The first smart thing we did was put our preventer on with the board in about the halfway position before we left the dock and checked it frequently as we sailed. If you fail to put your preventer on, you’ve got a good chance of your centerboard falling into the slot which makes it nearly impossible to right the boat without assistance. When you start to capsize, it is best if one of you can climb over the gunwale and get on the board as quickly as possible. Sometimes this will save you from capsizing completely and then you just need to open the bailers and get rid of whatever water you have shipped aboard. In our case, it happened so quickly we were in the water before either Bruce or I had a chance to make that attempt. So what to do next? First, don’t panic and above all STAY WITH THE BOAT! People who swim away or get separated from their boat often get hurt or worse. Next get the smallest and lightest crew member, in our case it was Becky, to nestle up as close inside the cockpit as possible while the 2 heavyweights, me and Bruce, swim around to the centerboard to pull the boat up. Make sure the main sheet is RELEASED so that you are not trying to lift hundreds of lbs of water that will get trapped on top of the sail. The 2 heavies pull on the centerboard, and eventually climb up on top of it to counter the weight of mast/sail/water etc. When the boats pops up, it will scoop up the crew left in the cockpit and you now have one person inside the boat. It’s important for that 3rd to stay on the opposite side of the boat from where the heavies are pulling, otherwise the boat will go right over the other way and you have to try again. In our case, Becky was perfect and managed to keep the boat balanced and upright while Bruce and I tried to climb in. This can be tough, especially for us old geezers, so here is a tip. One of you swim to the stern and use one of the stern bailers (i.e. scupper) as a step to get in. Once 2 are aboard its an easy thing to pull the last one in (even a heavy like me). Then it’s about bailing as much water out as you can quickly and getting her sailing so the Maxi bailer in the bilge and the stern bailers can do their work. Its not that hard, but it can be scary for a beginner. In our case neither Bruce nor Becky had ever capsized a Lightning before, so it was a first time experience for them. They did a great job, and kept their wits about them as we went through the steps.
I know Frank will tell us that capsize drills in controlled situations are great practice, and something we probably don’t do enough of with our new skippers and crew.
Comment from Jim Dillard:
I would suggest one additional step. I believe it is helpful, particularly in heavy air, to get the nose into the wind. Even w/ the main and jib sheets uncleated, the wind can catch the sails and over you go w/ the sails over you.
Comment from Frank Gallagher:
If the spinnaker was up, have someone release the spin halyard, so you can get most of the spin down before the boat is righted….
Very important to bring the boat up so that when it comes up, it about 30 to 45 degrees off the wind …. not straight into the wind…not 90 degrees, and definitely not with the wind behind you….
When it come up about 30 to 45 degrees off the wind you will have a little resistance to work against, and it will be easier to get in and start sailing off on a reach…if it’s dead into the wind it just rolls around and capsizes again to weather on top of you….
Yes …. .capsize drills in controlled situations are great practice, and it is great to do it in a laser to get a feel for it…it’s just like a small lightning…
if you don’t get to the centerboard quick enough, the mast sinks into the mud and make it very difficult to get it up…..
Sometimes in heavy air, we turn lasers over between races and just sit on the side to get a rest…
Comment from Nabeel Alsalam:
Regarding “if you don’t get to the centerboard quick enough, the mast sinks into the mud and make it very difficult to get it up ….. ”
The mast is likely to get stuck in the mud because it typically is pointed downwind and as the wind blows on the hull the mast gets driven underwater and into the mud. You have very little time to get to the centerboard! Plus, there is a temptation to climb up and over the boat to avoid getting completely soaked, but if started after the capsize that just accelerates the downward dive of the mast.
I don’t know the solution other 1) than to anticipate the capsize and be climbing over the side before the mast hits the water, 2) for all the crew to immediately sacrifice themselves to the water when they realize #1 is not possible, 3) for the foredeck to make some feeble attempt to keep the mast from going down, and 4) for the skipper to swim around the transom pronto! Like I said, I don’t really know the solution.
Comment from Ed Michels (this is a long one):
I did some work on this several years ago and came up with the write-up below. Several things in the write-up are not self-explanatory:
- Every time you have a new crew, and intermittently with regular crew, you need to talk the crew through what to do in case of a capsize. This is what the below notes are – my notes to use in briefing the crew
- In each of the on board life jackets, which have pockets, was, in a zip-locked sandwich bag, a cheap box cutter and a pair of those tiny swim goggles. The box cutters in case someone gets tangled, the goggles to see under water. Depending on where he or she was when the boat went over, the foredeck person can get tangled and time is of the essence. Used the goggles once or twice, never the cutters. But glad they were there.
