Three lessons plus one
A guest blog from our newest member.
Yesterday, I took part in a Sweet-16 boat race at Lake Quivira in Kansas City. It was beautiful weather with a moderate-to-fresh breeze on a lovely lake under a clear sky. Our hosts were fantastic and the race committee from the National Sweet-Sixteen Sailing Association was impressively organized. My goal for this, my first event away from my home port, was to watch the other sailors, do what they did, and not tip the boat. Instead, on the third leg of the first race, I capsized and turtled my boat with the top of the mast in the muddy bottom of the lake. So, it was not a “successful” race, but it was a memorable one and one that taught me some valuable, basic, novice lessons. Thinking about the experience, I have come up with three things that I will now do differently:
- From now on I will always wear my life vest. This lesson is about the best use of my energy. When my boat went over, I didn’t have my life vest on. On my way around the stern to get to the centerboard, the tiller unshipped and I caught it, and then could not do anything other than hold on to the boat and tiller to keep myself afloat until the rescue boat arrived. Once it arrived, I fetched my vest out from under the boat and struggled to get it on. I never felt in danger of drowning, but I spent a lot of energy keeping myself afloat that I could have used for dealing with the situation. One of the committee members had to get in the water and do the lion’s share of the work of getting the boat upright. If I had had a life vest on, I would have expended much less energy staying afloat and navigating in the water. By the time boat was upright, I was completely exhausted and still had to bale a boat full of water. Life vests keep you afloat so you don’t have to tread water. Even if the situation is not life-threatening, there is no reason not to take advantage of the vest.
- From now on I will always tie down my rudder. Rudders on S16s are held in place by gravity. Unlike my own boat, the borrowed boat I was using for the race did not have a hole through the pintle for a cotter pin. Instead, it relied on a small latch above the top pintle. When I hit the water, I knew what I had to do. I first checked that my crew was ok and then dashed around the stern to the bottom of the boat to grab the centerboard and lever the boat back upright. But that latch above the rudder’s pintle opened and the rudder dropped. Instead of getting to the centerboard, I had to catch my rudder. I knew that a turtled boat is eventually recoverable but a rudder on the bottom of the lake is not. As I grabbed it, got it under control, and steadied myself, I watch helplessly as the boat completed its roll and the centerboard dropped back into the centerboard trunk. Never again. I’m not even relying on the cotter pin on my own boat. I am going to learn the best way to tie the rudder to the boat so I don’t have to deal with it no matter what.
- I need to be stronger. As I say, it takes a lot of energy to deal with a capsized boat, including pulling myself around, pulling myself up, levering the boat on the centerboard, baling the water, and fixing the rigging. Once the centerboard was down, someone had to go under boat to pivot it back up. I simply did not have the strength do all that. I don’t need to be a bodybuilder but, at the minimum, I need to be able to pull the weight of my body up by my arms. So today I rigged a pull-up bar and am starting a light strength-training regimen.
But you may be scratching your head that these are my top three lessons and not one of them deals with not tipping my boat over. I have two responses to that: firstly, sailboats tip over. It is an event that has happened to most experienced sailors. While it can be dangerous, it is typically just an embarrassing inconvenience. However, the reason I tipped over is something I need to address. I arrived that morning with the goal of just watching and learning. But that goal had shifted dangerously at the time I capsized. I was last in line in the race but was within a hair’s-breadth of maybe overtaking a friend of mine in the next boat ahead of me. We were sailing with a 10-15 knot wind on our beam, all of us leaning back on the rail. In that moment, with that goal, I did not let off the mainsail sheet when I should have, which was ridiculous.
I was the most novice sailor on the lake. I had never sailed under those conditions. My two sons were crewing and had no previous experience crewing a S16--they had only crewed boats with one sail and two daggerboards. Each tack and jibe was a lesson in coordination and patience. It was entirely appropriate that I be last in line and I should have been focussed entirely on managing the fundamentals. If I had simply finished last, everyone would have patted me on the back, congratulated me on finishing under difficult conditions, and I would have learned a lot. As it was, I let ego get the best of me.
So, I am more experienced for the experience. I did get to enjoy a beautiful race, even if mostly as a spectator, and it was a great social event. My sons performed well both in and out of the water and they are safe. I really enjoyed our time together and I hope I'll be able to coax them back into a boat soon. I thank God that we are all unharmed. Next time on the water, I'll have my vest on, my rudder secure, I'll be stronger, and I'll focus on simply doing the best that I can.