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Rebecca Ann goes over - Part 3 - by Dale Davenport

Dale Davenport"We finally made it to the beach where we anchored in the shallows,the boats bucking high in the wind and waves. Laboriously we offloaded the gear to the sand. We found a hollow in between the dunes where some debris indicated previous camps. We put up the tents and rested."

For Dale (left), crew Doug, and Emma the dog aboard the CY Rebecca Ann, the breezy passage had become a near disaster when they capsized in 25 knots or more of wind amidst a short nasty sea kicked up by a shoal. Jay, in the Ness Yawl Sara, had safely cleared it but turned back to help with the rescue. Fortunately, the water was shallow and warm. Despite a strong current they were able to recover most of their gear. However amidst the confusion they lost the rudder. They eventually rowed back to the distant beach despite a strong cross sea and wind. It was only mid-afternoon, but they were exhausted. Dale takes up the story:

The rudder the construction crew made from plywood.  We couldn't keep it on the boat.We heard later that we attracted a crowd watchingfrom the shore: the volunteers, a flock of kayakers and the construction team. They debated sending a rescue party, but noted that we were out for adventure, had found a good one and were not requesting help.

I'll return shortly to discuss lessons learned and ideas gleaned from this episode, but let me finish up the travelogue in short order.

As it turned out, the Monday afternooncapsize We gathered up the gear the next morning, wet or dry.spelled the effective end of our sailing on that trip. We dried out and salvaged gear,got the motor working, tried unsuccessfully to build a rough, workable rudder out of constructionleftovers and motored ten miles the next day on the shortest route back to where we had begun.

We got the name of a wooden boat builder on Harkers Island who could make a rudder for me, and we ordered the rudder. We spent the interim tossing out ruined gear and mending what was repairable and picked up the rudder the next day. It looked to be of doubtful Loading the boats to leave Camp Recoveryutility on first sight and the winds were rising on the coast without hope of respite for what was then left of our annual sailing week. We weren't about to try our luck in thirty knot winds with a suspect rudder and a lashed mast gate.

A Calmer Cruise?

Instead we headed inland to the Neuse River, hoping for some sunny, ten-knot sailing on flat water where we could check things out. A guy we met in a fast food parking lot en route steered us to Graham Byrnes, co-designer of the Core Sound 17 (and now the Core Sound 20), who owns some land on a Neuse tributary. Graham and Carla let us camp there and he showed us his personal CS17 in which he had just won the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge a month or so before (going 12 miles offshore). We tried to sail to the campsite. Unfortunately the small craft weather warnings followed us inland from the coast; my new rudder was a disaster and the rigging repairs were inadequate. Meanwhile Jay had cut his mast lashings to transport his boat and now used another method to fix the mast. It didn't work. Sara's tiller had also broken during Monday's excitement and he had lashed his boathook to the remaining stub, which wasn't entirely satisfactory. Also Sara's 30-year old Tufnol mainsheet block had finally broken. A malicious thunderstorm chased us as we motored and towed up the river further dampening our gear. We realized the shock of the capsize was wearing off when the coffee began to taste too salty even by our low standards. Some things we could cope with, but salty coffee really bugged us. We were whipped. Even Emma voted to surrender.

Headed Home

We got out of there on Friday morning and hightailed it back to Virginia. In 1718 the pirate Blackbeard was cornered near Ocracoke and lost his head in a battle with Virginia colonials. Like Blackbeard, we were defeated, but they only brought his head to Virginia, so we did a little better. Of course, our errors and omissions were considerably less spectacular.

Analysis 1: What caused it?

Now back to the more interesting issues. Let me hit one quickly to start with - what technically and specifically caused the capsize? My best guess is that with the high wind opposed to the strong current at the edge of the shoal, when we headed up directly into the wind, the current pushed the stern around, we were pushed past the anchor, ran out of the short scope of the rode, and the anchor turned the bow around. So we headed downwind and perhaps then jibed around the anchor. But I am not really sure.

