A Considered Reply

Ian Shepherd <g4ljf@...>

Ladies & Gentlemen,

we all know from Joel's advertisements that he is not a man to understate his case. In view of the latest developments in this dispute with Amel, it was not my intention to publicly air what has been going on any further on this site. However, had I not put anything on this site in the first place, the truth might never have been known. This is why this site is so valuable. Joel's libelous hysterical outburst is frankly a load of misinformed drivel that I cannot let go unanswered. My apologies to Amel for having to do so here.

Regarding misuse of the bow thruster, of course I am fully aware that you should not reverse the direction without a pause. I don't believe that I have ever done that incorrectly, nor has any other owner nor Amel employee ever commented to me about the way I operated the switch. If they were concerned, then surely they would have mentioned it to me?

Your assertion that I used the bow thruster to recover from a back winded genoa is complete BS. I have NEVER done this and I would most certainly NEVER consider doing so. The only way to recover from such a situation once steerage way is lost is to either sail out of it the long way round, or start the engine and motor the boat back gently back onto the correct tack.

What I DID SAY to Amel was that when approaching my anchoring spot in a crowded anchorage with a strong wind blowing, I would lower the bow thruster ready to save the situation should the wind blow the bow off before the anchor could grab the bottom. Yes, occasionally I had to nudge the boat to stop a potentially serious sideways slide developing, which could have resulted in a collision with another boat. If the bow thruster cannot cope with that, then there is something very wrong.

On the other side of the coin, I very seldom used marinas during the 25,000 miles that I sailed my first boat in two years. I therefore was using the thruster much less than some, though at 10 times the average usage rate. Incidentally, Olivier Beaute also said that after 5 minutes use, the thruster motor should be allowed to cool for 30 minutes.(Might have been 20). Of course NONE of us use it for anything other than a few seconds at a time.

As for the modifications, I did two things. I installed a thin stainless washer on the end of prop shaft, held with a spacer and self tapping screw. I did this to contain the propeller after the nylon screws broke. It was an idea that was passed on to me by another Amel owner. It worked well. Amel are, I believe working on a propeller saving device suggested to them by an Australian owner who was also fed up with losing propellers after fishing line or debris had caused the screws to shear.

I also fabricated a rubber collar that fitted around the through hull structure and led two drain pipes into the anchor locker drain tube. This was to collect drips of water that get past the through hull seals and stop the under floor areas in the forward cabin and by the forward heads from getting wet. M. Carteau liked that idea and developed it further to completely contain the bow thruster in its own water tight box.

Regarding replacing the nylon screws with stainless ones? I am afraid more BS. I did at one time query whether the strength of screws was sufficient. One of the ideas I put to (I think Joel) was substituting the three small screws with maybe low grade aluminium ones. This was discouraged, and I never did it. In any case, corrosion would have made aluminium unsuitable. AT NO TIME DID I SUGGEST USING STAINLESS SCREWS , nor was I ever dismissive of his remarks, though I did say that this was a design area that needed to be improved, as well as the oil seal arrangement and propeller retention. It was he who was dismissive of my criticism as in his eyes, there can be nothing wrong with the product he sells. Amel have now changed the screw layout, and there are now 4 large screws instead of 3 plus 3 smaller ones, and I am pleased to say that to date I have not had the screws shear.

It's all very well to say that there are hundreds of boats out there that have not sunk through the bow thruster falling out of the boat, but the fact is that one did. Both the surveyors that examined the bow thruster were unhappy with it's design. In fairness to Amel and in recognition of their efforts to make the thruster not idiot proof as you claim, BUT SEAWORTHY, I will not go into all the details of what they found in public. It is suffice to say that the problem has been fixed. Amel are very good at doing that. Even Jacques Carteau, Amel's chief designer admitted to me and the independent surveyor that the design was not good enough. He also pointed out that it was not he, but someone else who designed it. He has done a first class job in making the bow thruster safe. Thank you Jacques.

By the way, the modification kit was not introduced to prevent damage from abusive use as Joel claims. It was developed to stop the torque that is developed by the motor from twisting the shaft and damaging the tube. This was something that had been overlooked in the original design. Had the power of the motor not been increased, it may perhaps not have mattered. Also, had the bow thruster been fully enclosed in it's own water tight compartment as it now is, the boat would not have sunk even if the doors had been open.

Joel has a point in saying that the watertight doors should be closed when the boat is left, but I suspect none of us do that every time we go ashore? I did not close the doors as I was concerned about the many stories I have read on this site, and heard directly from owners, about the ceiling linings coming unglued in high temperatures. I wanted to maximize the air circulation and keep the temperature down in the 30C plus heat of an August Caribbean. Crusader was moored stern-to a dock between two other boats. Not much chance I think of a heavy side impact from a runaway boat in that situation.

