By Dorie Cox
A malfunction during a sea trial Saturday caused the 128-foot M/Y Safira to lose control and hit several smaller boats docked nearby. No injuries were reported, but a couple videos have made their way across yachting social media, raising questions as to what happened.
Capt. Ed Collins, who had just taken command of Safira 10 days prior, was at the starboard wing station, maneuvering the yacht out of Seahaven Superyacht Marina just south of Fort Lauderdale. A 38-year veteran in yachting with several circumnavigations in his log book, Capt. Collins was excited to build the yacht’s charter program and show it off at the Antigua Charter Yacht Show next week.
“It’s a beauty of a boat, it dances, it spins, it does whatever you want it to do,” he said. “The azipods are simple … when they work.”
However, on Saturday, they didn’t work they way they are supposed to.
Onboard the yacht the day after the incident, Capt. Collins talked about his post-incident report and described an “electrical failure of the port Schottel pod.” He recalled the preparations before the 11 a.m. sea trial departure: Safira’s bridge departure checklist had been completed, and crew radios, thrusters, Z-drive pods, depth sounder, and chart plotter were all checked while still in the marina. It was a calm morning, no wind. Guests and contractors were on board.
A former first mate and former engineer were onboard to help with the handover, Capt. Collins said. “We were working like dogs to get ready for the sea trial.”
As the yacht headed east in the canal toward the Intracoastal Waterway, the navigation controls did not react as quickly as the captain thought they should.
“Then it was not responding at all,” Capt. Collins said. “It indicated forward, but in reality it was stuck.”
He put the throttle on and the yacht started walking sideways. He corrected and it went off course again. The propulsion system was pushing the stern to the dock even though the indicator showed the yacht was on course.
“It was a complete loss of communication from the azimuth,” he said.
Before it was over, Safira would hit a docked catamaran, which slide aft and hit the boat behind it. Safira rebounded into the channel, and Capt. Collins ordered the anchor dropped. As the yacht slowed, it hit another docked catamaran, which broke free and drifted across the canal, coming to rest on the anchor and bow of the 50m M/Y Plan B, according to Capt. Collins’ post-incident report.
Safira then rode up on a mud patch near the dock where the catamaran has been, listing to port.
“We could have backed off, but without control we chose not to,” he said.
Forty-five minutes later, the yacht had been towed and was back in the slip at the marina.
In theory, Capt. Collins said it is impossible to lose communication between steering and the azimuth. In such a situation, controls can revert to the helm station. But that didn’t happen. If he had known there was a problem, he would have steered from the helm instead of the wing station, Capt. Collins said.
“It is possible to drive with just one boat prop,” he said. “The problem is when you lose control and you don’t know it.”
Capt. Collins recalled that the crew did what they were trained to do as trouble started.
“When it began to happen, we got calmer and calmer,” he said. “There was no yelling. All the crew were on their radios. They had the anchor ready for traveling in such a narrow space. The crew fended where they could.”
As the yacht stopped, the crew assessed the situation.
“We took on a list and immediately began to transfer fuel to the day tank,” Capt. Collins said. “We moved 143 gallons to keep the vents clear.”
The crew monitored oil pressure, water, and continued with other system checks. They looked for any ingress of water. They did an integrity check. And the interior crew tended to the guests onboard, and continued to set out a breakfast luncheon while the chef cooked.
Capt. Lee Shull was watching M/Y Safira as it made way down the canal. He was on the dock at Royal Palm Marina, several properties to the east where the catamarans were damaged. He said that the crew “were spot on at their stations.”
“As they were coming toward, I could tell there was an incident,” Capt. Shull said. “From the bow to the fly bridge to the stern, there was nothing but crew faces standing by to do whatever they needed to do to be ready for anything. The outcome could have been much worse.”
Back at the dock, an underwater diver found a damaged propellor and engineers were able to recreate some of the malfunction in the electrical system. Safira’s engineer was on the phone with the pod manufacturer’s diagnostics team and a technician was soon flying in for repairs.
Meanwhile, at least two videos on social media show the incident. Erjo Junatas, the bosun of M/Y Laurel, was visiting a friend on a yacht at Dania Cut Superyacht across the canal. He said they all heard a loud bang, and ran to the dock to see Safira drifting. His video captures Safira hitting the second catamaran and coming to rest in the mud.
Safira’s previous captain of the yacht declined to comment on the incident. Capt. Collins speculated that although the azimuth propulsion system is on many commercial vessels, it is less common on large yachts.
“I think part of the concern is that we were one of the first yachts with this system,” Capt. Collins said. “The concern now is that none of the wires are shielded. There could be cross talk between the wires. I mean, it could be talking to the refrigerator.
“This equipment is almost like aircraft equipment; it has high precision,” he said. “This was just a very unfortunate incident. I do wish this had never happened. But after hundreds of thousands of miles, this is my first big one. I never had a boat insurance claim.”
A day later, the Safira team continued with their plan to attend the Antigua show. The crew were shaken, but not spooked, the captain said.
“For me and my crew, it is important to get it now 100%,” Capt. Collins said. “We will chase down this problem and we will find the ghost in the machine. I do trust the system, and I trust the crew, but we will have a full sea trial.”
Capt. Collins said he was relieved to talk with The Triton.
“I want to be candid and transparent,” he said. “If others have had similar problems, we would like to hear about it.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read another captain’s take on a similar incident from 2016.