Updated: Builder blames ramp in $10 million yacht capsize

The 90-foot yacht Båden capsized during its launch in Anacortes on Sunday. Photo by Deane Hislop

The 90-foot yacht Båden capsized during its launch in Anacortes on Sunday. Photo by Deane Hislop

Editor’s note: This story was updated on 8.24.15

A spokesman for the company whose yacht capsized in Anacortes last weekend is refuting claims by the project’s former manager, who says he raised concerns about the stability of the 90-foot vessel and its transport system months before the incident.

Former project manager Aaron Pufal claimed in a May 19 post that he raised red flags about the project last September. “I conveyed that I firmly believed another system or method of transport would be needed to safely launch (Blood Baron) Baden [sic],” Pufal wrote. (An accident report completed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) now seems to support several of Pufal’s original positions. See the story and report here.) 

Pufal, who was to serve as captain on the $10 million boat during a planned worldwide circumnavigation, said he commissioned a stability analysis by Surrey, British Columbia-based firm Roddan Engineering that suggested the yacht needed additional ballast.

“The results indicate that the vessel is lighter than other Northern Marine builds of similar length (based on the results of the weighing), thus requiring more ballast to sit on a desired waterline. It is recommended that partial ballasting be done currently, with final ballasting for trim and desired waterline to be performed at launch,” reads the report quoted on Pufal’s blog.

Pufal was asked by the yacht’s owner on Dec. 15, 2013 to step aside and let others finish the almost-completed project. Wes Fridell, a spokesman for the yacht’s builder, New World Boat Builders, dismissed Pufal’s claims.

“Aaron Pufal’s comments are totally irresponsible,” Fridell said in an interview Friday. “Everything he says with respect to my company, in my opinion, is false. He is a non-credible source.”

New World Boat Builders, which builds Northern Marine yachts, laid off its staff of 52 on Tuesday, leaving the future of the company uncertain. The Båden project, which was expected to take another four to six weeks to complete, is now suspended and the company has no other immediate contracts, Fridell said.

“It’s an indefinite layoff until we can get our feet back on the ground and determine what projects we have and which are going to move forward,” he said.

Water was pumped out of the yacht following the capsize. Photo by Deane Hislop

Water was pumped out of the yacht following the capsize. Photo by Deane Hislop

Rumors and speculation have swirled about what caused the vessel to capsize as it was being launched Sunday night at Fidalgo Bay Marina. Some have suggested that the stern-first launch on a single dolly without a full cradle forward left the hull insufficiently supported amidships, causing the boat to list and ultimately capsize.

Others say the dolly used in the launch may have had a flat tire, upsetting the vessel’s balance as it was being launched. A photo on Pufal’s blog appears to show a flat tire on the yacht’s launch mechanism.

Fridell dismissed suggestions that a flat tire led to the capsize as “totally false.” He said it appears that a “void” of about three feet between the boat ramp and the ramp extension likely caused the boat to lurch, possibly when a stabilizing strut or a rear wheel on the launch mechanism slid into the void.

“What we know is the ramp was part of the cause of the initial lurch, and from there the vessel capsized upon launch,” he said. “It is not a failure of yacht design. We know that.”

Fridell, who was standing on the dock to the yacht’s starboard side during the launch and serving as safety administrator, said there was a sound “like a pop” as the boat was being backed into the water, and almost simultaneously the vessel listed to port.

The launch was halted, he said, and after an inspection deemed the launch system sound, a decision was made to continue. Within seconds, the boat capsized with eight crew members onboard. A window had to be broken to rescue one of the men, who suffered minor scrapes, and the others were rescued without injury. The incident was captured on a video made by YachtVid.com.

The yacht was scheduled to be towed to shore on Friday and put on blocks while a determination is made about its salvageability. Seawater flooded the interior of the boat, damaging its electrical systems and furnishings, but Fridell said there are no holes or leaks in the hull. He declined to comment on whether the yacht’s buyer will ultimately take possession, but said “the intent is to salvage the vessel.”

The Coast Guard is investigating the accident and is expected to issue a report. Fridell said the company has nothing to hide.

