Written by Scott Alle
08 July 2022
There are many unanswered questions still surrounding the near loss of the new double-handed offshore Farr X2 Nexba Racing in moderate seas off Wollongong last weekend.
Predictably, the focus has been on why the keel of Nexba failed so catastrophically, causing it to capsize and, according to the limited accounts available, with very little warning. But there are other elements of the incident that need to be discussed.
Fortunately, the two experienced sailors onboard at the time were rescued from Nexba’s upturned hull by a RIB launched from HMAS Brisbane after 15 hours in the water.
They were taken to hospital suffering cuts, bruising and hypothermia but have since been released. Though no doubt traumatised by their ordeal, the sailors for the most part are okay.
The pair had been out doing their 100-mile qualifying passage for the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Race on 30 July.
A statement posted on the Nexba Racing Facebook page stated that Nexba left Pittwater early Friday afternoon and planned to be back by early to mid-Saturday morning.
According to the statement, this is what transpired:
“Around one on Saturday morning as the team made their way home to Sydney in a light to moderate breeze and one- to two-metre seas, the boat capsized.
“After spending 15 hours drifting out to sea with the upturned vessel, the team were rescued and are now safe on land and have recovered in hospital with minor injuries.
“They are not yet ready to talk about their ordeal in a public forum and are grateful for space at this time. They will release a statement when they are ready.”
The sailors onboard have said: “Thank you everyone for your kind words of support, we are so grateful to have survived an awful ordeal and for our amazing community of family, friends, fellow sailors (basically family) and all of the incredible people who assisted in our rescue effort.
Thank you so greatly in particular to everyone who assisted in the team’s rescue effort, especially the incredible and highly trained team from the HMAS Brisbane, the crew of the Arietta Lily, the water police, marine rescue, triple zero and the many parties who helped in communicating our position.”
There are clearly some major information gaps that need to be filled, and hopefully they will be, so we as sailors can be better prepared if we suffer the same extremely serious misfortune.
A lot of questions come to mind, starting with the big one; how did the keel fail in moderate sea and wind (15 knots) conditions?
Subsequently, if the keel came off at 1am on Saturday, why did take nearly 15 hours for the sailors to be rescued? Just when and how were the authorities at AMSA’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre notified?
I’ve heard several explanations, including that they dialled triple zero on an Apple watch and said they were in an offshore emergency situation but couldn’t hear the operator at the other end.
There’s no mention of any kind of mayday, distress call or EPIRB being set-off as apparently it all happened too fast to get one out. If that’s the case, it’s telling in itself.
What about Personal Locator Beacons? Were they activated? I’ve also heard one was, but the aerial broke off. What about the life raft? In a locker under the floor in the cockpit – unable to be deployed in time.
Of course, we are all extremely relieved and thankful the sailors are safe, but that shouldn’t stop us from examining the course of events in the hugely challenging situation they found themselves in.
As for Nexba, it became something of a local tourist attraction, high and dry propped-up on the beach near Wollongong, though since has been recovered.
Brendan Hunt of Vicsail, the central agents for the Farr X2 told Sails the intention is to truck it back to Sydney.
He admitted the highly credentialled team behind the X2 project has been devastated by the incident and he praised the sailors’ courage and seamanship in the face of every sailor’s nightmare.
Hunt stated that an independent expert will be brought in to investigate what led to the keel becoming detached.
Another separate investigation by Sailing Australia could also be on the cards, given its examination of the similar fate of LCE Showtime on its way back from the 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart.
The X2 management team, led by Bret Perry has been proactive in taking appropriate action in relation to the incident.
I understand there have been extensive meetings with project partners, including builders XSP Composites in Batam, Indonesia. The Farr X2 would appear to be the largest yacht that they have manufactured to date.
There’s no disputing the appeal of the X2’s design. Ten boats have been sold and all owners have apparently been very supportive and understanding of the situation. Hull #2 is complete and on its way to California, while hull #3 is heading to the UK.
From my discussions with boat-builders, the Farr X2 team needs to have an extremely close look at and undertake rigorous testing of the other boats’ keel bolts as well as examining their attachment points to the keel.
Farr Designs have been in the forefront of international yacht racing since the 1970s and have a long list of offshore triumphs.
The Farr X2 website confirms the boat is constructed to ISO Standard Cat A – 4 and is “positioned to provide exceptional performance in a wide range of conditions; able to perform in both the toughest offshore races and weekend club races all while being rewarding to sail by both Corinthian crews and professionals.”
All of us who race offshore are only too aware of the risks involved. Don Jones, the designer of many yachts including Skandia and Volvo 70 Ichi Ban/Team Brunel once told me he didn’t sleep until he knew his boats were safely back in port.
I’m sure there will be a full and comprehensive examination of what caused Nexba’s keel fault and any necessary action taken to rectify the problem in subsequent builds.
The ocean will find any weakness and ruthlessly exploit it. It’s a good maxim to consider as you watch the heads slip by and the bow climbs the first Tasman Sea swell.