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Old 04-17-2011
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Yesterdays Demasting

I took out a standard Laser sailboat yesterday with a small rig (girl sail) or basically a smaller overall size mainsail. I did this rigging because the wind was steady at 22 knots with gust of 30+. My Cunningham was pulled in as tight as possible as well as my out haul.

I left the marina in 20+ knots of wind and set a port tack with my wind coming over the starboard side. The wind was extremely shifty, rotating complete from S.W. to S to S.E. and back again with unexpected gust. On my first tack I was screaming. Completely hung over the side as I flew across the river towards the other shore. Swells were very large with foaming white caps and a few breakers as well.
Half way across my mainsail head gets filled by a gust and I am pushed over immediately despite releasing the main and trying to turn upwind... Oh well, fun and games right?
The weather in the middle of the St. Johns was not for the novice.
I right the boat into the wind only to have the wind immediately re capsize the boat. At this point I realize I need to release on the boom vang to take out the depth of pocket in the top of the main to prevent such uncontrolled capsizes.
I finish my tack across the river and begin a new course of north north east. I criss cross the river in wide tacks going steadily North for close to half an hour before I decide to begin going back in. Since I had been out the wind and waves had actually increased substantially so that I felt I was sailing ocean waves instead of that of a river.
Beginning my path back I am at first frustrated. The sheer size of the swells and CONSTANT 25+ knots of wind make it very hard to do anything but very broad reaching tacks... slow work. Not only that, but I am forced to pull my main in tight as possible as I try to shave the wind to 30-20 degrees off the bow.
Conditions almost made a wall if you will. A wall that blocked any southern progress except on these broad reaches with main sail all the way in and a constant shuffle between windward for depowering and close-reach which constantly put the top of the main into the water as the swells were reaching heights that broke on the top and more than once produced dangerous heels that almost resulted in capsize.
Now to the coup de grat.
Making process, although be it slow and very uncomfortable, I am on the same tack as when I first started. That is, port tack with wind coming over starboard. I am between 300-400 yards from shore when the combination of a sudden gust and a deep trough put the head of my main into the water. The force of the gust caused an immediate capsize despite the boom vang being loosened out and my releasing the main as I tried to turn direct up wind.
I capsized and flipped the boat back over only to discover I was short half a mast and half a main sail. I attempt to unwrap whats left of the main from around the boom but am immediately capsized by another breaking wave over the starboard point on the bow. I am getting tired, water conditions are extreme for a dinghy of my size. I right the boat one more time in an attempt to unwrap the left over main from the boom and try to make it to shore with a jury rigged set up. Alas, the rudder is only held by a single finger and the sheer forces exerted on it while it was bottom up must have knocked the pin loose so that when I did to my surprise and delight succeed in unwrapping the main of the boom and getting it to refill I reached back for the tiller instinctively and felt nothing. Looking behind me I had to tiller, no rudder. ****.
Im pointed to windward but being pushed back rapidly by the fierce current towards the buchman bridge. As I am looking behind me frantically thinking what course I should take next my choice is made for me. I turn back around to see that I have been pushed to about 30-40 degrees off the wind just in time for the next three-set of breakers to lift me up, put me deep, swallow my bow and knock me back over. One more time I re right the boat. It comes up, it falls back down on the other side. I am exhausted. I climb onto the boats bottom and grab the dagger board for support as I surf the waves upside down. I am 300 yards from shore or so now and am seriously considering making a swim for it before I get sucked out under the bridge.
Here my luck changed.
I realized I was no longer moving. I was riding in position. I realized I must have gotten what was left of my mast lodged into the muddy bottom and it was acting as an anchor to keep me where I was at. I decided to stay with the boat.
One hand for the daggerboard, one hand for waving. I waved for over an hour before I spotted a boat motoring out towards me. My rescue vessel arrived and I got into the water once more to secure a towline to the base of the mast. Now I flipped the boat over once more and climbed into the inflatable sided motor boat to begin the treacherous journey back to the marina. Swells and wind were unceasing and the trailed boat slung from side t side uncontrollably but thankfully the knot held.
I make dry land, boat included.

I make my observations. Mast broken off right above attachment point. Lucky me, only need half a mast then. Rudder and Tiller gone. Life vest, gone. VHF, gone. Sail, torn. Boom, detached. Me? Battered and bruised but extremely thankful.
I start discussing the details now. I explain my rigging and sail choice to the general approval of the sailors around me. I describe the letting out of the boom vang and my tactics while trying to make course down wind... Again, approval. Apparently on one of my last capsizes the top of my mast was plunged into the muddy bottom and when I righted the boat it was broken off above the attachment point taking half the sail along with it. The rudder I feel was just bad luck but maybe I could have done something different..
I wanted to post what happened in hopes that maybe something I missed or overlooked will be pointed out and I can figure out why what happened happened.
I have been out in heavy wind before but never with such constant strength in a dinghy of that size. However, tactically I feel and still feel I was correct and would have made it safely to dock had I not had the series of events described above happen. The last capsize haunts me tho. I felt like my rigging was set up the best way for the weather and conditions and my tack was right up into the wind with mainsail sheeted all the way in. Why did I still capsize? Why couldn't I keep the boat upright? Why did the rudder get knocked off and the tiller come unattached despite being secured to its attachment point? I floated on top of a white hull for over an hour yesterday as I awaited rescue. I want to learn what needs to be learned from this experience so that nothing like this ever happens again.
Harborless
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Old 04-17-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harborless View Post
......the wind was steady at 22 knots with gust of 30+..............

