Caught air on the foredeck
Well, that's never happened before.
June 6, approximately 4 PM, south San Francisco Bay, approximately 3 nm from my slip. Handheld wind meter reports winds 20-25 knots, forecast is ~22 knots, gusts to 27, nearby station (which is much calmer) reporting 17-20 knots; lots of chop. Motoring on Ericson 27. We're wearing inflatable life vests with harnesses, but we didn't deploy tethers or jacklines.
One weird thing about the south SF Bay is that the chop varies quite a lot, in ways that don't necessarily make a ton of sense. There's a lot of fetch here, and the wind blows pretty strongly out of the SFO airport, frequently opposing the tidal current, so it makes sense that there would be chop. But sometimes its windy, and not a lot of chop, and sometimes not very windy, but still choppy. And the nature of the chop seems to vary a lot, from smaller, shorter period ways, to larger, longer-period waves.
This was sort of the last-minute thing to escape the heat Saturday, so my girlfriend and I just went out with the 130% genoa furled. As we motored out (our usual habit, as there's three miles of upwind channel navigation, with varying degrees of traffic, until getting into the Bay proper), it became apparent that we needed the 70% jib.
So by this point things were starting to get fairly real, in terms of spray, substantial waves, etc. I convinced my girlfriend that I'd probably be able to switch it out myself while she helmed, and made my way to the foredeck.
Getting the genoa unfurled and down wasn't that big of a deal. I made the mistake, though, of not properly securing the bitter end of the jib halyard, sort of lamely wrapping it around the smallish cleat on the mast.
Getting the new jib up was a problem. Right as I was shackling the tack, the chop started to "get real" and it became difficult to stay steady. I tried to shackle the head, but at this point, sail started to go pretty much everywhere, and it took (what seemed like) several minutes to get from the tack to the head, to be sure I hadn't twisted it somehow. It's really hard to explain how difficult it was to feed the sail into the luff groove, and attach the screw shackle to the head, under these conditions.
This is about the time that the bow began to pitch downward rapidly. For a brief moment, I was totally in the air. I don't really understand the physics of this situation, as it seems I should rise and fall at the same rate as the boat, but whatever. Then I landed on the deck, fairly hard, as if I had jumped from some height. This happened a few more times, as I struggled with the sail.
At around this time, the cleated halyard came loose, and as it flew aft, the end hit my girlfriend in the head. She was getting soaked repeatedly from the spray off each large wave. It took a while for me to figure out that she was screaming, "Abort!"
So we sailed for a few minutes under these conditions under main only, and managed to recover the streaming halyard. We pretty much jointly came to the conclusion that there was no way this was going to happen in our current state of misery. (The girlfriend had never gotten seasick before.) So we turned around, and that was that.
I've been considering what exactly went wrong here, and what we could do differently. It obviously would have helped to have the right sail set on the dock, but it seems like a sail change like this is something we should be able to do. The girlfriend suggests that we could avoid these problems if we never went sailing ever again. My general feeling is that a much bigger boat would be more comfortable, but I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.
Well, just another summer afternoon on the SF Bay...
Last edited by aaronwindward; 06-18-2012 at 10:39 PM.
Reason: Typo fix