Safety upgrade of Drascombe Lugger urged following Cork tragedy
By Eoin English
The Irish Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has issued several safety recommendations in relation to a popular traditional sailing boat following a fatal capsizing incident off Cork.
The MCIB has recommended that the makers of the Drascombe Lugger-type vessel — an undecked open day boat — investigate the retrofitting of a system to keep the vessel’s centre-plate deployed in the event of a capsize.
The centre-plate, a large piece of metal which hangs from the hull, provides the major ballast to the boat but relies on gravity to keep it in position.
The MCIB has also recommended the Donegal-based Drascombe Association warn the owners of similar vessels of the possibility of capsizing under certain conditions, and encourage them to upgrade their vessels’ in-built buoyancy to comply with recent safety regulations.
The recommendations are in a MCIB report published yesterday on a fatal incident off Schull, Co Cork, on August 13, 2014. Experienced and competent sailor, Doug Perrin, 66, drowned when his Drascombe Lugger, Zillah, capsized while he was sailing with two friends.
Mr Perrin had more than 30 years of sailing experience and was a sailing instructor in Britain before moving with his wife, Judith, to Dunmanus about three years ago. His guests, a husband and wife, aged 76 and 60, had little sailing experience.
The trio were wearing lifejackets when they set off from Schull around 4pm and headed into Castle Island channel where a guest took the helm. They turned for Long Island channel and the other guest took the helm.
But as they sailed near the Amelia Buoy off Castle Island, the boat gybed un- intentionally and capsized suddenly, throwing all three into the water. The centre-plate retracted and they had no way to deploy it.
The guests climbed onto the upturned hull but Mr Perrin remained in the water. There was no VHF radio, no emergency location beacon or other emergency equipment on-board.
As the vessel drifted out to sea, they all tried to swim the 50m to the uninhabited Castle Island. The guests made it but Mr Perrin floated away.
His wife raised the alarm at 7.30pm when the party failed to return and a major search was launched.
Missing Yacht at Schull
The Irish Coast Guard helicopter R115 flew over the two survivors after dark but did not spot them, forcing them to spend the night on the island. They were spotted around 6am the next day and airlifted to safety.
Mr Perrin’s body was found off Sherkin Island about two hours later. He had died from drowning associated with hypothermia.
Boats’ inherent stability questioned
The first wooden Drascombe Lugger sailing boat was introduced in the UK in 1968. About 2,000 have been built since.
The success of the design spawned a number of other Drascombe types including coasters, cruisers, longboats, dabbers, gigs and skiffs.
Drascombes have proven very popular amongst day sailors and many have completed extensive ocean voyages.
However, questions have been raised about the inherent stability of certain types of Drascombes, and their manufacturers provide a service to upgrade their buoyancy.
The MCIB said experiments have shown that some Drascombe Luggers capsize easily and are very difficult to right by anyone other than fit, strong sailors.
And they said because Mr Perrin’s 1996-built boat was built before compliance with the Recreational Craft Directive became mandatory, there was no requirement for it to undergo stability or buoyancy tests.
In its conclusions, the MCIB said the crew’s lack of experience meant they did not react correctly to the sudden capsize, and their light clothing provided little insulation against cold sea water.
The MCIB also said that if Mr Perrin had a handheld VHF radio, he could have raised the alarm immediately, and if the boat had a locator beacon, and if their buoyancy aids had personal locator beacons, a light and whistle, it is possible that they may have been seen or heard sooner.
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