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Preview: Self Rescue from an Open Sailboat Capsize

July 18, 2013

Through the use of tie-downs and flotation, small sailboat guru Ben Fuller demonstrates how to prepare for the possibility of an accidental open sailboat capsize.  Then he puts his own beach cruiser through its paces by tipping her over and getting her back on her feet again.

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– This boat has been rolled once accidentally. It was rolled down in the Chesapeake on a very windy day. There was no flotation in her, we didn’t have things tied down and we rolled her over, capsized on a jibe and she floated with just the gunnels here barely out of water. It was all we could do to put two people in the boat, the two that were in the crew, and tow her to dry land. We never would have been able to rescue her without the flotation bags in it. We’re gonna start at the stern of the boat one thing that we’ve found when we capsized this boat in anger was that the rudder can come off. So we put a little clip on here, just this little piece of stainless and it just folds right down on top of the rudder when you put the rudder on. Now the rudder can’t possibly come off that boat if the boat goes turtle. Every piece of spar here, these all happen to be carbon fiber every one of them has been sealed so that all the spars will float. We did that with Minicell Foam and that keeps everything floating on me. The gear I like to tie into the boat so I really like these mesh bags because I can put hard stuff ’em in waterproof containers like a flare kit, thermos bottle, more boat gear, stuff that I might like to get at during the course of the day is readily available but is tied into the boat. This boat was built without flotation chambers. I preferred it that way because I can get into the areas and do a little boat maintenance. But what we’ve got here is flotation bags. I’ve got, probably 300 or more pounds of flotation in these, in the combination of these bags. You have to kinda work at it a little bit to fasten ’em into the boat, I’ve got a little line running right behind my seating here you can see it right here and I’ve got basically the bag strapped into that using these straps I’ve got the bag strapped into that line. So everything stays in place nicely. This is a key ingredient in boats, it’s a bucket. I can chuck a whole lot of water out of a boat in a hurry with a bucket. The lanyards long enough so that if it’s bouncing around I can tie that lanyard around my wrist so that I wouldn’t throw the bucket out of the boat, which one has been known to do. And the other thing that I like to do is I like to take the metal bales off the buckets and substitute a rope bale like this so that basically I don have to worry about the bale digging into my boat. I’ve got miscellaneous pieces of webbing and strapping around to tie things into the boat. I happen to like gear hammocks because things don’t fall out of gear hammocks when you’ve got ’em in there. I’ve got a strap up in here that I use for my oars. So when I’m sailing the boat I can just take oars and stow them like this, just strap ’em right into place. Keeps them out of the way, gives me a nice bowsprit, looks pretty. The thing that really will fall out of your boat really fast is your anchor. So in this case my anchor, my anchor line, are all made up inside a bag in here but you notice I’ve got it lashed firmly into the boat so that it won’t fall out. I’ve lost probably three anchors over the course of my boating career just stuff falling out of the boat. So most of us who mess around with these little boats, we might want to go camping in ’em, certainly wanna carry some dry clothes with us these little roll down, roll top bags, come in many, many different sizes. You can put dry clothes in ’em, this guy here, just a small one this is sort of a day bag. All I have to do is click that into… I can just tie that right into the boat, I can clip it pretty much anywhere I want it to. There a couple things we’ve done to this boat to make baling easier. One is that we can just keep a pump just tucked right up out of the way so that it won’t come out of the boat. But the other thing we’ve done here was to design the floorboards in such a way that you have a full boat width of empty space so that you can really dig in there and get all the water out of your boat. The floorboards aren’t going to interfere with me baling the boat out. So I think we’ve gone over the boat, let’s go for a capsize. I am going to change clothing. That is to say, I’m gonna put on a dry suit. Cause we’re doing this in the state of Maine and the water’s a little chilly and I’m older than I used to be. Okay on a light air day like today the only way we’re gonna capsize is like this. And I’m gonna just swim around to the far side of the boat. Notice the buoyancy in the masts are keeping the masts up out of the water. Now all we’re gonna do is get up on the dagger-board trunk. I’m gonna come around this way so you can see a little bit more of what’s going on. So it comes up nicely. Right now the boat is pretty much floating on its flotation. My stern bags are just underwater. My center bags are right flush with the top of the water and my dagger-board trunk is just out of the water. One of the important things to keep in mind is that if I couldn’t bale the boat right now for some reason the boat easily supports me, it’d support another person quite comfortably in here and everything would be nice and steady, the boat would be a huge target for somebody else to come and help me out. Baling it will take time, might be five, 10 minutes to bale this amount of water out. It’s not easy, it’s gonna be a little work for you. So take it easy in your baling. In this case I can sit and I can easily work the baler now that I’ve got this amount of water out of the boat. I can just keep going. Flotation is absolutely essential to being able to rescue a little boat like this. If we hadn’t had flotation we would have been floating gunnels to the water and we never would have gotten her upright if there’d been any kind of a sea running we would have had to have had external help. Was thew only way that you could’ve saved yourself. What we’ve really shown today is that capsizing is not a life or death threat if you’re prepared for it. I highly recommend taking a boat out that you’ve got and capsizing it on a nice day. Either in a dry suit when the water’s cold or on a nice warm lake and see what happens. You can then tell what’s gonna float away, what isn’t gonna float away, what you need to do to be better prepared just so that you don’t have any drama. Because what we don’t want is drama in these events.



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