A Photo & Discussion Forum for Wharram Design Enthusiasts
I don't have much experience with the larger Wharrams, but I would probably be running just a blade on my Tiki if an organized front was coming my way. You just don't know if they will be packing any straight line winds or downbursts. In the Southeast at least, you never really know how bad a front is going to get before it hits. We had a front come through in the Dauphin Island Regatta last year that was moving East Northeast blowing around 20 knots as it approached. Without warning, 60-70 knot winds came straight out of the South Southwest where skies were actually clearer and decimated everyone still out. This happened about 30 minutes before the actual front was over us. Nothing has happened like that in 57 years of the race. It made me not fuck with fronts AT ALL anymore!
It really does sound like a Waterspout hit these people though unless they had similar straight line downburst winds hit.
This is the second or third of these big cats to get tipped over. Clearly any unballasted boat can capsize and stay upside down. However this was the case with traditional "form stable" sailing ships too - only the modern keel yacht is self righting. To my mind the big factor is seamanship and the "seat of the pants" feeling that is essential . If you are sailing on auto pilot "keeping watch" from inside your air conditioned heated pilot house you lose all sense of what is really going on outside even if you are watching squalls on your radar. You need to be aware and look around you and be at one with the conditions so you see things before they hit you and reduce sail. All boats need your help to weather conditions and if you sail a multihull that is stable it will still be blown or rolled over by a masive rogue wave breaking or a 70mph squall or being hit by a waterspout. What says everything about these incidents is that the people sailing these things do not KNOW what hit them. Its a bit like walking across a road with your hood of your jacket over your head back to oncoming traffic unable to hear or see and complaining you don't know what type of vehicle hit you!!
In answer to the question then any vessel is vulnerable to these conditions and needs a good alert skipper -simple.
The following is 100% speculation based on the limited information available and past personal experiences.
• The boat was traveling to windward at 5-7 knots in 23-27 knots of true wind
• There was an approaching cold front
• Two people reported hearing a "roar" immediately preceding the capsize
• Two people reported feeling the boat "rotate" immediately preceding the capsize
I have personally been on a catamaran - motoring in flat seas, no sails - that took a direct hit from a waterspout. It was about 23m in diameter and we saw it coming towards us as it dropped to the water about 200m in front of our course. I estimate it had winds of 60 knots as it passed through the vessel.
I am not discounting what the crew believes to have happened, but tornadic events have a distinct sound that is consistently reported to sound like a freight train. Medium to large breaking waves are consistently reported to sound like a roar.
I believe the boat was impacted by a breaking wave preceding the cold front, causing both the sound the crew heard, as well as the sudden "rotation" felt. This rotation of the vessel, combined the the hulls suddenly lying beam-to on the face of a breaking wave caused the apparent wind to accelerate. This combination joined forces to capsize the vessel.
The question remains. Could such an event capsize a large Wharram. Who knows. Did the daggerboard(s) of the vessel contribute to tripping the hull(s)? Would a Wharram's hull form allow it to slide sideways without tripping? Did the design of the rig contribute to the capsize? Would a Wharram's low aspect rig prevent capsize caused by a sudden apparent wind increase? Would it make a difference if the Wharram was Marconi rigged or Wing Sail rigged? Unfortunately these questions cannot be answered. Sometimes, shit happens.