Daily Archives: 2005-07-30

Megan’s capsize

I went sailing on my Hobie Getaway with Suzette and Megan about three times last year. The first time, the winds were light and variable, and Megan didn’t like it; we spent too much time rocking in calm air. The subsequent times there was a better breeze and we made headway all the time. She was calm and happy enough that she even fell asleep on the boat.

Having first one, then two small children hasn’t left me much time to sail this year. I got out once early in the season (before Luke was born) on a blustery day. Suzette was lobbying me to take Megan out, but it was windy enough that I decided against it.

Eventually, there was a breezy day with no other pressing plans, and with Zette’s encouragement I took Megan out on the boat. She had a ball! The ducks and gulls were out and other boats, and she really seemed to be having fun. The Getaway an easy boat to sail, and can be single-handed while watching a toddler. Or so I thought….

Discrection being the better part of valor, I had deciced to stay in the small cove near the marina, since the winds were a bit gusty, and I was a but rusty. This was, after all, only the second sail for me of the season. Long-story-short, at some point I blew it, and we went over.

Like most of my capsizes, it seemed to happen very fast, but also had some moments of time-dilation. I was trying to heave-to, which for non-sailors, is sorta like parking the boat. To do it, you sheet in the mainsail, furl or backwind the jib, and throw the rudder over to turn the boat windward. What that all means is that you put the boat in a condition where wind will push the boat forward, but also turn her upwind. Once the boat turns far enough upwind it is "in irons" and the boat slows down. When it slows down, it will naturally turn to leeward, which puts wind back on the mainsail, and the cycle repeats. Eventually the boat finds a balance, and should sail forward at 1-2 knots, with a lot of downwind drift.

I tightened up the main, and was reaching to uncleat the jib sheet, but Megan was sitting on it. So I shifted myself forward and leeward to pick up Megan, and realized we were starting to heel over too much. I reached back for the mainsheet, but it was too late; we were going to capsize. I started to climb over the hull, like I’ve often done in a capsize, and had one leg over the gunwhale when I realized, "Hey! My toddler is going into the water on the other size of the boat!" So I let go and fell in the water on the leeward size, and made sure Megan was okay.

She was scared and crying a little, but took it pretty well. Her lifevest worked great. We swam around to the underside/windward side and I put us both up onto the hull, and gave her a hug for reassurance.

Some other boats came by to help, one of which was a couple with their small child (about Megan’s age) who took care of her while I got the boat righted. It was much harder to right the boat than it needed to be because I forgot to loosen the mainsail. The righting bag (a big nylong bag that fills with water for additional ballast when righting) worked well, but it’s hard to get it attached to the shroud when the boat is on its side.

So Megan had her first capsize, and I had a learning experience about both sailing and parenting. Once the boat was upright, I took Megan back aboard and we ended up drifting downwind into the wet slips (which is the wrong side of the marina for me), and I had a hard time getting back underway to get over to the ramps because it had become very gusty. Megan was not happy about going back out under increasingly windy and gusty conditions, but we made it back to the dock okay.

Update: She’s been out three times since then (every day of Memorial day weekend) and loved it each time. She now says "Boat! Boat!" excitedly whenever we are in the Jeep, so I guess some of it stuck.