Monday 27 February 2012

To windward of breakfast

Whenever I’ve bragged about how well my boat stays upright I’ve had to quell the knowledge that OB is capsizable and that I’ve never really pushed her that hard. I’ve done the controlled capsize in calm conditions, which is fine to establish buoyancy when swamped and how long it takes to bail. And I’ve done the unintentional going over in waves, which is pretty good for determining how much gear you can afford to lose, among other things.

But for the out of the blue, uncontrolled capsize while sailing I needed to do something more stupid than usual. Of course you’re never fully aware of what stupidity you’re engaged in until it starts to go wrong. I’ve enjoyed sailing round crowded anchorages plenty of times with no problems but I’d never done it in gusty conditions on a rising breeze.

After a bad night on the beach, wanting somewhere quiet to spend the day, I sailed off to cross Cadaqués bay. Weaving between moored boats was fun and I felt that onlookers drinking coffee in cockpits would be enjoying the spectacle of a small boat, double reefed and gladly dashing to and fro. Overpowered in the gusts I could sheet out and spill wind or yield to OB’s natural tendency to luff up. Then a stronger gust bore down hard only this time I couldn’t let her round up because there was a boat just to windward. The mainsheet passed—in breach of all small boat sailing lore—through a clam cleat. And the end of the sheet, which had been in my hand ready to flick out of the cleat, was swimming in the bilge. I couldn’t move without de-stabilising the boat so I got my arse out over the rail and hung on.

I knew I was in trouble by the enormous weight on the tiller. As soon as we were in clear water I eased the rudder, OB flew up into the wind skidding onto her side. I threw my weight out to windward but OB had decided to stay down gluping water over the leeward decks. Then she suddenly popped back up and started to flap madly.

The boat was half full of water, very unstable and drifting down on a yacht where a family sat breakfasting. It’s nice to have an anchor and had it not gripped emphatically we’d have ended up amongst the bacon and eggs. OB came to a halt a scant metre away and I gave a breezy ‘Hello’ and doused the noisy mainsail. Then I took up as much anchor rode as I dared, to give the breakfasters a bit of space, and began to bail. Amazingly nothing had been lost except an empty water bottle. It takes a while to bail OB when she’s full to the thwarts but with the anchor firm that was no problem.

The problem was the increasing wind. I didn’t trust myself to able to sail out of this tight spot immediately to windward of breakfast and so I tidied the mainsail away and rowed very slowly into the wind.

This fairly minor sailing adventure was to stand me in good stead for the next day when Onawind Blue would compete against 25 lateen rigged boats in the famous Regatta de Vela Llatina de Cadaqués.


Chris Partridge said...

Very much looking forward to a report on the race....

mosaicthinking said...

Yup, trouble comes quickly. We have just purchased 'old-fashioned' life jackets to replace the 'pull-rip-cord-in-case-of-emergency' rapid inflating kind. I've always had a worry at the back of my mind that if trouble came, I would be unlikely to have the presence of mind to pull that rip cord. Not to mention if I got hit in the head by the boom. Thanks for the reminder.