The month-long trial of Douglas Innes and Stormforce Coaching, following the Cheeki Rafiki capsize in May 2014, is nearing its conclusion
The final witnesses appeared yesterday at Winchester Crown Court in the trial relating to the loss of four sailors from the yacht Cheeki Rafiki in May 2014.
James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin died when the Beneteau 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki capsized mid-Atlantic on a return trip from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton. Douglas Innes of Stormforce Coaching Limited, which managed the yacht, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Innes, 42, and Stormforce Coaching also deny further charges of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner between 18 March 2013 and 18 May 2014.
On Monday, 3 July the jury heard details of the route that the Cheeki Rafiki took across the Atlantic. Innes recalled how after the yacht set sail from Antigua on 4 May 2014 the initial forecast was for light winds to the Azores. An email from Stormforce Coaching to the yacht was sent on 6 May reading: “Go north, do not pass go, go north, do not collect £200, go north.”
The upturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki was discovered approx. 700 miles south-east of Nova Scotia.
Innes told the court that he had suggested the yacht motor to Bermuda, making a 200-300 mile detour, before refuelling and continuing. Innes said that delivery skipper Andrew Bridge replied: “I can’t see the chart for Bermuda so I don’t want to go in there.”
Innes told the court he believes there was a chart for Bermuda on board at the time.
Returning to questions about the route, Innes said: “Prior to this trial there was never any debate on the way back, you go round the Azores High to the north.”
He continued: “I didn’t have a preconception of at which point they’d start heading east. The aim is to get north far enough that you have a likelihood of westerlies.”
The trial, which opened four weeks ago, has heard detailed evidence from expert witnesses explaining the surveying and coding processes.
The Cheeki Rafiki had a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Category 2 charter code, which meant it could only be sailed commercially within 60 miles of “a safe haven”. This code certificate had lapsed prior to the yacht’s departure from Antigua, at which point, Mr Innes told the court on Monday, 3 July, “We ceased commercial operations.”
Innes said: “We didn’t think an inspection would make the boat safer, we thought it would make the boat legal.”
Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC put the assertion to Mr Innes that: “Prior to the capsize the problems were there to be found.”
Innes replied: “I don’t think another owner-operator, surveyor or five-year survey would have found them.
“I believe if there was a problem it was hidden from non-destructive testing.”
When asked about the yacht’s survey history, Innes said on Wednesday, 5 July: “If the MCA’s structural surveyor couldn’t find it [the problem] in 2011 [the date of the yacht’s last structural survey], then it was not visible by normal means.”
Yacht surveyor Julian Smith told the court on 5 July that had the Cheeki Rafiki been reassessed for its Category 2 code certification, it would not have been structurally tested during that inspection. “Percussion testing is not part of this inspection,” Smith said, “Keel bolt testing is not part of this”.
Describing the coding inspector’s role, Smith said: “We are like GPs, we take a broad view – we don’t pick up tools.”
Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, were not found after the upturned yacht was located on 18 May, 2014.
The case continues.