What the media said
There were variations on the theme, but the gist of most reports was basically the same; it went something like this:
John Fildes was sailing his yacht, Dangerous When Wet, from the Caribbean island of St Maarten to Newport, Rhode Island, when the mast of his trimaran snapped, leaving him in danger of sinking and at the mercy of a ferocious Atlantic storm.
On Monday (April 14, 2007), when he was near delirious, from seasickness and 48 hours without food, his distress call was picked up by the cruise ship, Crown Princess, which changed course and sent a boat to rescue him. Imagine Fildes' astonishment, when he discovered that captain Alistair Clark, master of the 113,000 tonne vessel, was from his home village of Warsash, 4,000 miles away in Hampshire.

It was a great story, the only problem was that the accounts were highly inaccurate; this is the Crown Princess' version of events, verbatim:

On 14 May 2007 at 1317h and en-route from Bermuda to San Juan , Puerto Rico a MAY DAY call was received on VHF Ch.16 from sailing vessel "Dangerous When Wet" requesting immediate assistance.
Ship's position: 30 38.0' N 064 54.8' W. The sailing vessel reported position 30 27.4' N 064 54.9' W.
Nature of distress reported was loss of sail, yachtsman exhausted not having eaten for two days and being afraid that yacht would start taking water.
Weather conditions: N'ly wind 30/35Kn, 4 metre N'ly swell
At 1333h visual sighting of the sailing yacht and rescue boat prepared.
At 1404h vessel approaching the sailing yacht (GPS posn: 30 27.6' N 064 52.6' W) and yachtsman sighted on deck.
Captain Alistair Clark maneuvers Crown Princess to create a lee for the sailing yacht.
At 1435h sailing yacht abeam and Stbd rescue boat launched. Soon after, the yacht is alongside the ship and the yachtsman is recovered onboard rescue boat.
At 1450h the rescue boat has been hoisted back onboard and Crown Princess resumes passage to San Juan.
Rescued Yachtsman sailing alone: John Nicholas Fildes, British, DOB: 6 Aug 1974
Sailing vessel was en-route from St Maarten to Newport, Rhode Island
Description : SAILING YACHT
Overall Length : 12.20Metres
Number of Hulls : 1
Name of the Ship : DANGEROUS WHEN WET

You don't have to be a knowledgeable yachtsman to see that this yacht had not been dismasted, nor that it is a monohull, not a trimaran; it is astonishing that the vast majority of editors, who received the report and pictures, failed to notice that the two did not portray the same account and published without a query on the text. They could be excused for not knowing exactly where the rescue took place, but the fact is that it was not, as many published "off the coast of Puerto Rico", but many hundreds of miles further north, about 100 miles due south of Bermuda!

What is puzzling experienced yachtsmen though is why the yacht was abandoned? The Crown Princess stated: "Nature of distress reported was loss of sail, yachtsman exhausted not having eaten for two days and being afraid that yacht would start taking water.", but Dangerous When Wet's mainsail is lying in its jacks and the two headsails are clearly furled. As to a fear that it would "start taking water", one has to ask why that should happen? One of those involved in building this very boat posted, on the Sailing Anarchy forum, "the boat has her rig and keel, she is on her lines, no visible damage, she's not sinking." A spokesperson for the Spirit of Canada team told BYM News "The boat was built to the stringent IMOCA class rules, the design included crash bulkheads forward and five water tight compartments to provide positive bouyancy in the boat."

Yes, the weather was rough, for the remnants of tropical storm Andrea were still being felt, but the Crown Princess only reported winds of 30 to 35 knots and a 4 metre (13 feet) swell and such conditions were nothing that should have troubled Dangerous When Wet, for this was a very historic and proven Open 40.