Amel have since confirmed that they have cured the headliner problem some years ago by using material with a different backing and a different glue. Unfortunately that information did not get passed down the line to us more recent owners. Maybe it would be helpful for Amel to post the latest modifications to their boat, perhaps on this site, so that we are all aware what problems have been identified and rectified? How about it Joel?

As for a lightening strike sinking the boat, well yes it can happen, though with the SM's lack of metallic through hull fittings, the chances may be less than on other boats. The depth sounder may be one vulnerable area though. However, Joel is fully aware that when he sold his past demonstration SM last year, it was struck heavily not once, but twice by lightening, without, I believe any through hull damage.

For sure I will close the doors in future. In fact when I was dismasted, the second priority was to close the doors and drainage valves in case the hull was punctured. The first priority was to stop the mast going over the side, after the PAN call of course. Several owners have contacted me to ask what problems I encountered during the dismasting. I shall shortly write a brief resume, so that we can all learn something and swap ideas on how I might have handled it better.

Regarding the dismasting, Joel obviously has not seen the video that I took moments before the dismasting, nor perhaps the detailed report made by DRB Technology Ltd of Lymington Hampshire. Both are available at Amel's La Rochelle headquarters. I suggests he views the tape and reads the report before passing judgment. Yes the seas were lumpy, following a gale earlier that morning, but well within the capabilities of a sound boat and a skipper with now 29,240 nms SM experience. I started the leg to St Pierre et Michelon without the pole, but as I said on the tape, the wind began to drop off, so I rigged the pole to stop the genoa flogging as the boat negotiated the swell. The pole was rigged well above the horizontal position as suggested by Amel when the seas are disturbed.

There was no evidence of the pole touching the water. I have said before on this site that this did happen once to me on my previous boat in mid Atlantic. As others have said who have had the same experience, the pole jack knifed back against the rub rail. It did not dismast the boat! Furthermore, when this happened, it distorted the hoop in the boomerang bracket. Both my hoops were completely unscathed as is clearly seen in the video. Had the boat rolled sufficiently to dig the pole into the water, I would most certainly have noticed the roll and felt the slew. There was nothing untoward before the mast crumpled to indicate that the boat was in anyway over pressed or that the pole dug into a wave as you suggest.

Furthermore, you would have noticed that on the video there is a taped statement by Mr. David Gauvin who examined the wreckage soon after I got Crusader back into port, he states that "There are clear signs of different shades of oxidization around the failed weld, indicating that the crack started some time before the mast failed". Mr. Gauvin is a very experienced yacht delivery captain who spent some time working for Jongert. Frankly, I respect is opinion a lot more than yours Joel. Mr. Gauvin is neutral. You are most certainly not.

I have also discussed this failure with several mast manufacturers. They have all said that if you lose a lower spreader, you will lose your mast. My mast failed at the pole cup point as the pole guys and genoa sheet were putting a sideways pressure on the mast at this point. When the spreader let go and the mast went out of column, there was probably a squirreling effect on the lower mast section as the top section gyrated when the shrouds went slack. The sideways force on the failed side caused the mast to bend over at that point and that's where it crumpled. It's a complicated situation and I don't pretend to understand the forces involved for one moment, but when the boat is riding other than a flat sea, I am sure that loads can be varied and the peak loads considerable. All I will say, is that M. Qernec, my very experienced independent surveyor, who specializes in spa's, and my insurance company, are both absolutely convinced that the spreader failure was the cause of the dismasting. So am I. Of note also is that when Amel's representative was about to leave Newfoundland, I asked him what he thought was the cause of the dismasting. He replied "The spreader".

Joel did not see the spreader, as I retained it after leaving the boat so that I could have the failure analyzed by an independent specialist to safe guard both my position and that of my insurance company. Amel have seen it now and everyone has agreed that the weld was indeed faulty, though until yesterday, Amel still refused to repair the boat.

The reason why they changed their mind and reverted to their original promise to repair the boat was, I believe this. On December 22nd, Amel wrote to me and said that their surveyor had concluded that they were not guilty of any manufacturing or design concept. Of course he had not seen the spreader as I had it, and probably was not shown the report on its failure by DRB. They therefore withdrew their offer to fix the boat unless I paid despite DRB's report and their representatives conclusion. Some 36 hours ago, I let them know that I was aware that on November 14th, a month before Crusader arrived back at the factory, and 5 weeks after my failure, the very next boat to be built after mine, discovered that it had cracks in BOTH lower mainmast spreaders.

