My first capsize & turtle

Thread starter #1
I wanted to share my first capsize experience on my Sunfish (actually any sailboat) yesterday afternoon. I was out on the local lake w/ my 9yr old daughter, a very windy day with winds blowing steadily at 20+ knots. We were flying up and down the lake and having a blast when a gust caught us awkwardly just as we were rounding up to tack - and we were both in the water before we knew it.

Now I had mentally prepared for this scenario many times and had seen countless Youtube videos on what to do. The one thing I didn't do was practice.

Once in the water, I first made sure my daughter was okay before untangling her from the lines. I made sure to let out the mainsheet all the way before swimming around to the hull. I grabbed the leading edge of the daggerboard, like I'd seen a million times before and pulled with all my might and...nothing. Despite all my efforts, I just couldn't get the sail out of the water. I swam back to the other side checked the lines again. No problems there. Back around; to the dagger board and even with all of my 165lbs hanging on it, I could not get the hull to rotate past 90 degrees. I repeated this 3-4 more times getting more tired with each attempt. Eventually the hull turtled completely. I climbed on the now inverted hull and was sure that the momentum of righting her from a turtle would be enough to bring her all the way around. But still no dice.

Fortunately my daughter was splashing happily a few feet away from me and didn't notice the frustration and worry stating to settle on my face. Finally in a last ditch attempt, I fully released the mainsheet from the bridle and also removed the other end from the ratchet block. That seemed to do the trick and with my last burst of strength she popped back up. We clambered back onboard, reconnect the sheets, bail out the cockpit and sail on... exhausted and more than a bit shaken.

I've continued to mull over the scenario since yesterday and I'm still struggling to understand why my sunfish was so difficult to right. Some of my leading thoughts so far:
  • Was I working against the wind? Is it better to right the boat from the windward or leeward side?
  • Was the sheet fully released? In the end freeing the mainsheet bridle and removing it from the ratchet block really helped. Should I do this every time?
  • The issue couldn't be my weight. I've seen kids much lighter than me do this online with no issues whatsoever
I think the reason this bothers me so much is that while we were in no real danger (water was warm, we were <15 yds from shore, Lake Patrol arrived quickly - then watched) I could get a sense of how this could have been a much worse situation.

I'm hoping folks on this forum can tell me what I did wrong or about any other tricks to make it easier next time. In the meantime I'm going to practice more capsizes and recovery drills till I get them right.
 
#2
There have been times when my Sunfish popped right back up and other times it took a lot of effort. Did you notice a lot of water in your mast at the end of the day? I never remove the mainsheet like you did. Interesting that worked. The only thing I might add would be to try to have the bow pointed into the wind. Maybe the boat had positioned itself into the wind by the time you got it upright.
 

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
#3
I never remove the mainsheet like you did. Interesting that worked. The only thing I might add would be to try to have the bow pointed into the wind.
I second getting the bow into the wind. When it’s windy it’s harder to right the boat anyway, especially if the boat is broadside to the wind.

Did you climb up on the daggerboard? Just hanging on in the water probably doesn’t put enough weight on it - especially if the bow isn’t into the wind. I haven’t gone over in a while, but seem to recall needing to climb up so at least I was out of the water past my waist. As a kid I know I needed to get entirely on the daggerboard to have enough weigh on it to right it.

How high is your sail rigged? If you’ve got it several feet off the deck it’s going to make it a heck of a lot harder to right the boat.

It was very risky in 20 kts to derig the sheet as it can be hard to rerig it when it’s windy like that. That should never be necessary. Is your sheet is too short? 24 feet is the absolute minimum, and the higher off the deck your rig is the more sheet you need.

In your righting efforts did you see if the sail was full of water, or was it hanging at 90 degrees to the boat and not holding water?

I’d make it a point to practice righting the boat a few times next time you go sailing.
 
Thread starter #4
I second getting the bow into the wind. When it’s windy it’s harder to right the boat anyway, especially if the boat is broadside to the wind.

Did you climb up on the daggerboard? Just hanging on in the water probably doesn’t put enough weight on it - especially if the bow isn’t into the wind. I haven’t gone over in a while, but seem to recall needing to climb up so at least I was out of the water past my waist. As a kid I know I needed to get entirely on the daggerboard to have enough weigh on it to right it.

How high is your sail rigged? If you’ve got it several feet off the deck it’s going to make it a heck of a lot harder to right the boat.

It was very risky in 20 kts to derig the sheet as it can be hard to rerig it when it’s windy like that. That should never be necessary. Is your sheet is too short? 24 feet is the absolute minimum, and the higher off the deck your rig is the more sheet you need.

In your righting efforts did you see if the sail was full of water, or was it hanging at 90 degrees to the boat and not holding water?

I’d make it a point to practice righting the boat a few times next time you go sailing.
Good questions here.

  • I wasn't able to get completely on the db from the water - need to do more pull ups. A few times I was able to get it up around my waist area and "hang" from it with my arms straight (like a gymnast on a parallel bars). Most of the time I was under it with my feet hanging pressing on the submerged gunwale. In retrospect, my best chance to hop on the board was probably from when it was turtled.

  • Sail is rigged for daysailing with Halyard tied on around the 6th ring. Gooseneck is probably ~18" off the deck. When in the water the sail seemed "full" and holding some water.

  • I was thinking the same about my sheet length. When launching the boat depending on the direction of the wind the sail will occasionally power up, even with all the sheet let out. At times it's enough to almost tip the boat off it's dolly and I've taken instead to raising the mainsail when tied to the dock instead of in the parking lot. It's an "official" one I purchased from sunfish direct but I never thought to measure it.
One more thought is whether the water depth played a role as well. According to charts I was in about 10ft of water and wonder if the boom was dragging on the bottom. Didn't see any mud on it when it came up though.
 
Thread starter #5
There have been times when my Sunfish popped right back up and other times it took a lot of effort. Did you notice a lot of water in your mast at the end of the day? I never remove the mainsheet like you did. Interesting that worked. The only thing I might add would be to try to have the bow pointed into the wind. Maybe the boat had positioned itself into the wind by the time you got it upright.
I never thought to check the mast but it certainly didn't feel more heavy when I derigged later that day. To your point unbridling the sheet corresponded to when I was able to right the boat but I'm not sure it's causal.
 

mixmkr

Well-Known Member
#6
I think undoing the main sheet had the effect of letting the water drain out of the sail. ....if I were to guess. A sail full of water will definitely prevent righting the boat. Make sure the main sheet is long enough to NOT undo and watch the sail to make sure it isn't "scooping" up water. You know when you turtle and the mast gets stuck. Mud bottom lakes especially.
 

Webfoot1

Active Member
#7
Mixmar is correct, less then 12 feet of water and the mast gets stuck in the mud. It's easy to make
the next time better it you tie a empty milk jug to the top of the mast. If may save you from a bent
gaff. If kids are sailing the boat I'd always recommend this as it takes two of them pulling on the
center board to right the boat.
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
#8
Lines bought commercially tend to be the shortest length that will do the job. FWIW.

A too-short halyard will have you reaching 'way-up for the end of a line waving high in the breeze. :confused: A too-short mainsheet, under certain conditions, can disappear from your hands, :oops: or have you powered up when you wanted to slow or stop! :(
 
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