Guest Column  
By Jose Joven - Indianapolis, Indiana - USA

I guess it had to happen sooner or later...

Everyone knows I have been messing about sailing my canoes. Last year Nibi Mocs and I paddled/sailed 100 miles along the Pukaskwa Coast of Lake Superior. It was a great adventure (see Duckworks Article). Today on a local lake I got a big surprise. I finally sailed her over! My only unintentional capsize (so far) in 5 years of sailing the skinny boats. What makes it more humbling is the wind wasn't even that bad.

click to enlarge

Sailing on the Pukaskwa Coast of Lake Suuperior last year.

Eagle Creek Lake runs north and south is about 4 miles long and almost a half mile wide. It is divided into two pools by the 56th St bridge and causeway. I started at the north end from the Park Marina and sailed south towards the bridge. Wind was out of the WSW to W 8-10 mph giving me a close to beam reach most of the way down. I sailed under 56th St heading south for the dam. Nearing the S boat ramp the wind freshened and got gusty, 10-20 mph. I luffed up, reefed and decided to put my PFD on. The Indy Fire Department dive team was practicing on the ramp, including sinking an old Chevy van for rescue!

I continued on down to the dam and tacked back and forth a few times before turning back. Approaching the boat ramp in 15 mph wind we powered right up to the bank and luffed up at the last minute. The firefighters were impressed. I stepped out and tied her off. One fireman came over to inspect my homebuilt sailing canoe. He asked a few questions about stitch and glue building and wanted to know where he could buy plans. I was interested to watch the divers attach cables to the submerged van. After watching a tow truck pull the van out of the water (which drifted while underwater and had to be pulled up over the bank instead of the concrete ramp) I got back in the boat and headed north towards 56th. The wind was gusting 15-20 mph and made the sailing a little rough, but nothing I hadn't done before, luff through the puffs.

I coasted under the bridge and headed for a cove on the west side about 1/4 mile N of the bridge. Being in the lee of the wind, the cove was quiet, so I just drifted around luffing up into the wind as an occasional puff would dictate.

I had just decided to head back out to the main lake when a gust caught me unaware. I was leaning hard to weather and trying to point up into the wind but since we were going so slow she wouldn't respond to the tiller. For some reason, I didn't let go of the sheet. Next thing I knew she had sailed right over, filled with water and turned turtle. It's a good thing I was wearing the PFD and the water was warm!.

The wind was trying to push us out into the lake so I found the bow painter and swam 50-60 yards towards the nearest bank, pulling the waterlogged boat behind me. It probably took 10 minutes but felt like an hour. When I could finally stand I swam back to the canoe and righted it by pulling down on the leeboard. Everything was intact and nothing was broken, but the boat was completely full of water. I took the mast and sail down, placing them on shore, and started bailing.

It took at least an hour to bail her out, combined with pulling the canoe up on shore a bit at a time so that water would exit the 3/8" rear drain hole. (Probably should make that hole bigger?)

After all this a light rain started and the lake became calm. I decided to stow the mast and sail in the canoe and paddle back to the Marina. I would have had to take everything back down in 5 minutes or so anyway.

Things learned:

  • ALWAYS wear the PFD. (I didn't have it on until the wind started gusting.)
  • Release the sheet in a puff instead of trying to head up into the wind, it's quicker and fool proof.
  • No matter what the wind conditions, ALWAYS BE READY. A capsize could be just a puff away.

All in all it was a good day on the water.

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