J Class Association secretary explains how the collision between Velsheda and Ranger was down to a lack of communication

We’ve just had an interesting call from David Pitman secretary of the J Class Association who had been asked by Ronald de Waal, the owner of Velsheda, to describe to us exactly what happened in the collision with Ranger during the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

David, who was not aboard at the time, but is a regular member of the afterguard aboard the big blue J, said that the accident happened as a direct result of a failure of communication.

Ronald de Waal and his afterguard knew full well that there was about to be a close call as they began to engage Ranger. With Velsheda on port she was, of course, the give way yacht.

According to David Pitman, as the yachts converged, Velsheda sent the highly experienced Joey Allen (ex Team NZ) to the point to call the situation. Joey is not Velsheda’s regular point man and he was not wearing a headphone and mike set which are often used to communicate between the afterguard and foredeck, a distance of about 100ft.

Joey would indicate by agreed hand signals or shouting (the latter was used) that Velsheda was either clear to cross, that she would have to bear away and dip Ranger’s stern or tack. David Pitman added that Joey Allen was unfortunately suffering from a marginal loss of voice as a result of three days of racing.

The call came “no dip! no dip!” and according to Pitman this was taken as meaning that there was no need to dip and therefore they could stand on. “They (the afterguard) thought he meant that we (Velsheda) were clear,” said David Pitman. But what Joey Allen was attempting to indicate was that dipping was not an option because he deemed that bearing away safely was impossible and that a tack was what was needed – in fact, the only option.

Instead Velsheda stood on, the afterguard believing they could sail across Ranger’s bow. As it became apparent that they couldn’t de Waal found himself in that awful no man’s land, but with two Js involved this was no ordinary crisis. He spun the wheel to attempt to tack but it was too late, there was a clash of rigging and then the bows hit. With Velsheda coming upright and Ranger still rail down the damage to Velsheda included the removal of her caprail forward and a considerable amount of (newly applied!!) filler and paintwork from her topsides.

Damage to Ranger was along her sheerline as the hulls came together at the bow, then amidships and finally near the stern. No one was hurt but both yachts stopped racing. A Lloyd’s surveyor has given the rigs, both carbon from Southern Spars held up with EC6 carbon rigging, a clean bill of health although there is some damage to the outer casing on one of Velsheda’s runners.

Straight after the incident Ronald de Waal boarded Velsheda’s support RIB and headed for Ranger to admit his mistake, emphasise that there was no aggression intended and to apologise to the crew of Ranger. Ronald de Waal and John Williams, Ranger’s owner are well known for their highly competitive nature on and indeed off the race course.
The incident was an unfortunate ending to what had been an excellent regatta with extremely close racing between the two yachts.

Interestingly, after a plea from Ranger before the regatta, the race committee deemed that Velsheda was a 1996 built yacht (the year she was re-built by Ronald de Waal) rather than a 1933 yacht, the year of her original launch, for the purposes of rating.

This had the effect of bumping up her correction factor but she appeared to be able to sail to it anyway making the racing considerably closer. Both yachts enjoyed elapsed time wins over each other in the three races they completed.

Velsheda is booked in for repairs in Majorca some time in May. She might be afloat in time to take part in The Superyacht Cup in Palma at the end of that month.