The Voice of Experience Speaks on the Topic of
Self-Rescue After a Capsize
by Uncle Al

Your Uncle Al has capsized often enough to qualify as an expert in self-rescue. In fact, my wife, Julia, and I hold a record that is unlikely to ever be broken: We ‘dumped’ in every one of the dozen or so events on the 1978 North American Wayfarer calendar!

Prepare for the Worst!
Before we even start to talk of self-rescue, it is essential to talk about the preparations that every Wayfarer owner - racers and non-racers alike - must make! Specifically, we owe it to ourselves and to those who might have to rescue us, to make certain that our Wayfarer complies with Class Rule 34 - Buoyancy.  
And you can still get into trouble, even with perfect buoyancy, if you don't have your hatches properly battened down (below left, W852 in the 1973 North Americans where a lunch-time beaching had left Al's centreboard stuck in the up position and Al capsized the boat in a fit of rage and in a last-ditch ill-advised attempt at freeing the board from below - of course the front hatch was off since it was such a nice, not very windy day!), or make the mistake of taking the hatch cover off to see why your bow is so low in the water after the capsize (below right, Uncle Al the 1974 North Americans!)

Needless to say, a proper PFD - worn or easily accessible - for each individual aboard, and clothing appropriate to wind and water temperature plus a functional bailing bucket (tied to the boat!!!) are also absolutely essential.

When the worst happens
Many of us live in fear of capsizing on a windy day. One of the best ways to remove some of that fear is to do some practice capsizes in a nice, controlled environment. When I was a Junior Sailing instructor, we found that capsize practice was one of the kids' favourite activities, and of course, they soon lost any fear of capsizing that they might have had.
But let us assume that you have had no capsize experience. What is the worst that can happen? Probably, it's a death roll where the boat capsizes to windward on a run and immediately "turtles" (inverts, goes mast down). With the mainsail all the way out, sail and mast can knife through the water very quickly, and in theory, the hull can come over right on top of you. I for one, was very scared of such a thing happening to me and of getting trapped under the hull. But it has been my experience (alas, too frequent!) that you still end up beside the hull not under it, even after a death roll. Moreover, the famous UK cruiser, Ralph Roberts, assures me that there is no problem even if you do end up under the hull. There is lots of space between the surface of the water and the floor of the boat. In fact, Ralph pointed out that in really vicious sea conditions, he has deliberately sought a bit of shelter from the waves by going under the hull.

So we'll assume you have just done a death roll and are now floating beside your turtled Wayfarer. The good news is, that all the wild excitement tinged with fear is now over. You can relax - unless, God forbid, your are sailing in shark-infested waters. Check that your partner is also OK, and think what a good story this adventure will make. A bit of humour is always good - especially if your crew tends to get a bit nervous. 

I still remember one of my first death rolls. We had driven most of the night to get to our Spring Regatta on the Chesapeake Bay but awoke to the news that racing would be cancelled for the Saturday due to small craft warnings for the Bay. Well, after driving all that way, my crew and I decided to take W852 out for a little run anyway. Fortunately both wind and water were warm for early May as we beat north into 12-foot waves. After a couple of miles, we decided we had earned the right to a nice ride downwind, and bore off to broad reach back down to the Podickory Point YC. The first wave we caught seemed to carry us forever on an exhilarating wild plane but as we started down the second wave, our nicely balanced helm became a non-existent helm. I looked back just in time to see our rudder blade porpoising about 30 feet astern. By this time the boat had borne away radically and the next thing I recall I was floating beside a turtled W852 with my crew, Freddie. There was not another boat in sight anywhere, and the Bay looked awfully big as we climbed onto the hull. "Freddie!" I said to my crew, "You missed a couple of spots here when you cleaned the bottom of the boat!!!" That gave us both something to smile at and then we sat for a while and planned our course of action before we went about the job of trying to rescue ourselves. We were certainly glad we had the prescribed bailing bucket, but without a rudder, things were challenging. We ended up working our way downwind towards the PDYC - under jib alone, I believe, and steering with a paddle, and someone came out in a motor boat to tow us the final 100 yards before the outgoing tide could sweep us past the harbour mouth.

Recovering from capsize
As far as I'm aware, the approved procedure taught in most sailing schools in Canada is that one of the crew should swim forward and hold the bow head to wind. With all due respect, I can't see how that helps. In fact, the last thing I want to be doing with a boat full of water is pointing straight into a 20-knot wind. By the time I've stopped going backwards, I'm sure I'll capsize again - not to mention having sapped my crew's strength.

