More details of why Mirabella V ran aground in the south of France last year have emerged as she prepares to leave her builder VT for the second time


Mirabella V, the world’s largest single masted sailing yacht is due to leave her builders VT in Portsmouth on Monday after extensive repairs to her 150-ton lift keel and modifications to her engine starting mechanism following her grounding in the south of France last September. It is now clear that while the 247ft yacht was anchored on a lee shore near Cap Ferrat waiting for members of the family of owner Joe Vittoria to join her, the engine starting mechanism had been isolated so that the motors could only be started from the engine room. According to build project manager Paul Johnson, who has been overseeing repairs, the delay this caused when Mirabella started dragging her 600kg Bruce anchor “would not have saved her” because “everything happened so quickly”. He wanted to point out that engine starting could normally be undertaken at the bridge, at the wing steering stations and at other locations but for safety reasons when the crew were aboard alone, starting was sometimes restricted to controls in the engine room. While Mirabella was in Portsmouth an emergency start system was fitted in the bridge area so that anyone can operate the engines if the yacht is in danger. Paul Johnson also confirmed that there was no question of Mirabella’s skipper ‘Johnno’ Johnston being pressurised to remain on the lee shore prior to the accident. “A party of family members was due to be picked up the following day and this is an area where this happens,” he said, but stressed that no one had forced the skipper to remain anchored there. “It’s one of those things,” said Paul Johnson who said: “Noone has been sacked and noone is going to be sacked.” He said that he understood that the yacht was anchored in an area where the holding is relatively poor because of weed. When the yacht arrived the wind was light and blowing offshore but the following day it came in from the east and strengthened. “This is a huge boat with huge windage,” and he described how Mirabella could ‘sail’ around her anchor which probably caused it to drag. When Mirabella was dry docked in Portsmouth her 90 ton bulb had to be cut away and a1000-ton crane was used to lift the fin from its casing. The fin had smashed a hole through an upper, non-structural section of the steel keel box, the 1in thick Thorden bearing material into which the keel ‘nests’ when it is hydraulically held in place had to be completely replaced and all four locking mechanisms had been destroyed when she grounded. Significantly there was no damage at all to the frp (fibre reinforced plastic) hull structure apart from some superficial gel coat cracking, but one rudder had to be removed and an 18in section at the lower end replaced. Mirabella is heading for Florida where Joe Vittoria has a home and then on to the Caribbean. She will return to the Mediterranean for the summer season where she already has 10 weeks of charter booked at US$250,000 a week.