I want to learn what needs to be learned from this experience so that nothing like this ever happens again.
You have an 11 foot LOA boat. I don't mean to be condescending, but really..... this isn't a mystery.

Glad you're okay.
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Old 04-17-2011
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Actually it is 13'4" but who is counting?
Your reply is not only condescending but disregarded. Lasers are designed for days like yesterday. If your experience prevents you from leaving dock in 20 knots then so be it prudent fellow. If it is your fear that grabs hold of your bowels and prevents you from doing so then I suggest you stick to pond ripples.
You know nothing of my level of experience and obviously nothing of the capabilities of laser sailboats. Your comments are not needed here.
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Old 04-17-2011
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Harbor,

You said: "I want to learn what needs to be learned from this experience so that nothing like this ever happens again." I sailed a Coronado 25
on and outside of San Francisco Bay for 10 years, learned a lot in
the process. Also sailed a boat similar to yours for a short time in Tahiti.
In trying to put my self in your shoes I wouldn't go out in those
conditions, especially in a boat your size. Probably not what you
wanted to hear but FWIW, just my two cents worth. Doubt you
could re-configure your boat to withstand those conditions?

Respectfully, Dabnis
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Old 04-17-2011
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Well, it really wasn't meant to be condescending or a reflection on your abilities. A laser in 30+ knot gusts, shifting 90 degrees by your description and knocked over is not a reflection on sail trim or your ability. Come on.

I really am glad you're okay. You sat in the water with a dismasted boat waving for help.
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Old 04-17-2011
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i think your big problem was the waves, and gusts. lazers are great in 25 knots with flatter water, but they get upset by waves over a foot all too easily. I think combined with the waves and the gusts the boat was just not enough.

i have been out in the same conditions in a flying scot, the wind was fine, but the waves unsteadied the boat way too much. we wound up turtling the scot because a gust pushed us over right when a wave caught the rail.

edit

also you where and f-n idiot if you did not have your vest on and the vhf teathered to the vest.

Last edited by scottyt; 04-17-2011 at 02:00 PM.
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Old 04-17-2011
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I'd guess most people who race Lasers would agree with you about sailing in such conditions. When you were able to maintain a reach I'll bet you were just screaming along but things can head south very quickly too.
It sounds like you had a plan for dealing with the broken mast but losing the rudder and tiller made that plan exceedingly difficult. I'm not sure what you could have done differently at that point.
In terms of getting knocked down in those conditions in the first place maybe you just need to get out more in adverse conditions like that. Big wind shifts that you describe are difficult to deal with on a keel boat much less a Laser. It's got to be more like 'work' trying to keep a Laser upright so I'm not surprised you got tired.
I've done my share of windsurfing, some in conditions similar to what you describe. It can be very tiring and trying but with practice may get easier.
Too bad your mast found the bottom of the river.
Get back on that pony and ride.
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Old 04-17-2011
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You have to decide whether it was the boat that couldn't take or you couldn't take it. We've all proposed the boat. Which is it?
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Old 04-17-2011
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Harbor,

If you decide to:"Get back on that pony and ride." in the same
kind of conditions I suggest you wear a wet suit, or at least
a vest with your hand held VHF attached, as Scotty T mentioned.
Also hope those trying to rescue you are not endangered. Another
alternative might be a bigger, stronger boat?

Dabnis
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Old 04-17-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harborless View Post
Actually it is 13'4" but who is counting?
Your reply is not only condescending but disregarded. Lasers are designed for days like yesterday. If your experience prevents you from leaving dock in 20 knots then so be it prudent fellow. If it is your fear that grabs hold of your bowels and prevents you from doing so then I suggest you stick to pond ripples.
You know nothing of my level of experience and obviously nothing of the capabilities of laser sailboats. Your comments are not needed here.
I've sailed and raced dinghies a lot, including Lasers. I think the point is that a Laser will capsize in those conditions. You did what you could to prevent it, but frankly there isn't anything you can do to prevent capsizes in those conditions with that type of boat. If you don't want to end up in the same situation, don't go out in those conditions.

As others have pointed out, is sounds like it was the gusty shifts in the wind, and not absolute velocity that were undoing. Likewise, large waves make it that much worse. Avoid those conditions and you won't have a problem.

BTW, your one comment that really concerns me is you lost your life vest? That bespeaks a rather large problem.
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