Last summer I attended Howard Rice’s Small Craft Skills Academy. I highly recommend this course for any small boat sailor. One of the many aspects of sailing covered was capsize recovery. All sailboats are subject to the vagaries of the wind and will, at times, be knocked down. When that happens to small, open boats, they will usually swamp and can turn turtle. Sailors need to be ready for this possibility with preparation that includes having the right gear to deal with the situation practicing capsizing their own boats. Why do you need to practice capsizing? All boats are different and will behave differently when you try to right them and reboard and it is better to know what to expect before you capsize in harsh conditons. This is a big subject and I am not going to cover it all here. All I intend to do in this article is relay my own capsize practice experience.
At the recent Sail Oklahoma event, Richard Woods (sailingcatamarans.com) recruited my friend Stan Roberts to do some capsize drills. Stan had his Family Skiff there and they capsized it twice – the second time the recovery was much quicker due mostly to what they learned the first time. I was very interested in the whole thing since we did not have time to do capsize practice at the Small Craft Skills Academy, and I had decided that Gary Blankenship and I needed to practice with my Walkabout before we participated in the Everglades Challenge.
Sailing practice on Clear Lake
Back in 2006, I sailed with Gary in my first Everglades Challenge. Gary was nice enough to invite me to crew for him that year and thanks to his experience, we made it to the finish line. I had a great time and was determined that I would finish the John Welsford ‘Walkabout’ that I had started and invite Gary to crew with me in a future EC. Well, it took me quite a while to finish that boat but I finally did get it done in time for the 2012 Texas200. So Gary and I began making plans for the 2013 EC.
We did not want to do what so many do which is to turn up at the start of the race with a brand new, untested boat but no experience sailing it. A lot of boats have had to drop out because they simply were not ready. Another thing I have noticed is that boats that capsize – and it happens fairly frequently – almost always withdraw.
Gary and I at the start of the Everglades Challenge in 2006
So when Gary found he would be in Houston for a week in October, we made plans to meet and sail for three days. That would give us time to sort out some issues, figure out what I still needed to do to the boat, and generally get some experience handling the boat. We had three days with predicted diminishing wind and increasing warmth so we elected to sail the first day, row the second and do capsize drills the third. We took the boat to clear lake and thanks to Tony Townsend, John Goodman and Gordon Barcomb, we had a great three days getting to know the boat.
Gordo & Tony
I am not going to cover the sailing and rowing as those were pretty straightforward. What I want to talk about is the capsize practice. I have sailed a lot and rowed some too – 50 miles worth in this very boat recently – but I had not ever intentionally capsized a small, open boat. Michael Storer told me that he has capsized as much as 20 times in a single afternoon so I figured I need to do some catching up. I had learned some things at the Small Craft Skills Academy that I wanted to try. There were several things I wanted to learn too. The first was whether it was possible for one person to right the boat while scooping another person in (one of the things learned at SCSA). I also wanted to know if, after righting, the level of the water in the boat would be below the top of the daggerboard case. Otherwise it would be hard if not impossible to bail. Finally, I wanted to know if the boat would turtle or offer to. I did not think it would since the spars are very light. Here is a video clip of the first practice capsize.
The first test went fairly well. The boat turned out to be harder to capsize than we thought which was encouraging. It did not offer to turtle – also encouraging. In later tests, we swam out to the end of the main mast to see if we could sink it but we could not. And the water that was in the boat after capsizing was well below the top of the centerboard case.
notice that the starboard seat is above water - this shows you that the boat is listing to port - level, the centerboard slot will be even higher
We had no trouble scooping a person into the boat. We did it four times – each of us righted the boat twice, once on each side. Every time the boat ended up with water well below the top of the daggerboard case. We are not sure how having a lot more gear will affect this. On the one hand, much of our gear will be light stuff in dry bags stowed under the deck forward and that may displace some water – but some will be heavy and that will cause the boat to sit lower in the water and scoop up more. Since we found the boat so easy to reboard, we may just give up on the scoop and right the boat without anyone in it. Here is our third test:
We learned quite a bit as the morning went on. We learned to throw off the sheets and to get a line over the gunnel for the person righting to grab. We learned to float along the coaming when being scooped rather than hang on to the boat – this eliminated much of the water that was otherwise scooped in with the second person.
Gary trying to reboard over the stern while I bail. This did not work well.
After the fun was over and we went back to Tony’s dock and accepted the use of his graciously offered shower. Later on the ride back to town, Gary and I felt pretty satisfied with the exercise and a lot better about the thought of a real capsize happening during the Everglades Challenge. We plan to do a little more practice in Florida just before the start of the race – hopefully that will include more capsize tests with our gear aboard and in rougher conditions.