Mirabella on the Rocks

It could be the latest cocktail; in fact it’s the headline that more than one publication used, to describe the unscheduled arrival of Mirabella V on rocks near Cap Ferrat, France, on September 16, 2004.

Photo Dave Higgins. Click HERE to view an uncropped version, plus more photos of Mirabella V on the rocks and in happier times.

Cocktail is certainly a good word to describe the aftermath to this incident, for rarely have so many different accounts and rumours surrounded the grounding of a yacht; but this is not just any yacht, its build cost was somewhere between $50 million and $130 million, depending on who you believe, it is the world’s largest sloop, the world’s biggest private sailing yacht and, as such, one would expect it to have the world’s finest equipment and crew. So how on earth could it have gone from being peacefully anchored in the Bay of Beaulieu, to ignominously sitting on clearly charted rocks? As one local told BYM “In 40 years here, I have never heard of anyone going aground on or near this pile of rocks.”, so how did this super sloop, with a professional highly paid crew onboard, high-tech instrumentation, in relatively calm waters, with long range weather forecasting, achieve the unheard of?

No answer to such questions has been given by anyone closely connected to the yacht, at least not one that makes sense to those who know this area well and who had been watching Mirabella V, on and off, since she anchored in the bay. The nearest thing to an owner’s statement is, according to the European edition of the Daily Telegraph, a comment from Joe Vittoria’s son that, “The crew knew exactly what they were doing. They were simply lifting the anchor after the night, a move they have done a million times and something went wrong - mechanical, or human, we don’t know yet.” That is an incredible statement, the crew managed to let a $multi million yacht get onto rocks and the owner’s son says they “knew exactly what they were doing.”!!

According to the UK Independant, Mirabella V Project Manager, Paul Johnson, told the paper "We were caught in a squall and it swung us into the rocks. We tried to manoeuvre to get the boat back under control and the situation became worse." That raises the question of why this vessel was so close to rocks that when a squall came it swung them into the rocks?  There would seem to be only two possible explanations; either the crew motored so close to rocks that a squall sent them on, or Mirabella dragged from her anchorage - unobserved by any of the crew - until she was close enough to the rocks to get blown on by a sudden gust. 

One Associated French Press report, says that Mirabella V “found itself in its embarrassing predicament late Thursday, when winds and currents pushed it ashore while its crew was dining.”, which fits with certain eye witness accounts. More than one person has said that Mirabella V was seen to be dragging for some time and one megayacht Captain, who had seen the yacht at anchor, told BYM “From where the Mirabella was anchored in the Bay of Beaulieu, and with a suitable length of chain out, I would estimate about 30 minutes to drag from where she was to where she ended up.”

BYM e-mailed Mirabella’s charter agent, Jacqui Beadon, saying “We have a collection of eye witness accounts. As is normal in these cases, there is variation, but one thing appears to be absolutely clear; Mirabella dragged for some time before ending up where she did, so was anyone on anchor watch, if so who and if not, why not?” Jacqui responded “I am not in a position to comment at this stage.”  

If Mirabella V did indeed drag from her anchorage to close to, or on, rocks, what was the reason and what contribution did her windage make? We put those questions to mathematician and architect Nigel Charlesworth, himself an experienced yachtsman.

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