“We took every step and measure we have over the years to launch every vessel correctly, and nothing about this vessel was unusual,” he said.


12 Responses to Updated: Builder blames ramp in $10 million yacht capsize

  1. Chris Brown August 9, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    I find a design that requires that much ballast to be suspect in the first place. Physics studies for designers please. Wow.

  2. jill June 20, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    t g ghvc

  3. George June 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    I walked the ramp at a minus tide (would have been about 9′ lower than at launch time) and there is nothing wrong with the ramp — no voids. I have pictures but don’t know how to link them here.

    I feel for the owners (having had a somewhat similar experience myself) and even moreso for the workers who were trapped and nearly drowned. I consider it irresponsible of the management to put them in that position; we love our yachts but none of them is worth a worker’s life.

    Speaking as a yacht owner (but not one quite as nice as Baden would have been) I ask the shipyard workers not to risk their life or let anybody working for you risk their life for what is in the end just an expensive toy. Safety first, last, and always.

    This is where the %99 meet the %1…

  4. Fred Detwiler May 26, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    I am surprised no one has commented that the builders added thousands of pounds to support a sport boat with a launching crane on the top deck . Was a Naval Architect I consulted .
    Additionally , The builders are also in a lawsuit with another owner whose boat is still in the shed .
    Boating is a great sport , but some in the marine industry are in need of higher standards or more owners will discover golf .
    Fred Detwiler
    Another frustrated boat owner trying to build in Anacortes

  5. Paul B. May 26, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    being interested in what happened and wondering about the causes and how to avoid having it happen to you or someone you know did not put those 52 people out of work. nobody takes any satisfaction in that.

  6. Klondiko May 26, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    Too bad 52 people are out of work while the finger pointing continues.

  7. Phil Friedman May 25, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    The use of a full supporting cradle in this type of gradual ramp launch is absolutely essential. Until the vessel is submerged to her intended waterline, she cannot develop the buoyant forces that enable her to right herself from a list. That is why, a vessel which is stable afloat can fall over easily when blocked on land, if she loses her chine or other side supports.

    On a ramp style launch, the obviously preferred procedure is to support the vessel fully with a cradle until she floats free on her own, having gained the necessary buoyant forces to return from a list to stable (upright) equilibrium. If the vessel loses her cradle or other side support before she is fully floating, the likelihood is that she will fall over. Whether that happened in this case depends on whether she was floating free at the time she rolled onto her side. If you’d like to see what happens when a vessel with natural hydrostatic (buoyant) stability is laid over during launch, go to the following link:


    The vessel being launched in this video is, obviously, a sailing ship with very high stability. But the way she returns on her own to upright, makes the point.

  8. John C. Leichty May 25, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Best it occurred at the launch , as it never would have taken a wave at sea …… regardless.

  9. Dick May 25, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    people need to look at all of the facts. there is not a big enough hole or void in the launch ramp, that has launched over 25 of these vessels to date, to create the problem. the waves in the oceans of the world are a lot bigger and will create a larger force on the vessel than any tire issue or gap in a ramp. the vessel was not ballasted correctly as per the fact that they could not let the crane loose from the vessel, even after it was righted and pumped out, or it would have rolled over again.

  10. Stuart Weibel May 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    many of the links to the yacht’s building seem to have been removed from Pufal’s blog. Another sign of attorneys at work I expect.

  11. Richard Rodriguez May 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    All indications (from picures and video) are that there were no lines and or line handelers to bring the vessel to a dock during the launch….just put her in the water (about 120′ of fairway for a 90′ vessel) fire up the engine and go.

  12. jim May 24, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Well sounds like infighting led to holes in oversight, Plenty of responsibility to avoid. Within the article is this statement “Some have suggested that the stern-first launch on a single dolly without a full cradle forward left the hull insufficiently supported amidships, causing the boat to list and ultimately capsize” that sounds reasonable to me. There is a reason good boat yards use expensive large cradles. When common sense is uncommon the lawyers and courts are sure to fill in. I tell guys at work all the time just because it worked out when you did it wrong doesn’t mean continuing to do it that way will continue to work out. I appreciate 3 sheets updating coverage on this.

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