A Swan Adrift – Abandoned Sailing Yachts Drifting on the Deep Blue Sea

In February, Wolfhound, a 48′ Nautor Swan sailing yacht, was abandoned in a storm just north of Bermuda by her Irish owner, Alan McGettigan, and a crew of three. The sailors were rescued by a passing freighter. The boat was reported to have sunk. Instead, Wolfhound was recently spotted very much afloat, drifting around 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.  From a photograph, taken by Martin Butler from a passing ship, the yacht appears to be floating on her lines and doesn’t look in bad shape. It appears that her forestay and backstay have parted, yet the carbon fiber mast is still standing. The current market price of a Nautor Swan 48 is around a half million dollars based on recent brokerage listings on Yachtworld.com. Thanks to Portside New York for pointing out the story on Facebook.

The reappearance of Wolfhound got us thinking about all the other sail boats abandoned when their crews were rescued.

What happened, for example, to Abby Sunderland’s boat Wild Eyes which she abandoned in the Indian Ocean three years ago, after being dismasted?  She was rescued by a French fishing boat 2,000 nautical miles off western Australia.   Wild Eyes was an Open 40 design which was reported to have sufficient flotation so as to be to be unsinkable. Is it still drifting somewhere in the Indian Ocean?

We have a much better idea what happened to several other abandoned boats. Windigo, a 38-foot yacht abandoned approximately 692 kilometres south-west of Tonga, drifted ashore in February on a beach in  Bundagen, on the east coast of Australia, after drifting for over four months.

Last November we posted about Derk Wolmuth sailing in the Singlehanded TransPac race between San Francisco and Kaua’i, Hawaii who needed to be rescued when he suffered a life-threatening bout of septic shock. Before leaving his boat, Bela Bartok, he shortened down the sails, activated the GPS tracking beacon and engaged the self-steering gear. The boat sailed on to Hawaii without him and was intercepted by friends who brought her safely into port.

Last January we posted about Queen Bee, a fishing boat lost off Nantucket which drifted ashore on the Atlantic Coast of Spain, drifting 3,500 miles in four years.

One of the more bizarre stories of abandoned boats was of the Compromise, a Nicholson 32, which was abandoned at sea during the World Cruising Club ARC race of 2005. The boat itself was not damaged but had to be abandoned after Canadian skipper Jos Brosnan stopped taking his medications and became psychotic and threatening to the rest of the crew. He was taken off the boat and the remaining two crew members, who lacked sufficient experience to handle the sailboat, chose to be evacuated as well.  A year later, the boat drifted ashore in the Azores, 1,200 miles north of where it had been abandoned.

Two Nonsuch 30 sailboats hold a sort of class record for abandonment and retrieval.  The boats feature a single unstayed mast.  David Philpott’s Serenity and Brian Shelley’s Saci IV were each abandoned after rig failures. Both drifted in the open ocean for months before being recovered. Reportedly, both boats were re-rigged and returned to sailing.

The unstated question is whether or not the availability of modern electronics and the increasd chance of rescue by ship or helicopter has encouraged sailors to be too ready to activate the EPIRB. Sailing World examined 21 cases of where the crew was rescued but the yacht abandoned during 2011. Their conclusion? They wrote:

After sailing oceans for many years, and hearing these tales of the many brave cruising sailors who suffer all sorts of privations and still take their boats home, one can’t help wondering whether some of the sailors in these incidents weren’t calling distress because they were merely frightened and far from home.

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8 Responses to A Swan Adrift – Abandoned Sailing Yachts Drifting on the Deep Blue Sea

  1. Buck says:

    A fascinating look at boats that didn’t make it home. I often wonder about whether less experienced sailors would think twice if there was no EPIRB. A hundred years ago, sailors would have had much more experience before trying some of these Southern Ocean voyages we see attempted today.

  2. dennis beebe says:

    if those boats are abandoned, guess they’re up for grabs, then? ;)

    (i’m sure there are insurance companies that would snatch them up if found)

    i think you’re spot on, Buck.

  3. Rick Spilman says:

    The Wavetrain blog had an article about the Wolfhound with the title: COME AND GET IT: Free Swan 48 Available, saying that the boat was free for the taking, provided that you could find it in the Atlantic and tow it in.

    I don’t think that that is the case. The boat is still owned by either the insurance company or the previous owner. My understanding is that the salvor receives a settlement based on the risk and expenses incurred in getting the boat to a safe harbor. Then again, I am not an admiralty attorney, so if I have this wrong, I would be most pleased to be corrected by those more knowledgeable than I.

  4. Michael Geagan says:

    We found and boarded her on 29 June 2013. She was approximately 600 nm east of Bermuda. Both checkstays (runners) are gone, but her mast is still standing. Her starboard side is damaged. She has water up to the cabin sole, presumably entering through the aft companionway as she rolls in heavy weather. She would be a marginal salvage case, as all of the electronics and the engine are likely ruined by salt water, and the damage to the hull, rig, and deck fittings is extensive.

  5. Carlos Valencia says:

    Mr.Geagan:
    Could you please emailmne to the address above?
    Thanks

  6. Carlos Valencia says:
  7. Rick Spilman says:

    Thanks. We are posting about it tomorrow.

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