The boat was just three months old, like mine, and it had not sailed across the North Atlantic either. That information was relayed to Amel after a phone call to, guess who .......one Joel F. Potter of Fort Lauderdale Florida! Had that boat left Las Palmas for St Lucia, I think it would have been highly likely that they would have suffered a dismasting before they reached the other side. Well done to that crew for picking the problem up.

As I knew that Joel had previously denied any knowledge of my bow thruster failure to a fellow Amel owner, despite the fact that both I and Amel's Chairman had copied him into the emails about the events at the time, I decided to test his integrity once again. I sent him an email asking if he was aware of any other spreader failures as I was requesting that Amel make improvements to the design to allow for some redundancy should the weld fail. He did not answer.

Both he and Amel had now been caught out conducting a 'how do we get out it this time' operation. Maybe this was because their insurance company were reluctant to pay out, or maybe it was because they could not stomach the fact that they had again let down their customer who had paid some 682,000 Pounds Sterling to their business in the past three years, I really don't know. Maybe they just wanted to get me out of Amel because I used the boat very much more than the average user and were afraid that I would discover something else wrong? I don't know. They have never given a reason as to why they went back on their promise to repair the boat using their insurance.

Finally, trends, traits, single handed fatigue. More BS Joel. I think we have covered the bow thruster in sufficient detail other than to say that at the time Crusader sank, I was just getting on an airplane some 3000 miles away to fly back to her.

I sailed my first boat 25,000 nms, sometimes in attrocious conditions without any rig failures. Everyone should be aware that these two recent spreader incidents have occurred as a result of Amel switching their spa fabrication to a local sub contractor. I don't believe that there is any cause for undue concern. Amel are changing the spreaders on those boats that were associated with the welder at fault.

I left Port Au Basques at midday on October 3rd after spending several days there resting whilst waiting for a weather window to make the leg to St Pierre. The dismasting occurred 1 hour and twenty minutes after departure. Yes sure Joel, I was exhausted! Get real!

If using the pole at 140 degrees apparent is pushing the envelope, then that is news to me. However, having said that, Amel have claimed that the poles are to be used only when the wind is excatly aft. I think that is news to all of us. Just what is the truth Joel.You claim to be the expert. Tell us please. We need to know.

Yes, I have done some adventurous sailing. The North Atlantic trip to Greenland was no Trade Winds crossing, but well within the capabilities of any sound boat, had it been manufactured as intended. The resaon why I bought an Amel was they do indeed have a good reputation. However, averaging 1000 nms per month including layup time, will soon discover any weak areas. As I have said many times to Amel, if only they worked more with their customers by listening to their experiences, they would achieve more quickly their desire to be the best there is. They are quite close to that now, and as a result of my two mechanical failures, at the end of the day, they will be even closer, and we shall all be safer.

In fact just days before the dismasting, I sent Amel an email praising them for such a trouble free first 11 weeks of use, together with a list of suggestions where improvements might be made, though all of those points were of a trivial nature. I was very happy with my boat up to that point, and I told them so. No malcontent at all.

Regarding Joel's second email about Amel's decision to fix the boat, it has always been the case that it would be fixed at no cost to myself. It would have been my insurance company that would have to have paid, not me. Bearing in mind that there was a deffinate manuafcturing fault with the spreaders, my fight has been to protect my insurance company and my reputation. Amel have not yet given any guaranty that my company will not have to pay. All they have said is that they will now start the work. That is not an acceptable solution to me.

So Mr Potter, I shall add your emails to the pile that are bound for my lawyer. This matter is far from concluded yet. I shall never forget the time I faxed you about coming over to Fort Lauderdale from England with my wife to see some second hand Amel's. Your response was 'I have more Amels here than perhaps anyone but Amel themselves'. When we arrived, you had none you could show us! Blah blah blah! Oh well, at least I got a steal on a new sextant at BoatsUS!

Now, as far I am concerened, this dispute is closed as far as this site is concerned. Joel, if you or anyone else for that matter wants to discuss it further, then please call me at +357-99642701. Just remember that Cyprus is 7 hours adrift from your time being on a time zone of 2 hours ahead of UTC. I have lost enough sleep through the run around I have been given these past 4 months!

I am sorry this has taken so long to read, and I am also very sorry that I have had to drag Amel through what must be an embarrsing time for them. Joel left me little choice.

Kindest regards to all, and hoping to see some of you on the water again soon.

Ian Shepherd

SM #414 'Crusader'

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