Spirit of Canada

Dangerous When Wet started life as Spirit of Canada, the first Open 40 ever built in that country. It was Derek Hatfield's entry in the 2002/3 Around Alone and, in that event, the yacht survived a dismasting in horrendous conditions, near Cape Horn. Here is an account:

From about 36 hours away from Cape Horn, Hatfield had to hand steer, because the autopilots could not cope with the combination of high winds, coupled with massive waves. The captain of a cruise ship, on its way back from an Antarctic expedition, was able to confirm to Race Headquarters that the winds were around 70 knots and the waves more than 12 metres (about 40 feet).

As Spirit of Canada got closer to Cape Horn, the continental shelf caused the water to get shallower and the waves to get even bigger and dangerously steep. Suddenly, Hatfield heard a huge roar as a great, breaking wave approached the boat; Spirit of Canada fell down the face of it until the bow dug in and then went straight up and fell over sideways. Trapped underneath, Hatfield heard huge bangs, as the mast broke, then the boat came back upright and he was dragged back on deck. Despite keel damage, the indomitable Hatfield managed to motor his wounded yacht to Ushaia, in Argentina, where he and his faithful band of helpers repaired her, so that he could finish the race.

So, we know that, when it was in Hatfield's hands, Dangerous When Wet would easily have been capable of coping with what was left of Andrea, never a very strong tropical storm, which had been downgraded to "remnant low", by the NOAA, on May 10, the day after John Fildes left St Maarten, on what was to be the Open 40's last voyage. What we don't know is the condition of the yacht when she set off on that final voyage, nor the experience of the solo sailor.

Recent history

Several of the newspaper reports described Fildes as an experienced sailor, who had competed in the Route du Rhum single handed trans-Atlantic race, with Dangerous When Wet. That is incorrect.

It was a young woman called Aurelia Ditton, who sailed the boat in the 2006 Route du Rhum.

Post Spirit of Canada.

On July 13, 2004, the Spirit of Canada team announced that the Open 40 had been sold to Pindar Ocean Racing. They added:

We are currently in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia getting it ready for a Transatlantic crossing along with a Pindar skipper. It is her intention to race the Open 40 in the Transatlantic Race from Plymouth England to Newport RI (OSTAR), in June 2005. It will be difficult to see the Open 40 leaving after all these years of building and racing it around the world, but we must move on and it will be great to see it racing again rather than sitting out of the water.

That skipper was Aurelia Ditton, but it is unclear how Pindar came to sponsor her. Speaking at a New England Multihull Association dinner, Ditton said:

At a drinks party prior to Antigua race week, Andrew Pindar, of Pindar AlphaGrapics (the company that prints the Yellow Pages in England and America) overheard my plan to enter the OSTAR. He offered me sponsorship and Pindar  AlphaGraphics purchased Derek Hatfield’s Open 40 monohull, which he had sailed in the single-handed race ‘Around Alone’, in 2002.

On her website, Ditton quotes Andrew Pindar as saying:

I met Lia a couple of years ago in the Caribbean on an ocean going monster of a racing yacht. Sitting on the rail of the boat together for a few hours allowed me to learn of her ideas, her dreams and her plans. It was very unusual to find someone who wanted to use a sailing boat as art, especially when part of that art involved taking a boat single handedly across the North Atlantic and who then was able on to articulate her experiences so vividly in some of the most expressive diary writing that I have ever seen.

Whatever the way the Pindar sponsorship arose, it happened and Ditton went on to say, at that NEMA dinner:

Perhaps I should have known that the campaign was ill-fated, when the chap who turned up to survey the Open 40, introduced himself as Neil Armstrong, or when I rang an insurance company, regarding insurance for the delivery to England and spoke to Dick Tracey. Ultimately, the boat was shipped to England.
The mast, with defects missed by Neil Armstrong, snapped before I had sailed the boat 500 miles, but, after a 3 month, 7-day a week refit, Spirit of Canada, sat once again in her cradle ready for re-launch.

