See dramatic pictures of keelboat sinking off Weymouth in windy conditions

The five crew of J/24Juvenile Deliquentwere rescued just seconds before their upturned boat sank stern-first into the waters of Weymouth Bay on Sunday. The incident happened in the first race of the British National Championships in winds of 25-29 knots and big seas.

Photos by Nick Frampton

Owner/trimmer Adam Bowers (50), told PBO they had just rounded the windward mark and got their spinnaker up when they were picked up by a ‘pretty ugly’ quartering wave, causing an involuntary gybe. ‘The boom scythed across’, said Bowers, an RYA coach and former Fireball world champion. ‘We capsized, the kite pinning us down and dragging us sideways. We were on our side for the best part of a minute. I did a head count, everyone was onboard, we made sure no one was caught up in a rope, then in an instant we went upside down.

‘One crew and I were up by the keel, the other three hung onto the rudder. Suddenly I realised we were going down. The nearest boat was 200 yards away and I knew that once the boat went under the water our five small heads would be pretty much invisible. I jumped up and down on the hull, waving my arms, and making huge noises.

‘Fortunately two boats came towards us. I have never been so pleased to see two J/24s in my life. Then a rescue RIB came and pulled us all out of the water, and we sat and watched the poor old boat go down, and said goodbye.’

Asked how he felt when the boat went turtle Bowers said, ‘It was terrifying. I’ve never been on the upturned hull of a keelboat before and I never want to be there again.’

First boat on the scene wasSt James. Crew member Kate Thomson said, ‘We saw them having problems as we sailed past them, and when they went turtle we knew they were all in the water, we had to go back and help them. As we got nearer we saw the crew holding on to the boat, looking pretty miserable. Our skipper David Cooper got us to take our jib down then tie lines to strong points on our boat which we were ready to throw to them but luckily at that moment a rescue RIB came and started pulling them out. Then the boat sank before our eyes.’

The RIB could not take the crew ashore as it was needed on the race course in case of other incidents, so it took them to the committee boat where race officer Frank Newton, a medical doctor, quickly assessed them as in good health and gave them cups of tea and blankets. Newton shortened course and finished the race at the earliest opportunity.

Back onshore, helmsman Nathan Batchelor (21) told PBO, ‘It’s a shame as we were doing well at the time, it was the first race of our first event. We’ve capsized before, so I thought it would come up, but this time it just kept going over. I didn’t know keelboats could go turtle, and I never thought I’d be standing on an upturned hull!’

Jock Fellows, bowman, said, ‘I thought we’d upright in a minute. Having sailed J/24s for years, we’ve been on our side many times, but always come back up. So it was a shock to be hanging onto the transom thinking “she’s not going to come back up again”. There was a moment of panic as we went upside down when I couldn’t see the rest of the crew and didn’t know if they were safe or trapped underneath. I still feel a bit numb, it’s like losing an old loved-one after all these years. I think we’re all still in shock, we’re laughing and joking now, I think it will sink in later.’

The J/24 is a hugely popular five-man keelboat with around 5,500 (or as one competitor quipped, 5,499 now!) boats worldwide. This year is the UK class’s 30th Anniversary. Sinkings are rare, and confined to older boats, particulary Westerly boats built before 1981, which had less built-in buoyancy than newer examples.

The championship continues until Tuesday.