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Just what you don’t want: a very big hole in your boat.
That’s what’s happened to a lot of catamaran owners over that past several years. And shockingly, this hole was designed to be in our boats for safety reasons. Here’s what happened.
What are Escape Hatches?
Escape hatches are a hatch installed towards the bottom of your hulls. We have two: one in the owner’s side, in our head, and the other in the forward guest cabin.
Both of these hatches on our boat are just above the waterline. In a calm location, like the V&A Waterfront Marina in Capt Town, we can open the hatch while in the water. The bottom of the hatch gets wet as it is dipped into the water, and if we get waked the waves would splash up into our head.
Several models have escape hatches much higher above the waterline, such as under the bridge deck. Several brands used Goiot escape hatches, such as Bali, Fountaine Pajot, Lagoon, and Nautitech (all French brands).
The point of an escape hatch is that if you flip your catamaran, which is very unlikely, you could open the hatch and crawl out to the underside of your boat.
How Do the Goiot Escape Hatches Fail?
The escape hatches installed in most of these boats consists of a metal frame installed in the hull, hinges, the frame for the glass, and the acrylic lens itself.
The lens is attatched to its frame using only a silcone adhesive. The glue between the acrylic and the frame fails, causing the lens to detatch from the frame.
Sometimes the frame will pop out suddenly and the owners will have a major problem. Other times, it might be caught early by detecting water trickling in.
How Long Have Goiot Hatches Been Failing?
Reports of these catamarans having trouble started coming to our attention in September 2018. A Helia, #105 named Marita, had this issue with their hatch off the coast of Morocco and lost their boat.
Around the same time our friends Hans and Karina were out sailing their Helia and began taking on water. They had to rig up a system to pull the hatch closed and get to port – thankfully they were close to home.
Another owner reached out to us, Allen on hull #16, Gemeaux. The lens popped out of their frame of the east coast of the US. Thankfully they were able to recover and bring their boat to safety.
On April 5th, 2019, Sailing La Vagabonde published a video interviewing a man who almost lost his Helia off the eastern seaboard.
A False Bandaid
Goiot sent out a “security kit” for owners to secure the hatches themselves. The kit “was made of 2 strips with double sided adhesive tape. You were asked to stick these strips on the hatch glass.”
Now, Fountaine Pajot says this about the initial kit: “This kit should no longer be used and must be replaced by the new Fountaine Pajot security kit before taking to the water again.”
Allen, from Gemeaux, came up with his own solution to the escape hatch failure and posted it online for the rest of us to copy and apply to save our own boats.
The second kit that came out from Goiot was similar to Allen’s plan.
Our Goiot Escape Hatch Failure
With this news, we became concerned about our hatches failing, especially as we were about to cross the Indian Ocean, the hardest leg of our circumnavigation. Working together with a friend in Singapore (thanks, Troy!) we were able to get the parts needed to apply a mechanical fix that several other owners had come up with.
When we hauled out in Thailand at G&T Shipyard in January of 2019, we installed the fix.
We attached a thin, metal bar to the inside of the frame. An arylic bar was attached to the inside of the lens. We drilled a whole through all three layers: the lens, the acrylic bar, the metal bar. A bolt went through the hole, tightening down to press the lens to the frame mechanically. The whole thing was sealed with an acrylic solvent.
This meant that we had three systems holding the lens in place: the original silicone of the lens to the frame, the bolt through all the layers, and the acrylic solvent. This system greatly reduced our chances of catastrophic failure.
And as we found out – it worked.
We were sailing the coast of South Africa, making several stops in our effort to get to Cape Town for the holidays. In St Francis, I was cleaning our head when I discovered a lot of water in the basin under the starboard escape hatch.
Pressing against the lens, we could see where the silicone was failing, and the lens was now being kept in place by our mechanical solution.
We checked the other side, and it was failing too, but not as badly. The only hint was small beads of water and dried salt on the inside of the hatch.
We’d been trying to decide whether to stop in Kysna, and this really nailed it in for us; we needed to get to Cape Town as soon as possible and get a set of replacement hatches.
David applied Life Seal around the edges of the lens to attempt to secure it into the frame a bit better.
We made the last two-night passage to Cape Town and kept a close eye on the hatches.
Replacing our Hatches
We got in touch with Fountaine Pajot, who agreed to cover the hatches under warranty.
That sounds great, but the reality is very different. We first contacted Fountaine Pajot on Dec 5th, 2019. The escape hatches were shipped on December 13th.
Every country is different in terms of their regulations on import tax. You often need to show an invoice for the amount you paid and/or a value for the product. Our invoice showed a $0 paid but showed a 10 Euro value.
Parts shipped into South Africa that are going to a boat in transit should be tax-free. However, FedEx, without us knowing, filed our part as “low value” instead of “transit yacht”. Customs in South Africa took a look at the box and fined FedEx for falsifying the value of the item. The fee was transferred through to us – and FedEx wouldn’t release the part until we paid over $1,000 USD.
The escape hatches are worth about $1,000.
We’ve filed a complaint against FedEx – they never should have put us in the “low value” box – but it’s unlikely we will ever see that money back.
We picked our new hatches up January 14th. David was able to install them while we were in the water. It wasn’t easy, but using our dinghy he was able to work the bolts of the hinges out and replace the frames and lenses.
The new hatches have a tiny bolt at the very top, acting as a mechanical solution to keep the frame and lens together.
We installed the same mechanical solution anyway. Better to be extra careful than risk losing our boat, especially when we were about to head across the Atlantic Ocean.
FINALLY a Recall
On January 15th, Goiot finally issued a formal recall. Boat owners were advised NOT to use their boat at all until they received new hatches. As you can imagine, that’s difficult for most people.
While it’s great that they are officially recalling, this creates a whole new set of problems. Friends with a Lagoon filled for a warranty replacement in January and still haven’t received the replacement hatches in May.
What’s the Escape Hatch Solution?
While I have heard of these big cruising catamarans flipping under extreme conditions. I know of one Leopard 44 catamaran that was lost in the Indian Ocean, near a cyclone. Obviously there are way more boats that have experienced the escape hatch failures.
Escape hatches are required for European built boats, so other manufacturers are gong without – like Leopards.
We know that with our ability to avoid bad weather and Starry Horizons’ seaworthiness, it is incredibly unlikely that we will ever flip our boat. But those escape hatches? They are hard to trust. We’d rather not have them.