By: Scott Way
Last week the brilliantly turquoise superyacht GO made headlines for crashing into St. Maarten's Yacht Club. Not once, but twice.
Naturally, internet 'experts' were quick to pounce. With a predictable lack of knowledge, many immediately labeled the crash the result of driver error. Surely no captain could crash one of the world's nicest boats into one of yachting's most famous ports. What the videos lack, like most viral phenomena, is context. The captain of GO was recently interviewed by The Daily Herald to discuss the circumstances surrounding the incident. Predictably, there was far more at play than operator error. If you haven't seen the videos, here's a few different angles of the mishap:
As for the vessel in question, the boldly turquoise GO is a 77m (252 ft) luxury motor yacht designed by H2 and built by the aptly named Turquoise Yachts. It is owned by Capri Sun mogul Hans-Peter Wild. Yes, that Capri Sun, the lovable juice in a bag with the world's most challenging straw. It is entirely computer-driven and packed with deluxe appointments including a pool, jacuzzi, elevator, gym, helipad, and steam room. She runs with a crew of 19 and has 7 cabins for up to 12 guests. It was built in Turkey and launched in 2018 with a pricetag of roughly $100 million USD.
As for the events that transpired, captain Simon Johnson was preparing to depart the lagoon via the rotating land bridge (which you can see in the upper frame of the second video). While roughly 50 metres from the bridge and holding position pending the bridge opening, an electronic error began pushing the yacht forward without steering input. The passage itself is precarious enough as GO carries a 13.5 meter (44 ft) beam and has only 50 cm (1.6 ft) of clearance on either side.
Johnson told The Herald, “With not much water between us and the bridge, I always set to align my stern and get parallel well in time for the bridge opening. We left the dock an hour before and went through all the checks. There was nothing different from the other times we’ve done this exit. I was in good shape."
“Then, when we were about 50 metres away and holding position, the yacht started moving mysteriously forward. There was nothing I seemed to be able to do; all the controls on the bridge were showing normal. I called the engine room and everything was normal down there. I found I had extremely limited control, almost limited to only the bow thruster, but with now only 50 metres between us and the bridge I had to make a decision fast."
The ability to prioritize outcomes while under duress is a valuable trait, and the sign of a good captain, and Johnson was able to calculate a remarkable list of outcomes before choosing a course of action.
“I certainly did not want to put the anchor down. That would have been disastrous. By the time the anchor hit the bottom we would have been 30 metres further in. Then we would have pinned the bow upwind, and slewed the stern towards the rocks and the road bridge.
“We have 160,000 litres of fuel on board. If I had done that, I would not only have disabled the bridge, but potentially breached the hull on the rocks beneath and could have caused an oil spill. My preferred option was to point the bow towards the yacht club dock, and beach her gently there. I had a crew member up front shouting a warning to make sure everyone was out of the way.”
After some initial investigation, it was determined Johnson had 13 roughly seconds to choose a course of action. Having made the passage at St. Maarten's 20 times previously, his knowledge of the boat and the lagoon was undoubtedly valuable.
“The fact that there were no warning alarms, no lights on board to indicate something was wrong was really scary. I know this yacht so well, yet I had 13 seconds to make a decision before hitting the bridge. The decision I made was one I would make again if faced with the same circumstances.”
While internet critics were quick to heap blame upon him, Johnson was justifiable in his criticism of the electronics responsible, calling them “ridiculously over the top” and without manual overrides. On GO in particular, there are 14 computers on the bridge with two more below decks. Insurers will now have the tall task of determining the root of the electronic fault, as well as assessing the extent of the damage to GO and the Yacht Club dock before pursuing repairs.
As for Johnson, “I’m proud that we walked away from a crash landing, and most importantly, there was no injury and the island’s arterial road bridge was not compromised,” he said.
The yacht's owner Hans-Peter Wild was also supportive, releasing a public statement in which he declared he is “extremely supportive of the captain’s decisions and performance. Personnel, economic, environmental disaster was averted for the island. I have full faith and confidence in the captain and am very grateful.”
You can see more photos of the impressive GO below: