Turtle Soup - Attention all Novices


Charlabud #623
Thread starter #1
Last Sunday I turtled by boat in Lake Grapevine (TX) and had one of those adventures you should only read about. I want to share a full description of the events, decisions, mistakes, and lessons so maybe you will not suffer as I did.

I am a novice sailor, having purchased my Capri 14.2 (#623) this Summer. I live near Lake Grapevine in Texas. If you fly through DFW you may see my rainbow sail on the smallish lake immediately before landing from the north.

Briefly, I turtled the boat in high winds, struggled for an hour in the freezing water to right her-up as she took on water. Eventually Grapevine Lake Rescue came to my aid. They pulled me and my 22 year old son out of the water and towed my swamped vessel back to the ramp. I have some damage to the boat that will keep me off the water for weeks.

What I did Right:

1) Checked the weather forecast before heading to the lake
2) Wore proper cold weather gear (probably saved our lives). The water is in the 40s. Wore full wetsuit (3-2 mm neoprean) including boots and gloves. Spray jacket and trousers. Well fitting PFD of course.
3) Mapped out a float plan a head of time, familiarized with warning markers on lake map
4) Installed mast float to prevent turtling (more on that later)

What I did Wrong:

1) Winds were 15 - 18 kts, with gusts over 25 kts. This is too big for me…and I knew better. But, went out any way. Enthusiasm trumped my judgment.

2) No other boats on the lake…not even fishermen. Classic sign to stay ashore because a) experienced sailors have opted to stay home…so should you, and b) if you get in trouble there’s no one to lend a hand.

3) “Mast float” was actually a 1-gallon orange juice jug tied to the top of the mast. I have a Baby Bob, but had damaged the mounting bracket on my last outing, so I improvised. Word of warning. This did not work. At all. I’ve read others on this forum who have tried and recommend it. I do not. If the wind is big enough to invert your boat either a) stay home, or b) get a proper mast float.

4) Sailed shore-side of a shallow water marker. I knew from my float plan that there is shallow water in this area, however I assumed that was really for “big boats”. My Capri is little. I ran the boat over rocks which forced my centerboard and rudder up. I was able to maneuver quickly away and back to a sheltered area to put my surfaces full-down. No hull damage thankfully. However, unbeknownst to me, the impact popped a screw out of the retaining clip which holds the rudder pins in the grommets. I sailed her back toward the main body of the lake well away from the shallows. The winds were lighter, blanketed by the shore still to windward about 200 yards. A sudden gust in the 20+ knot range forced me to point up to decelerate the boat. To my amazement, the unpinned rudder came off in my hand as I am falling into the water.

5) Tried to push the boat to shore rather than righting her straight away. In the wind, the boat completely inverted in about 15 seconds. Thankfully my son and I were geared-up in our wetsuits or this would have been a life-threatening situation. We were within 200 yards on shore; with shallows even closer. Afraid that righting an inverted Capri would take too long, plus the fact I had no rudder and the shore was relatively close. I decided to try to pull her to shore. Big mistake. First, the wind was from shore and it was very difficult to make headway. Second, she was taking on water – though I did not know that for some time. We spent about half an hour in the cold water trying to get to shore to no avail. By the time I realized we were going to have to right her and try to use my trolling motor to get to shore, she had taken on quite a lot of water and was ridding about halfway down. My son and I struggled to get atop the inverted boat and then worked to haul her over by hanging-away on top the hull, holding onto a jib sheet. This worked after another 30 minutes of effort. However she was riding low in the water almost up to the gunwales.

Thankfully someone ashore saw our situation and called in for help. By the time Grapevine Fire Department arrived with their rescue boat, we had been in the water over an hour and were adrift in a half-sunk Capri. We were taken aboard the rescue boat and the good boat Charlabud was lashed to the side. As we plowed back across the lake under the power of two giant outboards, I heard a warning come in over their radio; “Gusts to 35 kts + expected”.

Lake Rescue was able to pull us into our cove at Murrell Park and turned us loose in waist deep water. We walked our poor little boat to shore as the local mountain-bike club watched and took pictures on their smart phone. We called out God’s Blessing on the Firemen who came to our aid.

One final indignity. We trailered the boat only to realize I had two flat tires! How can my luck be this bad!? I pulled the boat to the recovery area on the flat tires, completely shredding one. Only then did I realize that I was hauling several tons of water in the boat. When I removed the drain plug, a jet stream like a mini fire hose shot from the transom. It took half an hour to completely empty her.

No spare tire! My son and I had to leave the boat and drive to the nearest Bass Pro Shop in our cold, wet wetsuits, and buy a new tire. Bought two, so now I have a spare.

Lessons for Novices Like Me:

1) Know your limits in the wind and show some respect.
2) Don’t sail alone on a lake
3) Don’t skimp on safety gear
4) Be familiar with the hazards on your lake
5) Install a good mast float
6) Practice capsize drills
7) Carry paddles
8) Have a spare tire on your trailer

I am working on my repairs now. Miraculously, we managed to hold on to the rudder through all this. Hopefully it is salvageable. The jib jam cleat is bent from the two of hanging from the sheet. And I have to fix the Baby Bob mount.

I will sail again.

Hopefully your worst day on the water is history, it will only get better from now on. I head for the launch ramp when the wind passes about 10 knots, I want to sail not swim. Thanks for the detailed report.
Always good to see that it end good for you. Thanks for the article and for sharing your point of view of your mistake. Good reading.
Excellent write-up, and good to hear everyone is safe and sound. These are the kind of reminders we all need, especially in cold weather.

I always suggest everyone do capsize drills solo and/or with your crew so everyone knows how to get the boat righted and how get back inside the boat. I found getting back into the boat very difficult, so I keep webbing through the drain hole for a rope ladder.

My first day out in heavy winds, I capsized several times. The worst was capsizing in shallow water and the boat pushing up into the mud and the jibsheet got wrapped underneath the boat and pinched inside the centerboard slot. I had to purposely capsize the boat again to get the sheet removed.

I turtled once in deep water and I was very thankful for having a Mod 2 with the sealed cubby up front, no water in the hull. That same day another older Capri Mod 1 capsized and took on water and nearly sank, that was a 2 hour ordeal of towing to shore, draining, and towing back to the boat ramp.

1989 Capri 14.2
1984 Catalina 22