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Yacht firm accused over death of sailors

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 17, 2012

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A vastly experienced yacht skipper died alongside two of his crew after being pressurised into sailing into atrocious weather, court documents have revealed.

Skipper John Anstess, from Plymouth, Dave Rodman and Richard Beckman, died in December 2006 when their catamaran was wrecked in a storm off the north west coast of the United States.

Mr Anstess, 55, was skippering the 44ft (13.4m) catamaran Catshot for yacht delivery company Reliance Yacht Management, based in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Despite his warnings about the weather, outlining an alternative route and suggesting they lay up in San Diego, California, for the winter he was pressurised into continuing. The three were killed when the catamaran capsized during a massive storm. Mr Anstess's body was never recovered.

His sister Wendy Wood successfully sued the company for negligence in September 2010, details of which have only just been made public.

"In my judgment in this case Reliance's intervention and the pressure put on the skipper were directly causative of the loss of the ship and the lives of the crew," Admiralty Registrar Robert Jervis Kay said. "In all the circumstances I do not think that it would be fair to make a finding of contributory negligence against Mr Anstess and I decline to do so."

Mr Anstess, who never married, served in the army in South Africa, later taking up sailing and became coxswain of a lifeboat boat there.

Mrs Wood, from Bere Alston, near Tavistock, said: "His life was the sea. If there had been an accident and he had died, we could have accepted that but this was totally unnecessary. It has devastated the family. It is something you just don't get over. There has been no closure because his body was never found."

Details of the case emerged from an investigation by BBC Inside Out South which was screened last night.

It claimed that Reliance pressured skippers to sail into bad weather against their better judgment, costing three boats and five lives.

Two months before Mr Anstess was killed, skipper Steve Hobley, from Newton Abbot, died after the 38ft (11.5m) catamaran he was delivering was overwhelmed by 45ft (13.8m) waves and capsized.

They had been sailing across the Atlantic towards Miami, Florida. Crew American Kevin Klinges, and Ollie Templeman, from Poole in Dorset, were rescued by a US Coastguard helicopter after an 11-hour ordeal.

Mr Klinges claimed that instructions from Reliance made it clear to Mr Hobley that if he failed to take a diversion, he would not work for the company again.

Another Reliance boat was lost in a Force 10 storm in the Bay of Biscay in 2003 killing skipper Alasdair Crawford.

Reliance released a strongly-worded statement on its website titled "BBC Insults Yacht Captains".

"The presentation is deeply flawed with many factual errors," it said. "It is strongly edited to create a polarised victim and villain view and does not reflect reality.

"The loss of a family member is the worst that could happen to anyone. We have lost friends and colleagues but we can only imagine the pain and suffering their families have gone through. We sincerely feel for their loss.

"The business has been operating for over 25 years and over that time we have moved thousands of yachts safely to all parts of the world."

It said it strives "to maintain high standards" and that "accidents are fortunately very rare".

It went on: "Captain John Anstess was a close friend and colleague that the sailing fraternity sadly lost in 2006. Not only was he a highly experienced and qualified delivery captain, he was also lifeboat coxswain.

"He was highly trained and knew the dangers that the sea could present. We wish to defend his reputation.

"He was a true professional and it would be a sleight on his character to suggest that he would allow himself to put the crew and boat in undue danger for financial reasons or was pressured to do so by management or non sailing admin staff."

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