Lucky escape for Oracle crew

Chris Dickson and his crew dived for their lives when the keel snapped off

Thursday November 23rd 2000, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
Oracle Racing skipper Chris Dickson and his crew had to jump for their lives when the keel on their IACC training yacht suddenly sheared off while they were out two-boat testing on the Hauraki Gulf. The New Zealand Herald reported on Thursday that the crew heard a sharp crack as the 21-tonne keel suddenly sheared on its mountings and the yacht immediately capsized. Within seconds the entire crew were in the water awaiting rescue.

The incident happened in fresh conditions with 22-knot winds and a sharp 1.5 metre swell. Dickson was at the helm of the £3 million yacht - the former AmericaOne USA 61 - and he was racing against its old helmsman Paul Cayard, who was at the wheel of its sistership USA 49. As the crew worked frantically to keep the yacht from sinking, chase boats and police inflatables surrounded the white hull.

Water poured out of a drainage hole and the Herald described the area where the keel had been as resembling a "battle scar". A large float was tied to the mast to help keep the boat afloat and, as conditions moderated, it was towed on its side to Rakino Island. There a floating crane was used to set the hull upright and it was then returned to Auckland's Viaduct Basin where the rig was removed.

Oracle Racing, which is owned by Larry Ellison, reputedly the world's second richest man, is among hte strongest of the new Louis Vuitton challengers for the 2002/2003 Cup and this setback is unlikely to cause any long term damage to a syndicate which is thought to have a virtually unlimited budget. The team did not comment on the accident in Aukland but Gina von Esmarch, a spokeswoman for Oracle in Los Angeles, said the sailors deserved praise for their quick actions.

"Nobody was hurt and the rescue was very well organised," she said. "This is not something we didn't anticipate might happen out there. It's something the team had discussed a month ago that conceivably could happen."

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