That would seem to imply that the yacht had been prepared to race ready condition, but posting on a Sailing Anarchy forum, in December 2006, after she had sailed the Route du Rhum, in 2006, Ditton said:

Five weeks before the start of the Route du Rhum 2006, it was known that the boat ex-'Spirit of Canada' now 'White Spirit' was for sale. I was not involved personally in the purchase, but was on the understanding that the boat was "race ready."
I was very distressed during the sail out of Lymington, to realise that my work list from 2004 was still valid. Ten of us worked every hour humanly possible, to prepare the boat in four days flat, for my Route du Rhum qualifying passage.

So, what happened to Ditton's plans to do the 2005 Ostar in the boat? This is what she said at NEMA:

She sat some more, as several parties with intentions to enter the same race, the Faraday Mill OSTAR 2005, made offers to purchase her. The opportunity for profit, it was explained to me, could not be overlooked. It was a sad day that she was towed away.

Later she was to explain:

As expected, the financial directors at Pindar, the company which, on the basis of my intention to race single-handed, instead purchased Derek Hatfield’s Open 40 ‘Spirit of Canada,’ baulked at the idea. ‘Cut our investment in half?!’ You must be joking! Their reaction fuelled my desire.

Cut a boat in half?

It wasn't until Ditton made a late entry in the Route du Rhum that details of her plan arose. A press release said:

Four weeks ago, Aurelia did not even own a boat, but undeterred, the ambitious artist and sailor started a company, attracted a group of investors and purchased Derek Hatfield’s 40 foot ‘Spirit of Canada’ – a proven boat, which had finished 3rd in its class in the 2002 Around Alone. 

It want on to say:

To continue the art project, after spending this winter in the Caribbean, Dangerous When Wet will be cut into two and exhibited half in an art gallery in New York with the other half a touring exhibit, starting at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Enter John Fildes

The press release also said:

One of the boat investors commented, "We really believe in Aurelia's great talent and ambition, not only as a yacht racer, but also as an artist and we think she offers the world something different." The investors look forward to a successful winter season in the Caribbean, offering race spaces on the yacht. Aurelia added, "The opportunity is unique - to join me onboard for a Caribbean regatta; Antigua, the St. Martin Heineken, BVI Spring's or St. Thomas Rolex. In between times, there's no escape - she'll be a charter donkey, but a stylishly fast one, for a select choice of top-class international hotels."

The contact given for charter bookings was John Fildes.

None the wiser

Reviewing the history, it is still not clear what state Dangerous When Wet was in, when she finished the Route du Rhum, in Guadeloupe.

Aurelia Ditton finished second in her class, which might suggest that Dangerous When Wet was in great racing shape, last November, but that becomes less certain, when one notes that there were only 3 finishers in that class and that all, but one, out of 23 Class 40 yachts finished ahead of her. (For the benefit of those who do not follow ocean racing, a Class 40 yacht is a considerably less powerful racer than an Open 40, like Ditton's boat. More information HERE). Could this have been because Ditton did not have sufficient confidence in the yacht's condition to push her? We tried to contact her and pose that question, but the number we have is not in service and her website is being updated.

The skipper

John Fildes is very much an unknown quantity, in yacht racing circles. He has a website www.dangerousww.com, but that is now down and the cached pages we have found don't give any indication of his sailing pedigree. Just charter packages on offer for Dangerous When Wet, some links and stories of working on the yacht. The telephone number given to contact him is, currently, unavailable.

The only current references to him, we have been able to find on the web, other than the many about the rescue, are three posts, by "Dangerous", on a Mini Transat forum.

