Sailor died after racing yacht's keel failed

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by

A SAILOR died after mistakes building a Southampton-based yacht caused a catastrophic keel failure which capsized the vessel, a coroner ruled today.

The racing yacht Hooligan V was on its way to Southampton along the Devon coast at Prawle Point, near Salcombe, when its keel came off in the early hours of February 3.

The boat turned over and Jamie Butcher, 27, from Mildenhall, in Suffolk, died after being thrown in to the sea.

The yacht's owner Edward Broadway and crew members Graham Elliott, John Charnock and William Robinson were rescued.

The inquest heard that when the yacht was built in 2002 the keel was not made to meet regulation safety standards due to mistakes by the designer and the keel fabricator and it was therefore not strong enough.

The hearing was also told that modifications made in 2004 by adding weight to the keel to improve racing performance exacerbated the faults by putting more strain on it.

Willem Hart, of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), also said that workers carrying out maintenance on the Hooligan V in 2006 failed to spot the faults in the keel and said there may have been a hairline crack which was missed.

Plymouth assistant deputy coroner Robert Newman praised the courage of the crew and said he felt nothing more could have been done to save Mr Butcher.

"This was about a young life that was lost, perhaps needlessly," he said.

"The keel fabricator was not aware of the requirements for keel strength resulting in the design not meeting the minimum safety factor."

Mr Newman said that Mr Butcher's precise cause of death could not be known and ruled it was death by immersion.

The court was told the keel would have failed even if the extra weight was not added.

Mr Hart said: "It was the design that was insufficient to cope with the weight.

"The problem was the design not the modifications."

The MAIB report into the incident found that work was carried out on the keel by a sub-contractor with "no marine experience" and the design was changed without adequately assessing the stresses on it.

The Hooligan V was a race winning vessel and during the 2006 season Mr Broadway, who has 55-years sailing experience, won his class for the Round Britain and Ireland Race.

He travelled to Plymouth with his crew after being told the maintenance work following the 2006 season was finished.

They were to sail the yacht back to its home port in Southampton and due to a bad weather forecast for Saturday they set sail on Friday night, February 2 at 11pm.

Suddenly at around 3am, when Mr Broadway was below deck, the yacht capsized.

He stayed below for around five minutes to salvage survival equipment before escaping himself.

"The boat was upside down," he said. "The water was up to my waist.

"I don't remember trying to get out. The next thing I remember is breaking the surface and gasping for breath.

"I made my way to the rear of the boat and found John, Graham and William, I asked what had happened to Jamie, no one had seen him after he entered the water.

"We shouted for Jamie but there was no reply."

Mr Charnock was helming the yacht at the time.

He said when the boat leaned over Mr Butcher fell to the lower side of the yacht's cockpit which was in the water.

"Jamie fell from the high side into the cockpit," he said.

"I said to him 'don't worry Jamie, you'll be all right she'll come back up' but it just kept going over. I never saw him again."

Mr Butcher's family declined to comment after the inquest.

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