Nordhavn Crew Abandons Ship After Towing Disaster
96-Footer 'VivieRae II' Left Floating as Australian Navy Rescues the Six People Aboard
Towing a tender in open ocean always entails greater risk than having it nesting snugly on board. Operators of a Nordhavn 96 found themselves on the wrong side of that risk-benefit equation earlier this week, requiring rescue by the Royal Australian Navy.
According to news accounts, VivieRae II was en route from Darwin to Townsville in snotty conditions on Sunday when the yacht lost propulsion. She was towing a 38-foot center-console, referred to as the yacht’s “tender.”
PAE, the yacht’s builder, reported that the tender’s tow eye “severed off due to very rough conditions.” The tow rope then managed to wrap around both props stalling her engines.
On Monday, HMAS Hobarth responded to the emergency and deployed a RIB to evacuate the six persons aboard VivieRae II. According to PAE, she is adrift in the Arafura Sea, although one Australian news outlet reported that she was anchored.
PAE also said that owner Bob Giles of Louisiana was en route to Indonesia to direct recovery efforts. “Although the tender is lost, the very stout VivieRae II continues to survive. The challenge at hand is getting to the boat safely and freeing the prop while turbulent conditions persist,” PAE said in a public statement. “Nordhavn’s team, including VRII’s project manager have been standing by to provide support.”
According to William Lakis, a maritime attorney with offices in New Jersey, anyone who gets to VivieRae II first and manages to free her props and get her underway again could make a salvage claim under international law. So could anyone who manages to tow her to safety.
The salvage court would decide the amount of an award based on calculations balancing the threat to the vessel, risk to the salvor and value of the vessel after the rescue.
According to one news account, a passing cargo ship was initially contacted to evacuate VivieRae II’s crew, but they were reluctant to leave the yacht adrift and wanted to wait for a tow to safety.
PAE has not responded to inquiries but one yacht broker put the base price of a Nordhavn 96 at an estimated $7 million.
PAE characterized VivieRae II’s owner and crew as “highly experienced, capable adventurers” whose plight was due to “an unlikely, unfortunate accident.” Others might call the decision to tow a big tender an “85-percenter.” That is, a practice that an otherwise capable crew might get away with 85 percent of the time.
“A reminder of why towing a tender in the open sea is a terrible idea,” said Tate Westbrook responding to PAE’s statement posted on Facebook. Westbrook is a retired U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, who for two years commanded USS Spruance, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. He now pilots a 2005 Legacy 42 trawler around the Chesapeake.
“Thirty-eight feet is too big for a tender…and too small for an escort,” Westbrook said. “As I re-read Nordhavn’s article, I am a bit bemused by the no-fault-of-the-crew-or-boat statement. Towing a big boat like that in open sea is a bad idea. All the fault is on the crew for this imprudent choice.
“Of course, this is not a flaw in Nordhavn’s design,” he said.
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A laudatory 2019 article in Boat International magazine dwelled on owner Bob Giles’ tolerance for risk, whether in his business life as CEO of the Giles Automotive Group, a new and used car dealer in Louisiana, or as a seagoing adventurer.
His wife Sandy tells him he is missing the gene for fear, Giles told writer Cecile Gauert. “I’ve always been this way. I like pushing the limits,” Giles said.
However, it is not clear from Nordhavn’s statement that Giles was even on the boat when these events occurred, whether he was traveling to Indonesia from Australia after the rescue or from the U.S. to take charge.
Yes. I took some info and all the photos from them.
“The tow rope then managed to wrap around both props stalling her engines.” Maybe we need to outlaw tow ropes? Just like guns, tow ropes are Dangerous! It is not the owner/operator at fault, right?