Poor repair job is blamed for Young America debacle

Farr partner says work improperly performed

January 28, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Though a faint and shifting wind forced postponement of the third race of the America's Cup challengers finals today on Hauraki Gulf, the Annapolis-based designer of the New York Yacht Club's Young America boat provided the action back on land.

An inadequate repair job carried out without the knowledge of either the designer or builder led directly to the compression failure that effectively put an end to the NYYC's $40 million challenge for the America's Cup last month.

This was the verdict handed down today by Russell Bowler, partner in the Annapolis-based design firm Farr Yacht Design Ltd.

Meanwhile, the third race of the best-of-nine series, which stands at 1-1 after AmericaOne came from behind to defeat Italy's Prada yesterday, was postponed by race officials after waiting 1 hour, 25 minutes for the wind to build.

Before the scheduled start of today's race, Bowler acknowledged the findings of the improper repairs to Young America in a conference call linking the Farr office with journalists from around the world.

Bowler said that the highly sensitive work to repair a delaminated portion of the gunwale about a foot behind the cockpit on the starboard side had been carried out without proper consultation.

"I am not seeking to apportion blame," he said, "but the fact is that we did not have any full-time composites experts on-site in Auckland. That was one of the problems the program suffered through budget cuts. The guys down there were working 18-hour days, seven days a week. That just caught up with them. They were not operating at their best."

Bowler, who has been responsible for construction design at Farr for 20 years, said the entire team shared responsibility for the disaster.

Bowler's extraordinary revelations pre-empt the findings of the syndicate's insurers and follow 11 weeks of official silence on the deck failure that meant that the highly promising NYYC boat -- one of the early favorites -- failed even to make the semifinals.

Young America nearly sank in the incident that occurred on Nov. 9 when it was racing in 9 knots of wind on the America's Cup course. Bowler said the boat struck three solid waves and suffered what he called a "huge impact -- like a Mack truck hitting a brick wall at 65 miles an hour."

The hard-drives in Young America's on-board computers were all knocked out by the impact, and the yacht was split by a crack that ran from the deck down to the keel box in the center of the hull. It was only quick crew action in using several high-pressure pumps that saved the yacht from sinking on the spot.

Bowler said the initial repairs were carried out two weeks before the incident at sea when Young America crew members noticed delamination in the starboard gunwale in an area about 15 inches long and 10 1/2 inches wide.

The top skin had apparently not bonded properly with the central core in the sandwich construction. This bond is essential for the deck to perform its structural function as a major critical member, resisting fore and aft compression forces.

Instead of taking core samples to establish the extent of the damage, a section of the deck skin was simply lifted by Young America staff and replaced with a laminate. At no time, apparently, was any advice sought from either Farr Design or from Goetz Custom Boats of Bristol R.I., the boat's official builder.

Bowler said that, contrary to a lot of speculation, the design was far from light or marginal in this area.

"The lessons from this event," he said, "are that when dealing with these high-tech, carbon-fiber pre-impregnated materials and processes, it is essential to follow up with high-tech quality assurance at the building yard, plus high-tech servicing and maintenance.

"Any shortcuts in these areas can compromise the design and construction of the boat and lead to disaster should critical circumstances transpire."

Challenger finals

AmericaOne vs. Prada (Best of nine; series tied 1-1)

Results, schedule

Race 1: Prada def. AmericaOne by 24 seconds.

Race 2: AmericaOne def. Prada by 1: 33.

Race 3: Tomorrow

Race 4: Sunday

Race 5: Tuesday

Race 6: Wednesday

Race 7: Thursday*

Race 8: Next Friday*

Race 9: Feb. 5 *-if necessary

Note: Winner to race Team New Zealand in America's Cup finals beginning Feb. 19.

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