44' x 23' x 6.2 Tons
18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor
Force 12 Conditions
File S/C-19, obtained from a number of reliable sources. - Vessel name Bayete, hailing port London, UK, designed by Lock Crowther & C. Barreau, LOA 44' x Beam 23' x Draft 5' 11" (2' 2" boards up) x 6.2 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 5/8" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 5/8" stainless steel swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a severe Mediterranean Mistral in deep water about 150 miles South of Marseille, with winds of 80 knots and seas of 25-30 ft. - Vessel was capsized for undetermined reasons with loss of four lives.
The following information concerning the tragic capsize of Bayete came to Victor Shane by way of a number of sources, among them Jean Pierre Prade of Catana, to whom we are grateful, and George Brandes, who was kind enough to forward numerous French newspaper articles concerning the tragedy, to whom we are also indebted. Brandes is the owner of a sister ship almost identical to Bayete.
From a number of French newspapers, among them Le Var (nice-matin), Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to obtain the following outline. On 3 November 1995 a severe Mediterranean Mistral packing 80-knot winds and 25-30 ft. seas struck two yachting "flotillas" without much warning. Numerous sailboats participating in the Transat des Alizés ("Transatlantic Trade Winds Rally" - from San Remo to Point-à-Pître) and the Transat des Passionnés ("Transatlantic Rally for Sailing Enthusiasts" - from Hyères to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canaries) were devastated by the storm offshore about 150 miles south of Marseille. While French meteorological services were at first blamed for the disaster, they did broadcast the morning of Friday, November 3, two storm warnings calling for Force 10 winds. Others found reason to criticize the race organizers and participants for their "lack of judgment" for going ahead with the race instead of seeking safe haven somewhere.
As EPIRBs were activated and maydays started coming in, rescue planes and helicopters of the French government, as well as French Naval forces, went all out to do what they could under trying circumstances. A hundred vessels set out on the Transat des Alizés; four were lost. According to press reports filed at the time the Italian yacht Parsifal sank with one dead, five missing (afterwards lost). Three members of the crew of Cristalin 3 were also helicopter-lifted to hospitals on Minorca. From the dismasted Maiaco 2 off Marseilles came distress calls and the efforts to save it and Parsifal went forward feverishly. Three persons of French nationality were rescued from Maiaco 2. The yacht Ango 2 was also dismasted. A vessel setting out from Cagliari rescued that crew and put them aboard a Greek freighter making for Marseilles.
As for the Transat des Passionnés, it was Bayete - the subject of this DDDB file - which signaled two dead, two missing and one survivor. Richard Charington survived twelve hours in frigid waters until a French Navy helicopter could make the 200 kms through the storm to save him. Charington was exhausted and suffering form hypothermia when the helicopter reached him. He said "I saw one of them drown!" before fainting.
From Chantier Catana's initial Communiqué concernant l'accident de BAYETE ("Communiqué concerning the BAYETE accident") Victor Shane - with the assistance of a translator - has been able to infer the following hypothetical scenario. We would like to emphasize that it is hypothetical - we are not dealing with known and verifiable facts. The capsize occurred in pitch black night. According to reliable sources, among them Catana's Jean Pierre Prade, the sole survivor - Richard Charington - was not a sailor, took no part in the setting of the para-anchor, was in his bunk at the time and, apart from possibly hearing a loud noise prior to the capsize, is to this day unclear about what might have happened:
Bayete chose not to leave at the beginning of the Transat des Passionnés on Tuesday, November 1, 1995 because of winds announced for that very evening. Friday morning Bayete got weather information from an unknown "German source" which called for increasing calm. To wit, Bayete's first few hours at sea were in fact under a light spinnaker, and later under power, a confirmation to the crew of the forecast they had received.
A large swell with no wind made the crew seasick. At mid-day a wind arose from the northwest and quickly gained in force. Bayete's crew, already worn out with seasickness, reduced sail. By nightfall the conditions were already serious - crew exhausted, no one with the strength to take the wheel - and it was decided to set out Bayete's safety gear, a "para-anchor" or heavily reinforced parachute to be submerged as a sea anchor and to be fixed to the vessel by a nylon line 150 meters long. Around eight in the evening (20h) the para-anchor was made fast by a bridle attached to the port stem and to the center of the forward beam - (French: Sur Bayete le para-anchor est ammarré par une patte d'oie sur l'étrave bâbord et le centre de la poutre avant vers 20h). The entire crew had taken shelter inside, two remaining dressed for rough weather while the rest undressed for bed. Around ten (22h) the vessel heeled sharply to port, the starboard hull lifted up and Bayete capsized.
The five crew made it to the survival deck - (French panneau de survie - the flat underwing area between the two main hulls). They found the anchor line lying across the vessel between the hulls, a fact which led them to think the vessel had pitchpoled to stern.
