GOSS SUPER YACHT
Chronicles of Dartmouth - From 2000:
Pete Goss MBE, an ex-Royal Marine, who claimed to have clocked up 250,000 nautical miles, came up with the project to build the world’s biggest catamaran to set new records for speed on the open seas.
The project’s subtitle was ‘Dare to Dream’ and many did.
It was hoped the yacht would smash world records in sailing thanks to its radical ‘wave piercing’ design. The unique boat, it was said, would penetrate huge waves and thanks to its double sails, cruise through large seas faster than any other sailing vessel in history.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (and if anyone could judge its potential he could) estimated that if it worked as it was planned, it could take ten days off the circumnavigation record of the globe by a yacht ‘easily’.
The papers all over the world were writing hundreds of column inches about the design, so the Chronicle wasn’t going to miss out on a few lists of facts: the yacht, it informed its readers, cost £4million to build and was the largest carbon-fibre structure in the world and weighed only as much as ‘three small elephants’. 80 cars could be parked between her hulls and each mast was taller than 10 double-decker buses.
Worryingly however, the boat’s designer Adrian Thompson said getting the balance between strength and lightness was tricky: “Simply, a boat that is impossible to break will never win” he said.
The first challenge, however, was getting the huge vessel around the bends in the river from Totnes to Dartmouth. This was no easy task because the 120 ft long, 70ft wide boat only had a couple of feet either side to spare at points down the river.
The first effort, watched by 5,000 people, was a failure due to the hostile weather conditions.
A week later they had better luck and the publicity from the first, failed launch, meant many more came out to see the huge structure launched: 10,000 people lined the banks of the Dart to see the unique boat sail by.
Delays had meant that the boat only just made its date with the Queen in London to be named. However, cruising at 23 knots in very light winds she hinted at how fast she could go. One crew member commented she ‘felt like a Rolls Royce in second gear, she’s so smooth’.
However, the team hit a huge setback after two days of sea trials – when 40 ft of the port bow tore way from the boat. It happened in only small seas which should have meant nothing if the design was sound.
Goss tried to remain upbeat: “It’s a real disaster, you haven’t got to be a sailor to realise that,” he said. “But, you know, life goes on, doesn’t it? We’re not going to give up, we are in there fighting and the whole team is behind it.”
Designer Thompson said: “It’s like an albatross with a broken wing and we just have to repair it and nurse it through.”
The need for the repair meant that the first challenge the boat was supposed to undertake – the Jules Verne Round the World race had to be dropped.
In September, the boat was unveiled to the world for the second time and before going on sea trials Goss said: “If I wasn’t confident in her I wouldn’t go to sea in her.”
His confidence was misplaced.
The first sea trials in October saw a hasty return to harbour after mast troubles and the next was even worse.
A ‘perfect storm’, the combination of a number of smaller storms to create one, terrifyingly strong one, caught the catamaran during its next sea trials in December and when a 10 metre wave smashed the steering mechanism in the middle of the Atlantic, it left the yacht and its crew at the mercy of the waves.
Mr Goss put out a mayday.
The crew were picked up by a German tanker and the multimillion pound boat was left to the elements. Pete Goss was praised for his seamanship in bringing the yacht towards the tanker and bringing her head to wind to stop her, allowing a line to be thrown to the yacht.
“The decision is always based on life, not on the boat,” he said later at a press conference, “I felt the risks were too high for the crew to take.”
The failure was a huge blow for the South Hams, which had taken the project to its heart. Less than a year later the two main companies owned and run by Goss went bankrupt, with the loss of forty jobs.
Goss himself had taken a huge beating in the press over the failure of the project. He seemed a broken man, the former Royal Marine and sailing hero famed for his skill and bravery, was forced to defend himself against huge criticism in numerous press conferences. He backed a bid to row the Atlantic and was mocked by journalists for backing ‘another Titanic-like disaster’.
But he did, eventually come through.
He took nearly eight years to bounce back fully, launching the Cornish Lugger Spirit of Mystery and sailed to Australia without any electronic aids.
First Published August 2012 By The Dart
This article is a specially edited extract from The Chronicles of Dartmouth 1955-2010 by Phil Scoble, published by Richard Webb. The book is available from White Sails Gallery, the Dartmouth Community Bookshop, the TIC and online at www.dartmouthbooks.co.uk.