Injuries aboard Sojana, the 115ft ketch that hit shoal while travelling at 11 kts under spinnaker 4/5/06

Navigator Mark Fitzgerald has damaged, or possibly broken his ribs, and several other crewmembers suffered bruising during a dramatic grounding on Sojana during the third race of Rolex Antigua Sailing Week.

Sojana, the 115ft Farr-designed ketch was just settling into the race on a offwind leg off Jolly Harbour when, travelling at 11kts with the kite up, hit a sand shoal and came to a dramatic halt.

The crew was thrown forward but Fitzgerald, who was catapulted into one of the giant winches, came off worse with suspected broken ribs. Peter Harrison, the owner of Sojana suffered a twisted wrist and a few of the other crewmembers have minor bruising.

Commenting on the incident Harrison said: “Damage to people was our main concern, but apart from Mark’s unfortunate rib damage, we seem to have got away fairly lightly.”

According to Harrison and Fitzgerald they knew they were in fairly shoaly area and it was a major concern considering they needed 4.5m clearance and many of the shoals around were showing 2.5m. Explaining the sequence of events Fitzgerald said: “We were near Five Islands and just gone round the windward mark, on a close reach, with the wind between 10-15kts. We came round Pelican Shoal and set the kite and got a massive header so we had to dive down to come the other side of the shoal. There was a little boat below us and we shouted for water twice but they didn’t respond. It wasn’t that unreasonable because as far as he [the other boat] was concerned we were offshore.”

Harrision continued: “We’ve got very sophisticated electronic charting equipment onboard and also we had a hand-held deckman but the shoals do move from time to time, so we knew we were sailing in potentially difficult waters and to avoid it we’d have had to take quite a long tack one way or another which would have lost us ground. The instruments seemed to be okay and suddenly there was a bang and we stopped dead. You can imagine the energy release of 100 tons doing about 11kts. Pretty worrying.”

High and dry the team managed to motor off and head for the nearest bay to carry out inspection of the keel. Fortunately there seems to be no immediate damage other than superficial damage to the keel bulb and Fitzgerald who, despite his obvious rib pain, was able to confirm: “We’ll probably do some other tests but we can’t hoist her out here in Antigua so realistically to get any work done it would have to be Newport Rhode Island, the nearest practical place, or back to the UK. Obviously we’ll be talking to the designers but fortunately there’s so far no evidence of any damage.