My first (and unexpected!) capsize drill!
(I've been lurking on sailnet for quite a while now, posting last fall with questions on buying a beginner sailboat. It turns out I had a friend who's dad was willing to give us a Melges M20 to fix up and learn on, which has been a blast, if challenging at times. We put a lot of work into it, and then joined the yacht club at Perry Lake (KS), where we've done our best to get as much tiller time in as possible every weekend. I thought the folks here might get a kick out of hearing our experience over the weekend...)
My brother, Dad, and I took the boat out on on a moderately windy, but very choppy day this past Saturday - I had been out on a slightly windier day once, and wanted more practice. After having a good time sailing for a couple of hours, we practiced a couple man-overboard drills, before heading back to meet the rest of the family. While we were heading back, the wind died a fair amount, and I thought I'd give my brother, who so far had crewed regularly for me, a turn at the tiller. But it soon became obvious that I hadn't given him enough instruction prior to giving him the opportunity at the tiller, and when we got up too much speed (and heel) he let out the mainsail to de-power the boat, but turned the tiller the wrong direction, causing us to heel severely. With the boat at just about 90 degrees, dad fell into the sail, ensuring what was already a likely capsize, and driving the mast downward, until it rotated a full 180 degrees and turtled! With all of us now in the water, my brother held onto a shroud while my dad and I stood on the centerboard to try to bring the mast up to water level. We eventually succeeded, and I took down the sails before we attempted to right the boat. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough flotation in the rear of the boat, which was now completely under water, and we weren't able to get the mast out of the water. We put a PFD under the mast to keep it from turtling again, while trying to figure out our next step.
Finally, a nearby sailboat came to our "rescue," which in this case meant circling around us, hollering the same instructions for how to right the boat that we'd already tried but failed at. But he was insistent, so we tried again, mostly to appease him. Surprisingly, our second, renewed effort was more fruitful, and we eventually had a swamped, but upright boat. It was at this point that I realized the repercussions of how I had taken down the sails: I had gotten the mainsail down about 3/4 of the way before the halyard had fouled on something underwater. Rather than go underwater to figure out where the line was fouled (I was a little concerned about getting tangled in lines, while underwater) I had disconnected the halyard from the head of the sail before bringing it down the rest of the way. Unfortunately, this meant that once the boat was righted, the mainsail halyard was now at the top of the mast, well out of reach. Not only that, but I had lost my hand bailer when the boat turtled, and I was trying to decide whether the jib alone would have enough pull to empty a swamped boat, when a motorboat stopped and offered a tow.
Unfortunately, the motorboat that stopped to offer help was under control of the most inexperienced people on the lake! With us under tow, the boat started to drain, and things were looking promising for the first few minutes. But then they proceeded to swerve back and forth like they thought they had a skiier behind them, until the boat started submarining first on the port side, then on starboard, while we all jumped from side to side trying to counterbalance the effects. I wasn't sure whether I should try to man the tiller while under tow to fight being pulled under or if this would only make things worse. But before I could make up my mind, it was no longer a problem - the motorboat grounded us (and them) on a local underwater concrete foundation! That they didn't know about this area, which is marked by buoys, was a surprise to me - it was the first thing that was pointed out to me when we signed up at the club, and I assume it's common knowledge to avoid that area altogether. With my boat being a performance scow, we didn't have too much trouble getting it off the foundation, but the motorboat was a huge monstrosity that took a concerted effort between them reversing and my brother and I pushing for all we were worth to get our rescuers off the foundation. I don't know what sort of damage they may have taken, but they were still afloat, and offered continued assistance. We declined, figuring it would be safer at this point to swim the boat to shore rather than to be sunk by their continued help.
It wasn't too long after this that we were within sight of the club, and several members came out on a work pontoon to help tow us to shore. We eventually got the boat to a nearby beach, where we were able to bring the trailer around and haul the boat out, but it was a rough end to a fun day. We ended up with about 2 hours sailing time, and 2 hours recovery. Thankfully, the only damage was to my Windex. Chalk it up to another (several) lessons learned:
1) Give more instruction prior to handing the tiller over, and start in a cove.
2) Don't disconnect the halyards from the sails!
3) The procedure for capsizing does work - it just takes a concerted (and coordinated) effort!
4) My bailer apparently floats! When I was digging around in the (underwater) bag it was stored in, I couldn't find it because it was floating above my hand.
5) It may be better to be at the tiller, even while under tow?
6) Should I have tried to sail a swamped boat by jib alone?
7) Get a submersible handheld vhf radio - I could have radioed the yacht clubhouse for assistance.
8) Anything I've missed?
Melges M20 - The Can-Do Girl
Lake Perry, KS
Last edited by 0verdrive; 08-17-2009 at 11:37 AM.