Salvage team recovers Fastnet yacht keel

Sean Harrington and Noel O'Sullivan, of Atlantic Towage and Marine, with the superyacht keel. Pic: Niall Duffy
Sean Harrington and Noel O'Sullivan, of Atlantic Towage and Marine, with the superyacht keel. Pic: Niall Duffy

Salvage experts have recovered the keel of a multi-million euro racing yacht from the seabed almost three years after it failed, triggering one of the most dramatic sea rescues of recent years.

It is hoped the recovery of the Rambler’s keel could solve the mystery of why the racing vessel capsized during the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race — one of the world’s most dangerous ocean racing events.

Bere Island-based father and son team, Colum and Sean Harrington, led the mission to find and recover Rambler’s keel from about 80 metres of water, some 12 miles off Baltimore in west Cork.

They have now finalised arrangements to transport the 18 foot three-to-four tonne keel to Southhampton over the weekend.

The yacht’s owner, former United Technologies Corporation chairman, George David, his insurance company, and the boat’s builders, are understood to be liaising over plans to subject it to a barrage of tests to establish why it failed.

Colum Harrington’s company, Blue Ocean Marine, spent months surveying the area around where the vessel capsized in August 2011.

Sonar surveys identified several targets which were then surveyed using a remotely operated submersible (ROV) bristling with video cameras.

It identified the keel lying on the seabed in just under 80 metres of water — too deep for divers.

Sean Harrington’s company, Atlantic Towage and Marine, was then called in to recover it.

Operating from his powerful Ocean Bank tug, wires and straps were lowered down.

An operator on the deck of the tug used the ROV’s hydraulic arms to position the wires and straps around the keel before it was hoisted to the surface.

“We found the keel close to where Rambler capsized — maybe a few hundred yards away,” he said.

“But it took months of work really to find it, secure it and recover it. The weather and strong tides at that depth were a big factor. It was definitely one of the most complex recovery missions at that depth I’ve been involved in.”

The 100-foot Rambler with 21-crew on board capsized just after 5.30pm on Monday August 15, 2011 shortly after it had rounded the Fastnet.

Of the 11 crew who were on deck, three managed to climb onto the upturned hull.

The other eight, including George David and his partner Wendy Touton, were thrown or jumped into the water while 10 people below deck managed to scramble out.

Eventually, 16 of the 21 crew managed to climb on to the upturned hull, but five, including David and Touton were carried away by the sea.

A major air and sea rescue was launched and the Baltimore lifeboat, which had been in the area, found the crew of the stricken Rambler and recovered them.

The skipper of a local dive charter boat, the Wave Chieftain, found the other five crew still drifting almost three hours later.

Ms Touton was later airlifted to hospital suffering from hypothermia. But all 21 crew made a full recovery from their ordeal.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board report into the incident said keel failure caused the yacht to capsize and recommended many changes to the regulations governing offshore racing events.

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