- Ease of recovery depends almost entirely upon preventing the boat from turning turtle. There is a huge difference in difficulty and time. Preventing turtling is everything. Once turtled, then the key item is whether the board is out or can easily be gotten out.
- Standing on the board is much better than hanging from the board. If you hang just with your hands, part of your body is in the water so your weight only has a partial effect, which diminishes as the boat starts coming upright. If you are hanging from the board with both hands and legs, then your weight is not all the way on the end of the board (leverage). On the other hand, if you stand on the board, you can put almost all your weight at the end, and, as the boat starts rolling upright you can start climbing into the boat as it comes to you.
- Depending on the weight of the crew, you need the board fully out to have enough leverage to get the boat to right itself. With the boat on its side, that crew should hang on a line (and get their weight far outboard) rather than have their hands (for balance) on the side of the boat and their weight near the boat. Get the weight further out. Two holding lines are better than one for balance.
- “CB Retriever”: my boat had a rig (long line, 2 double or triple blocks) that pulled the centerboard out. The static line on one of the blocks snapped onto a loop at the end of the preventer. The static line to the other block was dead-ended at one of the gudgeon bolts. The pulling line, run through the two blocks, came from the forward of two blocks and attached very near the inside edge of one of the stern bailer flaps. If you stuck your hand in you could grab the pulling line. Pull on the line and you had about a 4:1 or 6:1 mechanical advantage in forcing the centerboard out of the boat and into a vertical position even if the boat was turtled. The rig attached to the preventer after its (upgraded) cleat, so if you pulled the board out with the rig it stayed out. If the boat was only on its side, the same rig could be used by the skipper still in the cockpit to force the board – now on its side in the trunk – out. If the boat was turtled, if you had the line and braced your feet on the transom, with the mechanical advantage you could pull the board out even if you were pulling it up vertically. By the way, this rig turned out not to really get in the way of the skipper’s feet. It was unclipped from the preventer and thrown into the stern when conditions were light, but clipped on and not really in the way when there was any chance of a capsize
- You can’t get the board out any further than it is at capsize time unless you release and clear the CB pennant. You have to release the pennant before you work with the retriever – or before someone tries to manhandle the board out. I think releasing and untangling the CB pennant is the number one reason that people have to swim under a capsized boat.
- My mid-crew instructions are counter to someone’s earlier email. What matters most is weight on the centerboard fast. The boat has rotational inertia, both from its weight, and the resistance of the main to being pushed down rapidly through the water. Countering inertia with weight has a time factor in the equation. If the mid crew, in 2 or 3 seconds, steps on the mast or boom and immediately hauls themselves / rolls over onto the centerboard, they have done little to accelerate the boat turtling, and then are a permanent counter-turtling weight with much higher leverage. If they get onto the board the boat will not turtle. My instructions to the mid crew have been the “I don’t’ care if you step on my hand or face, step on anything – just get over there onto the board FAST!” Seconds count. The mid-crew has to know to rush to do this as soon as a capsize is inevitable.
- Forward crew pulling the spinnaker partially down. The worst problem you frequently see once a boat is “up” is the spinnaker tangled above and through the spreaders, usually with a ton of water. (That is also when the sail usually gets torn – not when the boat actually went over.) Pulling the sail “down” a little while the boat is on its side prevents this.
by Ed Michels
- Everyone has boots, foul weather jacket with hood
- Goggles and box cutters: move to everyone’s outer layer
- Foul weather gear: put on early if it will be wet
- Life jackets: put on early if wind up
- All gear attached, or in attached bags
- CB retriever clipped on if wind is up
- Be loud to be heard;
- Everyone call out their location and condition;
- Everyone ensure they hear the other two
- Un-cleat and untangle spinnaker halyard immediately
Discuss if needed on CB. If not
- Pull spinnaker down as much as possible when boat on its side.
- Retrieve floating gear
As mast starts coming up, if not
needed on CB
- Get spinnaker below spreaders.
- Climb into boat (may come first if on CB)
- Get over hull onto board immediately; step on anything
- Bring twing over as holding line
- Take weight off board for short periods as skipper uses retriever
- Immediately attach CB retriever if not attached
- Immediately un-cleat and untangle CB pennant
- Immediately haul down/out CB with retriever (thru flap if boat turtles fast)
- Mainsheet: un-cleat, insure line is free (if still not turtled)
- Join mid-crew on CB
- All gear on board
- Spinnaker on board
- Head downwind
- Back flaps open
- Spin pole down
- Jib up if down
- Clear up line tangles
- Close flaps, open bailer when water no longer flowing out flaps
- Drain cubbies
- Pack spin for use, even if on wrong side.