Editor’s note: This story was updated on 8.24.15
A spokesman for the company whose yacht capsized in Anacortes last weekend is refuting claims by the project’s former manager, who says he raised concerns about the stability of the 90-foot vessel and its transport system months before the incident.
Former project manager Aaron Pufal claimed in a May 19 post that he raised red flags about the project last September. “I conveyed that I firmly believed another system or method of transport would be needed to safely launch (Blood Baron) Baden [sic],” Pufal wrote. (An accident report completed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) now seems to support several of Pufal’s original positions. See the story and report here.)
Pufal, who was to serve as captain on the $10 million boat during a planned worldwide circumnavigation, said he commissioned a stability analysis by Surrey, British Columbia-based firm Roddan Engineering that suggested the yacht needed additional ballast.
“The results indicate that the vessel is lighter than other Northern Marine builds of similar length (based on the results of the weighing), thus requiring more ballast to sit on a desired waterline. It is recommended that partial ballasting be done currently, with final ballasting for trim and desired waterline to be performed at launch,” reads the report quoted on Pufal’s blog.
Pufal was asked by the yacht’s owner on Dec. 15, 2013 to step aside and let others finish the almost-completed project. Wes Fridell, a spokesman for the yacht’s builder, New World Boat Builders, dismissed Pufal’s claims.
“Aaron Pufal’s comments are totally irresponsible,” Fridell said in an interview Friday. “Everything he says with respect to my company, in my opinion, is false. He is a non-credible source.”
New World Boat Builders, which builds Northern Marine yachts, laid off its staff of 52 on Tuesday, leaving the future of the company uncertain. The Båden project, which was expected to take another four to six weeks to complete, is now suspended and the company has no other immediate contracts, Fridell said.
“It’s an indefinite layoff until we can get our feet back on the ground and determine what projects we have and which are going to move forward,” he said.
Rumors and speculation have swirled about what caused the vessel to capsize as it was being launched Sunday night at Fidalgo Bay Marina. Some have suggested that the stern-first launch on a single dolly without a full cradle forward left the hull insufficiently supported amidships, causing the boat to list and ultimately capsize.
Others say the dolly used in the launch may have had a flat tire, upsetting the vessel’s balance as it was being launched. A photo on Pufal’s blog appears to show a flat tire on the yacht’s launch mechanism.
Fridell dismissed suggestions that a flat tire led to the capsize as “totally false.” He said it appears that a “void” of about three feet between the boat ramp and the ramp extension likely caused the boat to lurch, possibly when a stabilizing strut or a rear wheel on the launch mechanism slid into the void.
“What we know is the ramp was part of the cause of the initial lurch, and from there the vessel capsized upon launch,” he said. “It is not a failure of yacht design. We know that.”
Fridell, who was standing on the dock to the yacht’s starboard side during the launch and serving as safety administrator, said there was a sound “like a pop” as the boat was being backed into the water, and almost simultaneously the vessel listed to port.
The launch was halted, he said, and after an inspection deemed the launch system sound, a decision was made to continue. Within seconds, the boat capsized with eight crew members onboard. A window had to be broken to rescue one of the men, who suffered minor scrapes, and the others were rescued without injury. The incident was captured on a video made by YachtVid.com.
The yacht was scheduled to be towed to shore on Friday and put on blocks while a determination is made about its salvageability. Seawater flooded the interior of the boat, damaging its electrical systems and furnishings, but Fridell said there are no holes or leaks in the hull. He declined to comment on whether the yacht’s buyer will ultimately take possession, but said “the intent is to salvage the vessel.”
The Coast Guard is investigating the accident and is expected to issue a report. Fridell said the company has nothing to hide.
“We took every step and measure we have over the years to launch every vessel correctly, and nothing about this vessel was unusual,” he said.