Preview: Learning From Experience: My Biggest Disaster and What It Taught Me, by Alec Brainerd

A few winters ago we received a call from a gentleman in Palm Beach, Florida who wanted a new Watch Hill 15 built, to sail at this home in Connecticut by June 1st.  His research was thorough, and he was sure this was the boat for him. However, he had never actually sailed one, and more importantly, we needed to convince his wife.  With two feet of snow on the ground and as many kids here at home in diapers, I had an epiphany:  “Why don’t I tow one of the Watch Hill 15s we’d already built down to Palm Beach for a trial sail?”

Watch Hill 15
Photo: © Benjamin Mendlowitz

I tossed a clean shirt and my flip-flops in a bag, said goodbye to my somewhat apprehensive yet amazingly supportive wife, hitched up the boat, and hit the road. I left Rockport on a Monday morning, and arrived at Cracker Boy Boat Works inPalm Beach Tuesday evening. We had the boat rigged and launched Wednesday, and our prospective customer (David), his wife, and I went for a perfect, tranquil sail that evening.

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7 Responses So Far to “Learning From Experience: My Biggest Disaster and What It Taught Me, by Alec Brainerd

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    James Purdy says:

    For Lyons Witten:

    The O’Day Daysailors also do not have reefing points on the canvass. They are reefed by rotating the boom and rolling the sail’s foot around it. Maybe your boat has the same set up?

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    Dustin Urban says:

    What a story, Alec! Thanks for sharing. Agree with your comment, Georg:

    “I think it took more courage to write what you did than go out full sail in a blow.”

  • Avatar

    Lyons Witten says:

    My O’Day 15 is both responsive and tender when the wind gets up to 20. She is a great lake racing dingy and planes beautifully downwind. It does not have reefs in the main, but I’m thinking of adding them. Last fall on Lake Sebago, ME I was out with my teenage son and the wind was about 20 and she was being highly responsive on our upwind leg. It was exhilarating and loads of fun screaming across the lake. Tacking proved tricky in the large swells, and the main sheet jammed just long enough to whip us around too fast and pull her over. I have sailed this boat since the 1980s and love to push her to the edge, since that is where it is most fun, but this was more than I had experienced in her before. We were able to get her righted easily and climb aboard again. The down wind tack back to harbor was a screaming ride. We planned the whole way and I was dumping as much wind as possible off both sails. Reefing early would have been the better choice that day, and we still would have screamed across the water…

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    elliott marks says:

    Well put Jeff Levy.

    How has the idea of shortening sail become a a sign of weakness? Is it a product of our macho culture?

    I think if anything the ability to shorten sail shows a level seamanship much higher than that of fighting against the elements.

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    Georg Hinteregger says:

    Great post, Alec!
    I think it took more courage to write what you did than go out full sail in a blow.
    I’m so amazed the 15 would sail swamped, the last thing I would think to do under the circumstances.
    About the all important bucket: where is it stowed, and what kind of bucket is it?
    Thank you for sharing this hair-raising story.

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    Clint Chase says:

    Alec, thanks for your honesty. I found myself heading out from Portland’s East End one fine day, dying for a good sail in my new sailing skiff (the first boat I’d built for myself in years!). I launched, never took note of the catamaran that was dismasted in the windy conditions, and shoved off only to get beat up good as the wind came up to 25-30kts, and me solo in my high sail area to displacement sailing skiff! The Coasties were out driving around the harbor helping everyone out by watching but not helping strugging vessels (they are not allowed to help unless we are in distress). Well, I became “distressed” as I experienced my first knock down. “but I am too good a sailor for this to happen” I always thought and thought as I watched the green water flood my boat. Perhaps my experience kept the dilemma from becoming a rescue situation. With help from another wooden boat owner out in their whaler, I was able to get back to the dock. Humbly, feeling crushed and dejected, I packed up and heading home. I learned a lot that day and am lucky that the boat is OK.

  • Jeff Levy

    Jeff Levy says:

    One of the great things sailing teaches us is humility. I am still learning.