News & Views

BE GOOD TOO REVISITED: The EPIRB Question, Why She Didn't Sink, What Happened to Gunther, and a Shameless Book Plug

BGT abandoned

There has been much less furor online about the rediscovery of the Alpha 42 catamaran Be Good Too (hull no. 1) on a beach in Scotland than there was when we abandoned her three years ago. Which is a good thing for sure. I was disappointed to see, however, that Gregor Tarjan of Aeroyacht, formerly president of Alpha Yachts, has seized on the boat’s reappearance to again malign her crew. If you take a moment to read his full rant here, you’ll see his primary accusation, the “worst” thing that happened, was this: “The crew DID NOT leave the activated EPIRB aboard to mark the 40’ vessel for other mariners. BE GOOD TOO would for 3 years represent a deadly threat to other small boat sailors.”

In response to this, I have to first make the most obvious point: an activated EPIRB does not alert other vessels as to the EPIRB’s location. This is not an EPIRB’s function.

Second, and it is frustrating to have to repeat this, as Gregor was told this at the time: we never activated the EPIRB. All contact with the U.S. Coast Guard was via satellite phone, on a non-emergency basis. We specifically asked the Coast Guard when they came if we should activate the EPIRB and leave it on the boat, and they ordered us to bring the EPIRB with us.

I repeat: the Coast Guard did not want the EPIRB left on the boat.

You can read more of Gregor’s opinions on the loss of the boat right here, and you can read the skipper Hank Schmitt’s response to these opinions here.

Personally, I find the question of why Be Good Too didn’t sink more interesting than Gregor’s opinions. At the time we abandoned the boat it was a very open question in my mind whether she would stay afloat or not. She was steadily taking on water, and we were steadily pumping her out by hand (there was one chore in particular we had to perform regularly to keep the boat from swamping very quickly), and it was obvious she’d be quickly flooded after we left. If her hull had been fully cored with foam, I would assume even swamped that she would stay afloat, as, being a catamaran, she was unballasted with no lead mine to drag her under. But her hull in fact was only partly foam-cored, with all solid laminate below the waterline. I knew several cats built like this had sunk in the past, in spite of the lack of ballast, but I didn’t know for sure if that’s what would happen to Be Good Too.

After several months passed I assumed she must have sunk, as there were no reports of her having been sighted by other vessels. Such reports with respect to vessels abandoned between the U.S. and Europe are very common, as the North Atlantic is heavily trafficked. You’ll recall, for instance, that Rainmaker, the Gunboat 55 abandoned a year after we abandoned Be Good Too, was soon spotted after she was left to drift unattended.

Indeed, during the whole three years it took Be Good Too to drift across the ocean, she was, as far as I know, never seen by anyone. This suggests (but does not prove) that she was flipped upside down fairly early in her odyssey. That she made it to Scotland meanwhile does prove she had enough foam in her to stay afloat indefinitely. Unfortunately, given her current state, it seems unlikely that she will, as Gregor hoped, be salvaged and given a new life by some lucky Spanish fisherman.

BGT on beach

Probably not a candidate for a refit

I want also to share more about Gunther Rodatz, the owner of Be Good Too. I have heard from his widow, Doris, who now lives in Germany. She was thinking very seriously of visiting the wreck in Scotland, but has decided not to. She and Gunther were sailing together last year in the Caribbean (on the Fountaine Pajot 41 they bought after losing Be Good Too) when Gunther developed a foot infection. He declined to visit a doctor, until finally his lower leg was so swollen he went to a hospital in Antigua.

In Doris’s words: The doctor was very concerned about the foot. He wanted to perform surgery immediately. During the prep (ECG, drip with antibiotics, etc.) Gunther said that he was dizzy, vomiting and his body was tingling. A minute later he was dead. The nurse was overextended. I did heart massage—unsuccessful--no doctor around… Gunther suffered from a heart attack. That’s what the biopsy said later.

Gunther on chopper

That’s Gunther on the left during our flight to shore three years ago. On the right is USCG rescue swimmer John Knight

I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. He really was a very fine man, a perfect gentleman. Both he and Doris were calm and collected throughout our adventure together three years ago and immediately after the loss of their boat raised a considerable amount of money they donated to the Coast Guard Foundation. Indeed, after Gunther died, Doris asked that mourners, rather than sending flowers, instead send more donations to the Foundation.

Finally, in further response to Gregor, I’d like people to know that the complete story of what happened aboard Be Good Too, including many interesting details I left out of my previous accounts out of deference to the boat’s builder, is told in my book, The Sea Is Not Full, which will be published in the coming months and can currently be preordered on Amazon.

SINF cover

Also included in the book is my great revelation: the one rather simple thing we might have done to maybe keep sailing the boat, but which did not occur to any of us aboard at the time, and only occurred to me much later, and never occurred to any of the many people (including Gregor) who criticized us online after we returned to shore.

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