One of the crew set off with a rescue buoy [EPIRB] which he activated outside the vessel, but unfortunately a wave tore the device out of his hands. The helicopter which came to the rescue found the buoy right away but took a number of hours to find Bayete because the moon was no longer to be seen. When the vessel was at last found only one survivor was winched aboard the helicopter and taken to Toulon in a state of severe hypothermia.
The most reliable report of conditions is that of the C.R.O.S.S. MED rescue team, which noted 70 knot winds at 340°, which whipped up to 80 knots at the time of the rescue, and that in seas eight meters high. A number of vessels were in distress at the same time. Parsifal sank with six souls lost and three other vessels were abandoned following helicopter winching off of the crew after sustaining serious damage.
In subsequent fax communications Jean Pierre Prade informed Shane that the capsized Bayete had been towed to Corsica. She was not too badly damaged. None of the mooring cleats had been broken. Naval personnel had indicated that the para-anchor was still made fast. The forward aluminum beam, housing the seagull striker and the anchor roller, to which one leg of the bridle seems to have been led, was broken in the middle, "but the break was in the direction of the pull of the stay, probably on account of the strains on the rig when the vessel was capsized."
Like Jean Pierre Prade, we can only agonize and speculate as to what happened. Perhaps the catamaran was struck by a rogue wave. Perhaps the "half-bridle" that seems to have been used, in spite of instructions to the contrary, did not afford sufficient leverage to keep her fully facing into the seas. Or perhaps the lines and/or parachute were not correctly deployed in the dark and partially fouled, or perhaps it was any combination of the above. At this stage, instead of engaging in idle speculation, one should rather focus on what is known, and what could have been done to preserve the lives of those men. For example, since it is known that the forward aluminum cross-member was broken in the middle, and since one leg of the bridle does seem to have been led over the anchor roller situated there, Victor Shane feels compelled to take this opportunity - once and for all - to close this window of vulnerability on ocean going catamarans. Never attach one arm of the bridle, or even a single anchor rode, to the crossbeam - it just is not strong enough. See the Catamaran Bridle Advisory for the correct attachment of a bridle.
This was a terrible tragedy. Terrible because, with just a little more planning and foresight four lives might have easily been spared. It was reported that the sole survivor was the only one wearing a life vest, for example. The use of safety harnesses may have kept them from being swept off the slippery underwing. All might easily have come through in survival suits, or wet suits, and/or a life raft. Bayete was equipped with everything from microwave oven to radar to desalinization unit to the latest electronics and numerous safety devices, including a certified life raft. Tragically, four lives were still lost when she capsized.
Apart from re-emphasizing the need for full-width bridles there is another - much more important - lesson to be learned here as well, namely that one should always have a plan to put into effect in case of capsize. As evidenced by the 118-day survival of Rose-Noëlle's crew after she went over (File S/T-7), capsize need not be the end of the world. To quote the words of renowned multihull designer Jim Brown:
A multihull capsize is not by itself an ultimate disaster. There is a wide gap between capsize and actual loss of life. Given the proper preparations and equipment, and a suitable capsize survival technique, turning over is not nearly as threatening - as final - as the familiar once-and-for-all finish of a boat that's sunk.
Sea anchors and drogues, properly rigged and deployed, will go a long way to prevent capsize on multihulls. Clearly however, beyond a certain point, say Force 12, a great deal will remain uncertain regardless of the tactic being used. Beyond such a point there is a crying need for a standardized capsize protocol.
The fundamental safety asset that multihulls have is that 99% of them are unsinkable. Bayete may have capsized, but unlike the monohull Parsifal she did not sink. Parsifal went down to the bottom. Bayete has been re-fitted and is now sailing the Mediterranean again. Although she turned turtle, there was nevertheless that sufficiency of food, water and flotation in her upturned hulls to sustain human life, at least until rescue. What was lacking here was the means - carefully laid out plan - for utilizing them.
Multihull sailors - in particular those sailing modern catamarans - MUST have a capsize survival strategy before they go offshore. All crew members must be informed as to what that strategy is, where the equipment - survival suits, EPIRB, life raft, emergency lighting, portable VHF, calamity pack, etc. - are located, and how they can be reached and activated in the initial period of panic and disorientation that usually follows capsize - those are the critical moments. The crew must be made to understand that capsize is not the end of the world. They must be handed a concrete guideline - standard procedure - to this effect. We have placed the skeletal framework of such a guideline in Appendix VII of this publication.
Four members of the sailing fraternity were lost in this tragedy. Jean-Claude Batault, Bayete's owner, his brother Philippe, associates Henri Cailau and Pascal Metois are no longer with us. We are all diminished by their passing. We bid defiance to the sea in honor of their memory, resolved to double our efforts against an ancient adversary. This means heightened awareness, education, preparation, organization and readiness. It means never taking anything for granted about the sea, and always remembering the last paragraph of the official inquiry on the Fastnet tragedy of 1979:
In the 1979 race the sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy, and that those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in the full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order.