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Failing Point
Posted: Thursday, October 5, 2017 8:34 PM
Joined: 19/08/2014
Posts: 67

S/Y Breaking Strain was taking part in the St. Barths Bucket for the third year in a row and was hoping to win her class. Commissioned as a luxurious getaway yacht for her first owner, the new owner wanted to try his hand at racing and proved surprisingly competitive on the superyacht racing circuit. Because the yacht was not conceived with racing in mind, S/Y Breaking Strain lacked an ideal deck setup and performance rigging built to take the loads of racing.
“Almost all yachts are something of a compromise when it comes to racing,” say professional racing coach Jochem Visser. “To compete safely and competitively, it’s essential to dedicate enough time to prepare and to get the yacht into a proper racing mode, and get the crew into that mode of thinking as well.”
The less experienced owner brought several racing professionals aboard to help the regular crew and make up the difference. They made the decisions, while the regular crew manned less technical positions on board. It had proven a winning formula, despite making for an extra crowded deck.
Having just returned from a charter, all hands were involved in switching the 160-foot cruising yacht into racing mode as quickly as possible. As part of the preparations, lines, downwind sails, and numerous extra blocks were brought out of storage and onto the pontoon to be organized and brought on board. It was chaotic, despite the captain’s best efforts. They were ready just in time and went out for a short test sail to check everything was in order. Some of the kit was not in the best shape.
Three days of intensive sailing followed with S/Y Breaking Strain winning their class on the first day, resulting in a happy owner and the promise of a bonus for all crew if they won overall. However, the racing crew, frustratingly, found that many of the lines brought on at the last minute were well worn, and though the blocks hadn’t been serviced, they worked. A long time spent in a damp shipping container doesn’t do any of the yacht’s part-time racing gear any good.
The second day of racing brought with it a very different weather forecast. A stiff wind pressed the yacht firmly against the dock, and the day’s course would demand the most from the crew and the yacht.
In the thick of the race and after a number of sail changes, part of the yacht’s rigging gave way with enormous force during the spinnaker hoist, sending the sail out of control, the guy whiplashing a regular crewmember.

“Many of the points of failure in even the latest technology rigging are hard to spot, whilst some are impossible to identify without taking the mast down,” explains Johnny, a rigger at Allspars Rigging. “For example, swage fittings on stainless steel rigging mask the likely point of failure, around five millimeters inside, so you can’t actually see where it’s starting to fail. With every year, faults become more likely, and it’s very hard to say where they will occur first. As a rule of thumb, and this is a view shared by the insurance companies, rigging should be changed every ten to twelve years, or thirty thousand nautical miles; however, it should be checked at least once a year by a qualified and experienced rigger as well. Yachts being raced are subjected to even greater strains and also, there is increased potential for the rigging to be shock-loaded.”

It was hard to tell what broke at first, but the crewmember was positioned where the spinnaker guy fed through a deck block in an area known as the “zone of death,” and he sustained a serious upper body injury.
“Generally speaking, stainless steel rigging is capable of taking quite a lot of rough treatment,” explains Alistair Buchanan, managing director of Masts and Rigging Services (Scotland). “However, what it really doesn’t like is cyclic movement — when the mast pumps backwards and forwards in a seaway and strong winds. [The] strain on the lower shrouds increases quite a lot [and] is a common area of failure.”
The insurance investigation found that the line being used was one of the yacht’s originals, occasionally used, but heavily exposed to UV, temperature extremes, and stored in very damp conditions. The deck block that failed, while being of sufficient size for the loads placed on it, was not secured with sufficient through-deck fittings or a large enough backing plate. In addition, not intended for a spinnaker guy, it was incorrectly placed and its load was far greater than originally intended.
“Modern materials often seen on racing yachts, such as Dyneema, are significantly stronger than their traditional counterparts and whilst the sheath on Dyneema might wear out, the actual material taking the strain is very resilient,” says Buchanan. “One other significant improvement is UV stability, meaning that even in bright sunlight, more modern materials don’t degrade as quickly.”
The crewmember received life-altering injuries, and a subsequent investigation determined that the captain had failed to keep up maintenance on the yacht’s rigging and racing gear, which resulted in S/Y Breaking Strain finding a new captain, and sadly, a new deck crewmember