught situation? Speaking last Friday, a distraught Thomson said: ‘this is the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do. This boat has been my life for the last three years, it doesn’t feel right to be leaving her behind.’

Another issue is what the insurers recommend – if the boat is insured, that is. Barrie Sullivan of Pantaneius Yacht Insurance points out that the chances of insurers being willing to take on the risk of a solo sailor’s Open 60 are slim to none.

However, when Volvo 70movistarwas abandoned last May after the last in a long run of keel problems, shewasinsured. Her ten-man professional crew abandoned the still floating yacht without opening the seacocks – even though the rate of water ingress seemed likely to sink her within hours. Despite this, insurers seemed keen to find her, mounting an expensive plane search covering almost 1000 square miles with no success. Farr Yacht Design, who designed movistar, were strongly in favour of the searches; president Russell Bowler said that finding the yacht would be a huge help in analysing and understanding the underlying cause of the keel failure.

But in situations such as these, where severe keel problems and inaccessibility seem certain to end in a boat sinking before it can be sighted, let alone salvaged – wouldn’t it be good practice for skippers to sink their vessel before it can cause further harm?

YM spoke to Richard Langford of Noble Marine Insurance for an official view on the situation. He warned that it was difficult to generalise on such issues, but said that if one of their boats was in a similar situation: ‘we would suggest suggest it was disposed of. While it’s regrettable to lose a boat – be it a dinghy, rib or superyacht – it’s hard to justify causing further harm to others. If you’re in the middle of the Solent, where a yacht can be easily salvaged, then it’s a different story, but in these circumstances, 1000nm from anywhere, it’s a different story. From an insurers’ point of view, the concern would be that if someone ran into it and there was subsequent loss of life, that boat would still be insured by us and we could therefore be liable for that harm. At the end of the day, unless it’s going to be salvaged quickly, then it’s a lost cause, and a case of damage limitation.’

Sink or swim: what do you think? Email and let us know.

You Say…

Sink her!

I can understand that the boat builder might like to examine her to learn which components failed and why, and I can understand that the insurance company might like to salvage her, but 1000 nm into the southern ocean?? Surely nobody would be prepared to spend the money to search for her there, let alone recover her?

She should have been sunk as she could be a hazard to the other competitors.

Ian Palmer
Marina de Lagos

re the question as to whether Hugo Boss should have been scuttled…

to see the thread on the ybw forum about Nick Bowles and his floating yacht discovery that was also featured as a home page article. click here 

… the conversation has developed to cover the exact issue of whether he should have scuttled her or not…and there are some interesting and valid points made on the discussion


Neil Strenge

I have a bit of experience of this. A few years ago I crewed on a yacht which “rescued” the crew of F2, a Legend that lost her rudder, and a replacement made on board “Tenacious”, during an ARC.

After her owners abandoned her there was absolutely no doubt that F2 had to be sunk, although her insurers did consider trying to recover her for a while. To leave her there as a hazard to other vessels would have been criminally irresponsible.

Co-incidentally, the yacht I crewed on was named “Muskrat” and was owned by Alex Thomson’s parents, who have recently returned from the West Indies in her.

Regards John Tetlow