What mistakes were made? First, we treated the last leg of the day's journey, from the lee shore where we stopped for lunch to our intended destination on the opposite shore where we hoped to camp in the shelter of the dunes, as the same trip we began that morning. We didn't focus on the wind strength at the time we began the leg. We didn't review the chart, we only used it as a table cloth. The pool behind Cape Lookout is a hurricane hole according to the Coast Pilot, but it has known shoals in some areas. My GPS tracklog places the wreck right at Chart Note E, which warns of shifting shoals.

Second, our rigging was such that we couldn't tack. Why was that, with my two reefs and Jay's three and both mizzens furled? We both have tacked endlessly on other days with two reefs and mizzens furled in 20 knot winds. What was different on May 15, 2006 in the waters inside Cape Lookout? It may have been the current. The current was shockingly strong at least along the shoal where Doug and I were swimming against it.

On my boat, I am embarrassed to say that I had not looped my halyard through the parrel grommet when I tied to the yard. On the port tack I was on, the halyard had pushed the grommet up the mast past the yard and the yard was standing out from the mast. Why had I failed to tie it in? First sail of the season, and it's a hassle to do. In other words, no excuse, sir. You do have to give the boom downhaul a foot or two of slack so it moves way forward, in order to get a double reefed main yard up to the mast at the tie-in point on the yard. This is hard to explain or visualize. My downhaul has a three part purchase, which is nice for that all-important luff tension, but the running block doesn't allow much slack to move the boom forward. At any rate, it's no wonder I couldn't get around off port tack. Whether I could have made it by the wind if I had been properly rigged, I don't know. I am bothered by Sara's inability to tack, since we have sailed together for many days and I know how similarly the boats behave.

Finally, I should have immediately slashed the halyard, at least after we went over the first time. I always have a knife on a lanyard for that purpose. I successfully got it out of my wet pocket, opened it one-handed it and cut the line, but it was just too late. It was too late because I was too cheap to quickly sacrifice a perfectly good halyard when things went wild and we were still upright, and because I forgot what I knew to do once we went over. I followed my first impulse when we hit the water, which was to turn the boat upright. That is folly with a sail still up a mast. When you get the boat up, it goes right over again.

Generally, though, and in an overriding sense, my mistake was overconfidence. Two or three years ago I would have stayed on the shore after lunch - pulled the boat along the beach and found a good camping spot. A few years of pushing my own limits slowly and fairly carefully evolved into not knowing when to stop.

A techncal point

Back to technical issues: Jay and I wonder if we should move the tie-in point on the yard forward (down the yard) the more we reef, to move the CE aft and keep more weather helm. Did we - and really this applies to Sara, since with my flying yard I interjected another factor - give it lee helm, and make it too tough for the boat to move through the eye of the wind? Especially with some stiff chop like we encountered?

Capsize Behaviour

How did the CY behave as it capsized? When it first went over, it was fairly slow, maybe three seconds. It didn't just slam over in an instant like a sailing canoe. I don't think it took on too much water the first time. The centerboard slot was high up when she went over to port at first and I swam around the stern to pull her back up. I think that each time she went over she picked up more water, taking it on and going lower and lower each time. I believe it turned five times, but maybe just three. At any rate, when it was full and along the bar it was impossible to move. If you think a CY without special flotation will just pop up half dry you are wrong, at least if if the boat has flopped back and forth a few times. The water temperature was 20C/68F according to the fishfinder.

What if we hadn't come to rest along the bar? That's a scary question. Some of us have talked on this forum about doing a swamp test under controlled conditions. In a way, we did. We even had authentically high winds and pretty good waves, albeit not ocean waves. Without the bar supporting her on her port side, would she have taken on more water? She wasn't filled to the brim. Would she have rolled unstably when we tried to bail her out? I don't think she would have taken on more water. I think she reached an equilibrium of flotation and was more in the posture of pressing her side on the bar than totally resting her bottom on the bar. But I could be wrong. Jay points out that she was floating, but floating like a full bathtub.