[sic] hi i am working with a company and will be able to ofer insurance for minis in the next month or so . i am just wating to sign the last of the paper work . I will be ofering total lose polices and staight insurance for hulls there may be an opertunety to cover your rig sepretly for an adishenal cost . If you are intrested send me an email at [email protected] thanks john
[sic] hi all areas of the world are not a problem the only area that worys them is when you start going to clost to the ice i spoke with some guys in newport recently and hope to be able to help them i will be covering all tipes of boats from minis to tris to open 60s
[sic] Hi I am looking to run some seminars over three or four days in the UK. It will probably be over two weekends. The subjects will be weather with Bill Bewenga, (he who wrote the book on weather for north) sleep with Claudio, Nutrition with Elan's nutritionist Juliet and mental and boat preparation with a well known round the world sailor. The price will be approximately three hundred pounds per weekend. I am in the progresses of working out the final details and it will be ether in London or the south coast. Please could thoughts of you with an interest in attending drop me a line to [email protected] thanks john

If one can believe anything in the media reports, there are further clues that suggest Fildes may not have had much ocean sailing experience. Many describe him as "having become near delirious from seasickness and lack of food" and Captain Clark is quoted as saying "the ship's doctors, who treated Fildes, believe he probably would not have survived another day stranded at sea." Surely, if he had been experienced, in ocean sailing, he would have known of a tendency to suffer from such extreme, life threatening seasickness and would not have set out alone on May 9; a day the NOAA was still issuing advisories for the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea, which lay across his route? Surely, he would also, knowing of the storm, have taken sufficient food, of the type that ocean racing sailors usually have on board; food which requires little preparation and is easily digestible?


The most telling clues lie not in media stories but in fact. Several reports stated that "Fildes had been making Mayday calls on his radio for two days, but no other ships were in range to hear his pleas for help", until the Crown Princess came along. As a Route du Rhum entrant, Dangerous When Wet would have had to have an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) on board. An experienced ocean sailor would surely have activated the EPIRB, which would have been picked up by Maritime Search and Rescue Centre Bermuda and would have identified his yacht and pinpointed its precise position, so that rescuers could be directed to him.


A passenger on the Crown Princess said that his pictures of the yacht, before Fildes was picked up, "show no damage to the mast. Both foresails were furled and looked fine. The main was on the boom with the head close to the mast. Couldn't tell if the halyard was attached, but it looked ok. Rigging seemed normal." The fact that both headsails were furled, instead of being used to keep the yacht head to wind, thus minimising motion likely to cause seascickness, again seems to point to a lack of sailing experience on Fildes part.


So what about Aurelia Ditton's plans to cut up the boat? It appears they were changed, because - in February - the former Spirit of Canada was announced as being available for purchase on the Global Ocean Challenge website.

Then a Sailing Anarchy poster reported:

I am very happy to say I saw "Dangerous When Wet" this week in what must be one of the most wonderful spots you could hope to be in a yacht - Falmouth Harbour in Antigua. Moored alongside a great bar whose ceiling is covered in signatures of the many yachtsmen would have spent time there.
I spoke briefly to John (from Warsash UK) who was aboard - he told me that Lia had "walked away from the project" - great news I would say. There was some talk she may still be cut up, but with a twist - whatever that means. John said she would race again, he was prepping the boat for a trip back to the UK.

What was the final fate of Dangerous When Wet? An amateur video, taken from the Crown Princess, ends with the sad sight of the former Spirit of Canada drifting away, with a broken mast, after Fildes had been taken off.
Passengers on the Crown Princess say the yacht's mast was beaten to pieces, against the side of the cruise ship. One described it like this "At the time of closure, the mast reached the 9th deck and was pounding away against the balconies there. Passengers were warned away from the rail."
Can she still be afloat? We don't know what damage she sustained, when she drifted away down the side of the Crown Princess, but - given her 5 water tight compartments - she could well still be afloat and salvageable. When Spirit of Canada pitchpoled, in the Southern Ocean, her engine was running, when she righted herself it was still running and took Derek Hatfield to Ushaia; about the same distance as that from her last known position to Bermuda.
If she has sunk, many passionate yachtsmen, who were outraged by the idea of talking a chainsaw to Dangerous When Wet, will believe that end to have been more fitting.