In my (extensive) experience, the ideal position for a boat you want to right, is sideways to the wind. However, you do want to make certain that you
never right the boat with the mast and mainsail pointing towards the wind!

I did that once in a Fireball and of course the wind got under the main and flipped the entire hull and mess of tangled ropes right over on top of me. That was the closest I've ever come to panic as I struggled to get untangled before the hull trapped me.

Al's note 2 Dec 09: Thanks to Chris Codling whose 2009 International Rally pics included this series of pics that shows "what you should not do", as Papa Bear once said in the Berenstain Bears' The Bike Lesson - the very thing I've been on the look-out for:

The tow boat is not helping any by turning away from shore and towards the camera. A 90° turn to port will leave this mast pointing more or less into the wind, where the crew working to right the boat will likely discover that righting is easier with the main reefed. And once the head of the main comes clear of the water the righting process becomes all too easy as ...

... the stiff breeze fills the sail, whips it to the lee side (head down, crew!!) with a 99% chance of ...

... another capsize - even with this reefed main - imagine how much more certain a full main would make the second capsize!! Noble effort by the crew but doomed to failure, I expect. The good news is that now the mast will be pointing downwind for the second try at re-righting.

In defence of the rescue team!!

----- Original Message -----
From: Ralph Roberts
Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 4:39 AM
Subject: capsize pics

Hi Al,

Glad you found the pics ideal for your guide to capsizing! Obviously they do illustrate your points well, and I wouldn't suggest there is any need to amend your statements, but in defence of the (brilliant!) French instructors, the situation occurred near the mouth of a tidal river in Brittany, and the current needed to be experienced to be believed. The guy on the rescue craft therefore had to hold the boat against the current, rather than the wind direction being any priority. As can be seen in the photos, the back tank is at least partially flooded (not surprisng with the inverted boat being pinned against a fish farm by the flood tide for 20 to 30 mins), so the transom of the boat is beneath the water when righted, making it incredibly unstable. In fact, I thought the only chance of saving the boat would be to tow it in its inverted state to the shore - obviously sacrificing the mast, but at least saving the boat. The fact that the instructor did somehow manage to get it to shore in an upright position was down to his great skill. (I didn't see the latter stages, as I took the Dutch crew back to our base for a hot shower and change into dry clothes)...
Best wishes, Ralph

The good news is, however, that a capsized or turtled boat most often seems to end up lying sideways on to the wind direction with the mast pointing where you want it - downwind!

In any case, recovering from 
a "Greenlander"
(as the Danes call it when the mast points down at the bottom of the sea), is a

three-stage operation (if your mast is already horizontal, skip step A)

A. to move the mast from vertical (pointing at the sea bed) to horizontal
1. If necessary and possible, uncleat main and jib sheets so that you will not have to drag your main and jib through the water like giant paddles.
2. If necessary and possible, put the centreboard into its full down position.
3. One crew now stands (as best he can!) on the windward rubrail, grabs the tip of the board and tries to hang his butt as far out to as possible in order to start the mast back to a horizontal position. Depending on the situation and crew weight, it may require both crews hanging off the centreboard tip to get the job done, especially if main and jib sheet are not freed. And of course, if your mast is stuck in mud, you will most likely require outside assistance.
4. If, for any reason, the centreboard cannot be used for the above purpose, use the jib sheet instead of the centreboard. I've done this, and it works! Grab the jib sheet on the leeward side, lead it over the hull towards the windward side and then hang off it while standing on the windward rubrail. And if you can't find a jib sheet, tie any piece of line available, around the leeward shroud at deck level and use it the way you would use the jib sheet. (I have not tried this but it makes sense, I think/hope?)

B. righting the boat from the mast horizontal position
The standard way to accomplish this by having one or both crew members stand on the centreboard. The further out you move from the hull, the more leverage you will exert. The routine should be as follows:
1. Boat position: Make sure that your mast is pointing straight downwind or at least no more than about 45º to either side of straight downwind. This is one time when it's worth swimming the bow around until the mast points in the right direction!! 
2. Sail preparation: If necessary and possible, lower the spinnaker (if it was flying), and uncleat main and jib sheets so that you will not have to lift a ton of water as well as the sails.
3. Getting the leverage: Put the centreboard into its full down position.
4. Using the leverage: One crew now stands on the centreboard, grabs the edge of the deck and tries to hang his butt as far out to as possible in order to start the mast back to a vertical position. Depending on the situation and crew weight, it may require both crews on the centreboard to get the job done, especially if main and jib sheet are not completely freed. Except under exceptional circumstances - which I cannot at this time imagine - do not lower any of your sails except a spinnaker that may have been up. The main and jib have an excellent dampening effect on the speed of bringing the boat back upright at a reasonable speed and even more importantly, they make the boat far less prone to inverting/turtling/doing a Greenlander! And besides, you'll need those sails to complete your self-rescue!!!
5. Getting one person back into the boat: With practice, you will be able to judge the moment of no return and flip yourself back into the boat as she rights - rather than waiting for the mast to get totally vertical and then trying to climb back into the boat (which is not always easy - especially if you're wearing bulky clothes and PFD). Only one person should do this. The other should hang onto the hull and relax for a moment.
An impressive method that I've seen a 5-0-5 use, is having the heavier person stand on the lowered board while the lighter person remains "inside" the cockpit. The boat is then righted with one person already in it and ready to do the necessary to keep the boat under control and not let it capsize again.

