In 2010 a charter yacht completed three sailing charters and over 100 miles before anyone noticed the keel fell off after she ran aground

Sailing 100 miles without a keel

A 37ft charter yacht, which lost her keel after hitting rocks in 2010, went on to complete three charters and more than 100 miles of cruising that year before anyone noticed. Polbream, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 37 built in 2001, was on a £1,000-a-week skippered charter when she broached in a Force 5 southwesterly wind on passage to Falmouth from the Helford River.

sailing keel aground

The route Polbream sailed after losing her keel

Yachting Monthly reader Caroline McGunigall, a social worker, and her husband, Royal Navy sailor Warren, from Portreath, Cornwall, were on the boat, sailing with another couple. ‘It was quite frightening. The skipper was down below at the time and we were struggling to control her,’ she said. The crew dropped the sails, started the engine and motored her back to Falmouth. ‘We thought it might be a problem with the rudder.’

sailing keel aground

The keel-less Polbream (right), rafted up in Helford Passage

The McGunigalls were offered another charter yacht, a Bénéteau Océanis Clipper 331, by Cornish Cruising so they could continue their sailing holiday. When they returned to the charter base on Sunday they saw Polbream had been lifted ashore. ‘To my astonishment, the keel was completely missing. It looked as if the keelbolts had been cut clean through,’ Mrs McGunigall added.

sailing keel aground

One of the four keelbolts, which sheared off

Nick Jordan, owner of Cornish Cruising, said a previous charterer had hit Little Kittern Rock, north of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, where the keel was lost. The charterer sailed the boat back to Falmouth where Mr Jordan debriefed him – a standard procedure. ‘I asked him, as I do all charterers, the three questions: Have you gone aground? Have you hit anything? Has anything gone round the prop? He answered “No” to all three.’ The boat was then taken by a second charter party and sailed to Plymouth. The skipper on this occasion telephoned Mr Jordan and told him there was a problem with the steering. He was asked to get it checked locally by a professional but failed to do so.

On Polbream’s third charter since losing her keel, the McGunigalls came aboard. After their trip it was finally revealed the keel was missing.

sailing keel aground

The keel, which divers recovered from a rocky cleft

Mr Jordan said the 2-tonne fin keel was recovered by divers and brought ashore in the Isles of Scilly. It was found standing upright in a rock cleft in 6m of water.

When questioned for a second time by Mr Jordan, the first charterer admitted he had ‘grounded lightly’ on Kittern Rock.

‘Even so, he hadn’t got a clue he had lost the keel,’ said Mr Jordan. ‘He is mortified that there is any suggestion he knew what had happened and covered it up.

‘The boat is being taken to Gweek on a low loader where remedial work is to be carried out on the instruction of her owner. A survey has shown the keelbolts were corroded and the GRP is suffering from delamination. We wouldn’t have expected a keel-less boat to remain upright. Her wide beam, engine, heavy rudder and full water tanks helped her stability.’

Tresco harbourmaster Henry Birch told YM: ‘How they sailed the yacht back to Falmouth without a keel, I don’t know!’