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Hey... I capsized, too!


With all these threads about capsizing and turtling, I just had to recount what happened last Friday. It was a perfect day for sailing except I was by myself and the wind was unpredictable on the Severn. One minute it was dead still and the next I was flying across the river.

The fun started about two hours in. The C-14 was on a starboard tack pointing as high as it could go, and I was fully hiked out to keep the boat level. Though I was hugging the windward shore, I saw the puff in plenty of time to de-power the sails. The main uncleated normally but the jib cams wouldn't let go unless I sat up to get a better angle. As soon as I sat up, over she went. :eek:

So, like in the video, the boat is laying on it's side and I'm standing on the port cockpit backrest getting ready to jump over the top to stand on the centerboard, except while I'm looking down, I notice several items were dumped out of the cockpit and were floating away. The first was my suntan lotion. That wasn't too bad. The second was the cooler thingy I'd brought along with my lunch. The top had come off, the cooler had flipped upside down and everything inside was streaming to stern as the wind pushed the capsized boat across the river.

My choices are simple: climb over the side to right the boat and then perhaps getting my lunch back later; or jump in the water to round up the floating objects, and then worry about righting the boat. To make matters worse, the force of the wind and me standing in the cockpit are acting to turtle the boat, and I notice the Baby Bob is already under a couple feet of water. I had to act fast! :confused:

I jumped in.

Boy, was that a mistake. I could only quickly round up about 3/4 of the floating items before the boat began to drift out of reach. As it was, I barely made it back to the C-14 dragging the cooler half filled with salt water. It was really close and I'm thankful the boat just didn't float away leaving me treading water in the middle of a very busy channel.

Thanks to the Baby Bob, righting the boat was ridiculously easy but getting back in was another matter entirely. Once the boat was level again, I swung the cooler into the cockpit and the inside of my right arm came down hard on the starboard jib cleat assembly, leaving me with a nice butterfly bruise of the two cams and fairlead. Then I tried to hoist myself in, lost my grip, and the outside of my right forearm got raked by the knurled locking nut on the jib car. Finally I got a good purchase on the barney post and pulled myself in, feeling slightly dazed. Capsizing was fun when I was 15. Now that it's forty years later...

In a minute or two I was back under way, gybing to run back down my track and look for the items still missing. It took only a couple of tacks to snatch the suntan lotion and the ice-block from the cooler. The only other thing missing was a full soda can I suspect is laying on the bottom somewhere. I sorta feel bad about that but at least it isn't a few million barrels of crude oil.

Looking back, there are at least three major mistakes I made with the first being the decision to sit up to uncleat the jib. I really think that had I not done that, I could have maintained control through the puff. I checked some of the nearby anemometer logs and at that time, there was a gust of 16 knots, which doesn't seem that serious even if the puff that hit me was a bit faster. When I sat up, I lost half my leverage for keeping the boat level. Not good.

I also checked the hardware once the boat was back on the trailer. Very curiously, the port jib cleat base plate is tilted upward about 10 degrees while the starboard base plate is level to the deck. This makes it that much harder to uncleat the jib while hiking out over the side. I suspect the difference adds another foot to how high you have to raise the jib sheet to get it loose of the cams, and when the heat around here lets up, that plate will look just like it's brother on the opposite side.

The second mistake was not having a locking cooler and having it tethered securely to the boat. It's great to be optimistic about things and think you'll never capsize, but I know better and there is no excuse.

Finally, the largest blunder was jumping in the water to go after all the flotsam. I used to be a lifeguard and you only go in the water after little kids and old ladies, not two pieces of cold pizza. What was I thinking? Had I stayed on the boat and righted it first, so much trouble would've been saved. Not only was it fairly easy to run down the floating debris, but it was kinda fun, too.

Still, that was one of the best days I've ever had sailing and I can't wait to get back out there again. :)



Sailing on Shelter Bay
Thanks for the lesson. We all learned somethng without the burses.

That was a great post Jim. I will keep those lessons in mind. I was out in gusty winds having fun yesterday, but when I got tired I tried sailing under the main only. That worked well in two respects, I thought. The boat speed was still substantial, and it seemed to point well enough. I wish I had a compass to see what angle I was tacking through. Best of all, when a gust hit there wasn't that pesky jib sheet to worry about, just the main. If you haven't tried it in strong winds, main only, you should. Another Jim. (Omega 14 #512)


Hey Jim,
Nice to meetcha and you're absolutely right. What's worse, I have a single-line reefing setup on the main and I've practiced securing it while sailing solo and under way. I had numerous options for slowing the boat down and I chose to ignore every one of them. I guess when the air is really moving and the boat is flying through the water and it's so hot you wouldn't mind a dip, I tend to throw caution to the wind, so to speak. ;)