Team Vakaros splits a hull in high wind during the 2017 Florida 300, Leg Five, Cocoa Beach to Daytona Beach.
From the editor: We now have the details from Jake Keilman, Todd Wilson, and ground crew Todd Justman about their “visit” to Cape Canaveral during the 2017 Florida 300.
From Jake: Here’s a rundown of our day:
Boat: 2011 AHPC (now Goodall) C2 F18.
Team: Jake Keilman (driving), Todd Wilson (crewing), Phil Justman (ground crew)
Weather: Offshore breeze out of the west ~20 knots steady, with gusts to mid 20’s and occasional gust to high 20’s. (editor note: based on other teams accounts this may be conservative.)
Leg: Cocoa Beach to Daytona Beach
Departing Cocoa Beach:
Leaving the beach, we quickly felt that something was wrong, as we were having a hard time keeping the boat under control, and experienced two serious nosedives that would have resulted in capsizes without the chicken-line system. We were struggling to keep the boat under control and on the necessary angle for the cape. We found ourselves sailing higher than the ideal heading to deal with the nose diving issue, and we noted that the boats ahead were sailing deeper and appeared to be managing better. At the time we assumed this was a boat setup issue and worked on depowering, but to little effect. Ultimately, we turned down to sail a deep course as we neared the cape. At this point in the day, we were primarily confused and frustrated with the performance of the boat and our sailing, but with little explanation as to what might be wrong.
Rounding the Cape:
We chose to carry our deeper course far enough off the cape so that we could turn north and hold a more manageable upwind angle (as opposed to the reaching angle that had proved difficult earlier). The waves off the cape were significant– quite steep, and perhaps 3-4 ft in height. They were remarkably large considering the short fetch from shore–at this point we were no more than a mile offshore. Sailing upwind into the waves was tough going, and the boat felt sluggish–unable to accelerate. We began observing our progress relative to shore and noted that we were making little to no progress to windward–the boat was essentially just holding position. We tacked and headed in closer to shore to find smaller waves. Near shore with smaller waves, we were finally able to make some slow progress north.
Houston, we have a problem:
As we continue north, we observed that the starboard hull (we had primarily been sailing on port tack) appeared to be riding low in the water. Assuming that we perhaps had a small leak or a loose hatch cover, we turned towards shore. We could see the fence on the beach marking the northern edge of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and people on the public beach at Playa Linda to the north, and aimed for that, in an effort to avoid the Air Force Station. However, as we approached the shore, the starboard hull seemed to be sinking rapidly, and we made the decision to head for the closest beach–adjacent to Launch Complex 39B as we later learned. As we approached the surf with the hull low in the water, control became a problem and there were a few tricky moments. Once safely ashore, we opened the rear hatch and found that the starboard hull was completely full with water, up to the top of the transom. Unable to move the boat past the surf line with the water in the hull, we dropped the sails and began improvising a siphon from a camelbak drink tube. We reopeend the hatch and discovered, to our surprise, that the majority of the water was gone from the hull, and had been replaced by a significant amount of sand. We realized this wasn’t simply a leaky hatch cover or water coming in through a fitting.
The amount of sand suggested something significant was wrong, and we lifted the boat to get a look underneath. The problem was immediately apparent–the starboard hull had a 5 ft long opening along the centerline, starting about a foot back from the bow and reaching almost to the front beam. It was clear that we could not continue the race.
We managed to find enough cell signal to get a text off to our awesome ground crew Phil with a few details and our location, and called Warren, one of the Florida 300 race organizers, to let him know that we were safe, withdrawing from the race and our location on the Cape. He then contacted Cape Canaveral to alert them to our presence. At this point, we noticed a Cape Canaveral police officer walking down the beach from the guard station. Jake went to meet the officer while Todd remained with the boat. Once the officer understood what we were doing and was confident we did not pose a threat to the Cape facilities, we began working on a plan to get the boat off the beach and out of the base. Phil arrived with the beach wheels, and a park ranger approached the fence to offer assistance. A supervisor arrived on the beach, and additional officers came over the dunes to Todd’s location at the beach. Once the appropriate approvals had been granted, Phil was permitted to bring our tow vehicle and trailer through an access gate, and the park ranger brought an ATV to help tow the boat down the beach on its beach wheels. We towed the boat the half mile down the beach to the access road at a walking pace, with Todd, Jake and two officers stabilizing it on the wheels. Once we got the boat off the beach and to the trailer, we worked quickly to get it partly derigged and secured so that we could tow it off the base and to a nearby parking lot to finish the process
In hindsight, it seems clear to us that the problems we were experiencing with boat handling and control were related to the water we had on board. We estimate that we may have had as much as 500 to 1000 lbs of water in the starboard hull by the time we reached the beach. On the water, it wasn’t obvious that this was the problem–structural failure of the hull wasn’t on our minds. The experience reminded us how glad we were to be wearing the race required safety equipment (PFD’s, personal locator beacons, strobes, flares etc.)–if we had been further offshore, we are confident we could have successfully signaled for rescue if needed.
Thank you to:
Cape Canaveral Police and National Park Service Rangers–Everyone we interacted with was helpful and worked with us to get the boat safely off the beach
Larry and Sergey for checking to make sure we were safe and representing what the race is all about
Weston, for helping us tow the boat the final few miles into Daytona after a tire blowout on our tow vehicle
Florida 300 race organizers, for putting on a fantastic event
Upon inspection, it appears that the starboard hull split along its construction seam. The good news is that the repair is relatively straightforward, as the rest of the structure appears to be intact. We are still corresponding with Goodall to determine what caused the failure in the first place.
We look forward to sailing (and finishing!) the Florida 300 next year!