Report of dramatic keel loss of Nexba Farr X2 racing yacht off Wollongong expected


A report of a boating incident that left two sailors stranded for 15 hours on the overturned hull of the ship is expected shortly.

On July 2, a prototype 30ft two-person yacht worth around $311,000 mysteriously lost its keel while competing in an overnight offshore qualifying event about 15 nautical miles away. off Wollongong.

The crew, two experienced young sailors from Sydney’s northern beaches, were stranded by a weather front with 56-kilometre winds and a 2-metre swell battering them as they clung to the hull.

The couple were rescued by the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Brisbane around 3pm the following day and returned to Sydney.

The prototype, a Nexba Farr X2, the first of just eight in the world, was abandoned and then beached on the Austinmer boat launch, north of Wollongong.

The hull of the Nexba Farr X2 washed up on Austinmer beach during the storm.(Nick McLaren: ABC Illawarra)

So what was wrong? And why did it take 12 hours to launch a rescue operation?

Governing body Australian Sailing, together with the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, has launched an independent review into the incident, the findings of which are expected to be delivered this week.

Brendan Hunt of Vicsail, the Farr X2’s central agents, while unwilling to preempt any of the findings, described a bolt-on system that allows the pins to be removed for transport.

“The system to hold that keel was the same used on every competitive racing boat in the world, it’s just that system on a smaller boat is all that’s checked out,” Mr Hunt said.

“It was a prototype, but there are eight boats sold of which three have now been delivered,” Mr Hunt said.

“The boats were delivered, but the keel holding method reverted to a very conventional and structurally sound traditional boat building method.”

He said the keels of the boats that have yet to be delivered have hydraulic pull tests on the keel bolts and that there is a way to secure the bolts so they cannot come undone.

Not the first time

While it is not uncommon for a yacht to lose its keel, it is very rare.

Typically, this happens when the yacht hits something, like ocean debris or a whale.

In January 2020, the LCE Showtime was returning home from competing in the Sydney to Hobart race when it lost its keel, prompting the crew to activate the distress beacon.

The crew of six and the skipper were rescued three hours later by NSW Water Police.

nexba racing yacht recue
HMAS Brisbane rescued the stranded crew from their overturned yacht off Wollongong on July 2.( Provided: defense support)

A subsequent report from Sailing Australia revealed that three bolts had fallen from the keel support structure, but despite the crew’s report, the skipper in conjunction with the owner decided to continue.

There is no suggestion that anything similar could have happened to the Nexba.

Indeed, the only two people on board with direct knowledge of what happened, skipper Alice Tarnawski and crew Clare Costanzo, told the ABC they weren’t inclined to discuss it until the end of the formal exam.

The crew is lucky to survive

Mr Hunt spoke in glowing terms of the measures taken by the couple to ensure their survival. He said surviving a storm in the middle of the ocean at night, seemingly without communications, was a combination of luck and good management.

“We’re just in awe of that,” he said.

“It’s a matter of luck, youth, good management and training.

“There’s no doubt that they had some experience in this and had been trained in security and everything, but the fact that it got to this point and they still haven’t been found and the fact that they didn’t know they weren’t being taken care of, that’s the scariest, scariest thing.”

yacht nexba crew
Sailors Alice Tarnawski (left) and Clare Costanzo have yet to speak about their ordeal(Facebook: Nexba Racing)

Another key point of inquest consideration will be what happened to the EPIRB or Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon, as it should have alerted the authorities virtually immediately.

“Incredibly, it should have been known within half an hour, within 10 minutes,” Mr Hunt said.

“The safety equipment chosen, which was all quite conventional, and the methods of notifying people, all of that absolutely needs to be reviewed.

“It shouldn’t have happened. Let’s be honest.

“The fact that they could not be found until much later probably becomes the most salient point of the whole case.”

The report, when released, is expected to contain recommendations aimed at significantly reducing the likelihood of a repeat scenario.


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