An investigation found numerous groundings of the Cynthia Woods severely damaged the vessel, but that proper repairs were not done.
The sailboat’s keel separated from the hull about ten hours into a race from Galveston to Vera Cruz, Mexico last June. It caused the vessel to capsize. One of two A&M safety officers on board drowned. Five survivors spent more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico before they were finally rescued. Commander Jim Elliott heads the Marine Safety Unit of the Coast Guard. He oversaw the investigation into the accident. He says improperly repaired damage from numerous groundings doomed the Cynthia Woods.
“We documented at least five corroborated groundings plus the groundings that occurred on a continual basis at the marina. There were soft groundings where it was towed, and then there was that grounding in February March of 2007, that was a hard grounding, that we had clear damage to the hull.”
Hernandez: “So, in your mind commander, the vessel was not fit to race?”
Elliott: “Well sir, it appears at the time of the race that the vessel had been grounded multiple times and there was existing damage. That’s what we found.”
Elliott says improper repairs caused the keel to separate from the hull.
“It appears, based on our engineering report and our interviews, that it was more of a cosmetic repair, a surface covering of existing damage, where that structural member should have been replaced.”
The Coast Guard also determined that the sailboat’s life raft and its emergency tracking beacon were not stored properly at the time of the accident. Attorney Randy Sorrels represents the widow of A&M sailor Roger Stone. He criticized the report issued by the Coast Guard.
“The three fatal flaws with this report are number one, it was pressured and rushed to get done; number two, it’s factually inaccurate, in the sense that the Coast Guard told us they felt structural work had been done on the vessel from a repair stand point by only Texas A&M students and, we have now produced documents to indicate that the Galveston Yatch Payco Company performed the work and, number three, it was done without all of the brain trusts getting together around the table and talking about what occurred and what the thoughts were.”
Sorrels filed a lawsuit alleging the design and manufacture of the boat were defective and the repairs done on the keel inadequate.
“We’re not gonna rush to judgment. We’re gonna take in all the information. We have yet to see the drawings and the blueprints. We have yet to see the core sample results that were done. So, I don’t have an opinion as to who was at fault. I just have an opinion that the Coast Guard doesn’t have the right opinion yet.”
Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.