Hatch Size is Important - 06/18/2008

This is a traditional Goiot hatch which comes in many sizes and shapes.

Around midnight on Saturday June 7th a 38’ sailboat in the Galveston to Veracruz sailboat race lost its keel and almost immediately capsized. Three men were on deck when the accident happened and three were below, off watch. Immediately the boat began filling with water as the sea poured in from both the companionway hatch and a hole in the bottom of the sailboat where the keel had been.

Disorientation in the Dark

Roger Stone a veteran sailor, was the safety officer aboard and was below at the time of the incident. With him below were Texas A&M students Steven Guy and Travis Wright. Disoriented, in the dark, with water pouring in, all three men groped their way to the hatch to get out. One grabbed his automatic inflating life vest and when it hit the water it inflated. With it inflated he was unable to get out of the hatch.

The survivors reported that Roger Stone literally pushed them both through the companionway hatch, thus saving their lives. Stone didn’t manage to get out himself.

Clearly, the men had a difficult time getting out of the companionway hatch, which is traditionally much larger than the standard hatch on the foredeck, due to the unusual nature of the accident. There is no reason to think that the size of the companionway hatch on the Cape Fear 38 was inadequate. Nevertheless, this tragic accident is instructive to powerboat owners, virtually all of whom have a foredeck hatch far smaller than most sailboat companionways.

While sailboats with keels rarely turn turtle, small powerboats in certain conditions can and when that happens people below usually have a hard time escaping. Prudent boaters will be aware of the size of their foredeck hatch and act accordingly.

See a CBS News interview of the survivors…