The Cynthia Woods is being towed to an undisclosed location after losing its keel 12/6/08

News has been coming in from the US that a two-year-old yacht, Cynthia Woods, which left Galveston on 6 May to race to Veracruz, Mexico, was being towed to an undisclosed location after losing its keel and capsizing. Six crewmen from the Texas A&M University offshore sailing team were onboard.

A salvage team is in the process of bringing the sailboat to a group of investigators, who must determine from the wreckage what caused the keel to fall off – killing one crewmember and leaving the other five adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for 26 hours.

“I’ve never seen the keel just fall off a sailboat,” explained Jim Atchley, marine terminal manager for Texas A&M University at Galveston. “When the boat left here, it was in good shape.”

Until school officials determine whether a design defect caused the keel failure, they have taken the George Phydias, an identical craft, out of commission. The sailboats, each originally valued at more than $300,000, were made by North Carolina-based Cape Fear Yacht Works. The boats arrived on the island straight from the factory and were launched in April 2006.

Four students and two safety officers were on board the Cynthia Woods on Friday (6 June) when it capsized south of Matagorda. Roger Stone, 53, a safety officer, died during the accident. Stone is credited with saving the lives of two students. His crewmates were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard early Sunday morning.

The boat was last drydocked in April, when the keel and hull were inspected, university officials said. Its maintenance and inspection records were aboard when it capsized. University officials hope to retrieve these for more answers. Coast Guard officials say they will conduct an informal inquest into the accident, but no formal proceeding will take place because the Cynthia Woods was not a commercial vessel.

A small-craft advisory warned mariners about rough seas on 6 June when the fleet of 25 set out for the Regata de Amigos. Seas were at least 2-3m high, with 20 knot winds according to the US National Weather Service.

Andy Mytelka, an attorney and president of the Galveston Independent School District’s governing board, was aboard the 38ft Revelry during the race. “At times winds were at 30 knots”, Mytelka said, “but not rough enough to stop the race”.

Mytelka said he’s reserving comment about what happened to the Cynthia Woods until the investigation is complete. “I’d be surprised if the keel just came off without them hitting something,” he added.

The surviving Cynthia Woods crewmembers have said they never realized anything was amiss until the boat began taking water. Just before 23:45 local time on Friday, Stone, who was below decks, began yelling that the hull was breached. Attempts to start the boat’s engine failed. Within seconds, the boat rolled onto its side, tossing three overboard. Stone assisted two students out of the boat, but was trapped inside, officials say.

Dick Frenzel, owner of Dixieland Marine in Houston, Texas, who surveys both commercial and pleasure boats, said a proper inspection of the boat should have revealed problems with the keel. “There’s a 75% to 85% chance that it could have been prevented,” Frenzel said. “If a keel has some problems, it can be detected by a competent, certified marine surveyor.”