Join Date: May 2011
Location: South Eastern Massachusetts
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Last fall I took (and passed!) the US Sailing Basic Keelboat class. Eager to show off my new skills, and figuring that if the sailing center let me do it I was safe, I took my 6 months pregnant wife and 1.5 and 3.5 years old girls out in 20+ kts with gusts over 30 in a Rhodes 19 keelboat. I thought I could handle this since we'd sailed in these conditions during class.
We left the dock with just a reefed mainsail and ran halfway across the harbor in just a few minutes. Everything was going just fine until the first "safety jibe." I trimmed the main most of the way in, called out the jibe, and promptly broached as we came up broadside to the wind with a fully trimmed main. The leeward rail went in the water, resulting in two screaming girls.
I promised the girls that we would head back to the dock immediately. However, with the winds, current, and shortened sail plan, the boat was making no headway after several tacks. Eventually I decided to try the jib. This didn't help much, and only made matters worse when the boat got spun around during a tack where the working sheet wasn't released and put more force on the sheet than Mrs. MITBeta could handle. We ended up near the path of a harbor ferry just as the sailing center's rescue tender arrived.
While the tender captain was attaching our bow line to the tender to prepare to tow, I was securing the sails. Over the radio came the call for all boats to return to the dock as the winds were now at gale force.
Back on shore, the girls got over the excitement very quickly. I told the folks in the sailing center what had happened and they all immediately declared that one should never try to jibe in such conditions, instead favoring a tack with a 270 degree turn. (I have since come to learn that this is called a "chicken jibe.")
Damage done: heavily bruised ego, haunting dreams about the event for several months.
1. Don't think that just because you took one course that you're an expert.
Corollary: Know your limitations (passengers, crew, boat, weather, etc...)
2. Chicken jibe.
3. Think about beam reaching if the weather is heavy and getting back to the dock could be challenging. I realized after the fact that this is what we spent most of our time in class doing when the weather was this heavy.
4. Pick up a copy of "Little Rat Sets Sail" (US Sailing website...) to soothe the fears of the 3.5 year old so that she can be convinced to come sailing again...
I'm happy to say that the 5 of us have now been out three times this season, with slowly increasing duration and conditions, with favorable outcomes.
Yesterday we were out in 10kts. The boat was heeling slightly on a close haul, making the 4 year old nervous. I showed her how I could control the heel by easing the mainsheet, (just like Buzzy Bear shows Little Rat in the book!) and that soothed her a bit, but she still preferred the boat to sit squarely in the water.
For now I'm prepared to give her what she wants while slowly building her confidence in the boat and the skipper. I'm also looking for jobs that she can do while on the boat (look out for other ships, lookout for navigational aids, land features, etc., some limited time on the helm (which an experience hand on the helm as well), etc.).