C. Completing the Recovery
1. Uncle Al's Special Trick!!! The very first thing you should do after getting one person back into the boat, is to fully raise the centreboard
Wayfarer Man and I learned this the hard way in the '92 Worlds at Hayling Island. In (warm!) winds of Force 6-7, we were one of 28 of 52 boats to dump. Having thoroughly washed MOJO (kindly lent to us by Phil Warner!), we righted her with no problem in the two-metre chop, but the first gust put her over once more as she "tripped" over the fully lowered centreboard. We re-righted MOJO a second time, let the sails totally luff and this time, raised the board completely.
With the board up, no forward momentum, and sails totally luffing, the boat will stabilize sideways on to the wind, even when filled with water - i.e. you don't need to touch the tiller, and heel is no particular problem!!! You can just sit and relax, so I've taken to calling this R & R mode (Rest & Relaxation).
2. Retrieving the crew: The beauty of going into the R & R mode (board up, no forward momentum, and sails totally luffing) is that you are now free to concentrate on essentials such as helping your crew get back into the boat. You can help him or her a lot by simply heeling the boat to windward (until the windward gunwale is under water, if necessary!!) to enable your crew to crawl/slide over the gunwale and back into the boat. While such heeling would be suicide if you had any forward momentum, it is perfectly safe when the boat is dead in the water - if you'll pardon the expression!
3. Clean-Up: Now that you are both safely back aboard, is a good time to do a bit of cleaning up. For starters, grab any gear that is in danger of floating away such as paddles, floor boards or half empty cognac bottles, and store them as best you can - if all else fails, one of you can hold onto these while the other bails!
4. Bailing: Of course, your bailing bucket was tied to the boat, right? We (often) tie ours to a halyard. Another of the bonuses of the R & R mode is that the fully raised centreboard keeps the water from gushing into the boat through the centreboard box faster than you can bail. You'll still take water over the side occasionally but we found that even in the nasty Hayling chop, we were fairly easily able to bail MOJO to the point where the water was barely above the floorboards and we could sail again. You may as well close your automatic bailers, before you start using the bucket. The R & R mode is also good for letting you take the time to remove in relative calm, any ropes that have partially escaped through the bailers. Closing the bailers will also make sure that no ropes get stuck in them - something that always seems to happen if you leave the bailers open after you capsize. 
5. Getting underway once more: Once you have lowered the water level in the boat to near the floorboard level, it is pretty safe to stop bailing and start sailing. But first, remember to

  • stow any loose gear that may get in your way and ropes that may want to go out through your bailers with the water
  • grab some refreshment before the real action starts again
  • put the board half down, open the bailers and move your crew weight well aft
  • sail a reach for best bailing speed
Note: I have seen Wayfarers capsized, righted, and sailed dry without the benefit of bucket bailing - once even with the spinnaker up in a "kuling" (30 knots +) on Furesøen near Copenhagen. One of these days, I must try that. Although I've never managed this myself, it is clear that you must put your crew weight as far aft as is possible. If you do it right, I suspect you should be able to slop a lot of your in-boat water out the back of the boat over the transom - even at speeds that would not be enough to make your bailers work - provided that your weight aft has almost submerged the transom. The other benefit of weight aft once the boat starts moving is that the pointy section of the bow (which will easily deflect your course and overpower your rudder when the boat is full of water and/or going fast), will be out of the water and you'll be sailing on the flatter, more forgiving aft sections of the hull. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who would care to share the experience they've gained using this method.

Best wishes for a safe and happy 2001 from

Uncle Al (W3854)
Actual Capsize Photos with critique
A Case in Point and Resulting Recommendations
Assisting Others as per Rule 1.1
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