The U.S. Coast Guard search for the four Brit crew — Andrew Bridge 22, James Male 24, Steve Warren 52, and Paul Goslin 56, — of the Beneteau 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki, which apparently sank on a trip from Antigua to England, will be called off for a second time if nothing is found by tonight. The four were experienced offshore sailors, and the boat, sister ships of which have been very successful in events such as the rigorous Sydney to Hobart Race, was well equipped.
On May 15, while 600 miles east of Cape Cod, and in 50 knots of wind and 15-to 20-foot waves, the crew reported that they had water to the floorboards, but couldn’t determine where it was coming from. A short time later, a personal EPIRB was activated. After the signal from that EPIRB stopped, another personal EPIRB was set off. That signal stopped a short time later, too.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian resources immediately began a search. The weather conditions were awful, with visibility no more than a mile.
On Saturday the 17th, the cargo ship Maersk Kure came alongside an overturned yacht in the search area and took photos. If there was anybody aboard, they couldn’t see them. Nor was there any way for them to get aboard in such conditions and check.
The overturned vessel looked consistent with a Beneteau 40.7, and appeared to be missing her keel, suggesting it was Cheeki Rafiki, and the missing keel was the source of the water ingress. On the other hand, the rudder of the boat appeared to be black, and photos of Cheeki Rafiki from the Caribbean show her to have white bottom paint.
In any event, the Coast Guard called off the search on Sunday, saying they had searched 48 hours despite science suggesting the crew couldn’t have survived the 60-degree temperatures for more than 20 hours.
The families of the lost sailors started petitions to continue the search, noting that Tony Bullimore survived for five days in the upturned hull of his boat in the freezing Southern Ocean in 1997. After 200,000 signatures had been collected, the Coast Guard relented and resumed their search. In addition, many of the approximately 100 pleasure yachts crossing the Atlantic, as well as commercial vessels, joined in the search. There has been no sighting of the crew or the vessel. Some debris was found by a catamaran, but it was determined not to have come from the boat.
Speculation has been that the water ingress possibly came from loose keel bolts. As more water entered the boat, she would have become increasingly less stable. If the keel broke off suddenly in such weather, the boat would have flipped immediately, trapping anyone who might have been inside, and making it difficult for anyone to launch the liferaft. This is all speculation, and it’s likely the truth will never be known.
Our hearts go out to the crew and the families of the crew. They are/were good sailors, in what is considered to be a well-designed and-built boat that was well equipped.