Could one person bail out the boat? I am not sure they could. The challenge is best expressed in terms of pints per second, rather than gallons per hour. If it takes an hour, or even fifteen minutes to get the level down, you aren't going to make it. Having had very limited experience in either sailing or bailing before getting my CY, I see now that I bought a lot more pump than I need - an Edson 17 gpm model. No harm in it, either, but the bigger pump is not the answer in a capsize. That volume just won't clear the water faster than it comes in. You have to take out a couple of gallons each stroke, using a bucket, and you have to do maybe twenty strokes a minutes for a short while. (Jay says a lot faster than that: fast as you can for longer than you thought possible, but then he had the big bucket. My advice is to give a visiting captain or at least crew the big bucket.) The pump is useful to get the last three inches or so, but I doubt a manual pump is available that would have enough volume to beat the inflow. In other words, you don't need the world's greatest pump to clear out the relatively few gallons sloshing in the bottom of the boat. What you need is a way to move a lot of water very quickly but it only needs to be done for a few minutes. So tie in your bailing bucket. In fact, tie in two buckets. And take no chances if you sail alone or have a motor well that lets more water into the boat. That is of course easier said than done.


What flotation did we have in her and what good did it do? I have the four sleeping platforms described elsewhere on this forum. Those are two skins of luan sandwiching one-inch blue foam, cut into strips and webbed back together. Each stack is about five by eight by twenty-six inches. Figure four cubic feet of flotation for the four of them together. They were tied under the side seats. They were under water and they stayed where they were tied throughout.

By and large, that was the only flotation that did any good. The big dry bag with the tentage in it is tied in high in the bow. It must have gone in the water and perhaps played a role in the boat not turning turtle. However, I think the masts would have accomplished that. Both of them are hollow and both stayed in their steps. Even on the first roll when the hull was high I don't think there ever was any risk of the masts going straight down. They were good flotation and far out. Either could have come out, because the mizzen halyard cleats to the mast and I cut the main halyard. If they both came out, or even the mainmast came out, the boat may have turtled. Should both masts should be secured in their steps and partners? I tend to think so; Jay says it would be best to get the entire rig down, lash them in, bail and then re-rig after regrouping. Of course you cut your security lines after a capsize and satisfy both goals.

There were four 55 liter dry bags in the boat - these are about eleven inches by maybe thirty inches. Two of them were strapped on top of the forward bench. Two others were tied in at one end, but floated with the water. The two on the bench were partially under water, but they could have been tied to the floorboards. With the boat filled with water the two on the bench probably helped float her some, but if they had been tied lower, they would have made a lot more difference.

The three gear boxes were tied in loosely and floated two or three inches above the floorboards. They were not sealed, though, and filled with water. Some of the contents are sealed and provided some flotation. The food was in an ice chest. It was not tied in, but it did have a ratchet webbing strap around it. It turned over within its space in the boat, but stayed in the boat. It took on some water, but not a lot and most of the food was okay, sealed or not.

I had two big fenders cleated along the gunwales just aft of the aft bench. They probably helped keep the boat higher in the water as it went over.

That pretty much sums up what was in the boat that had the possibility of providing flotation. Boiled down, the four sleeping platforms were the only clear contributors to buoyancy beyond what an empty wooden CY has naturally. The two dry bags secured on top of the forward bench added some buoyancy, to the extent they were in the water, which was probably about halfway.

This has all led me to reflect on what happens when water gets inside a Caledonia Yawl, and changes I'd make now with hindsight. But sorry, you're going to have to wait for Part 4 to read about them.

Rebecca Ann's hull was built by Geoff Kerr. Dale Davenport fitted her out and did all the finishing work. You can learn all about her here.
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