Monday, June 07, 2010

Rescue Drills

When my paddling progressed to expedition trips, I’d spend time before each trip practicing rescue drills and scenarios with my paddling partners. Similarly, Paul and I headed to the lake today with a plan to do some rescue work in our sailboat ‘Dawn Patrol’ as we prepare for our upcoming sailing trip.

What a day! Sorry, we forgot the camera, so I’ve no proof, but, there were some at the lake who would probably vouch for our surprise antics.

Winds were easily 15 knots in the middle of the lake, with white caps breaking over. We met a guy with a Sea Pearl taking his family out for their first sail in about 5 years. He’d reefed his sails (rolled around the mast and mizzen) such that only about 6 sq ft of sail was showing on each mast they moved very slowly.

Alan and Paul with sail reefs in 2008 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge

We too decided this afforded an opportunity to practice some reefing in our sails. Simple reefing lines allow us to tie up the bottom sail reducing the sail area. We put 2 reefs in the main sail, and 1 in the mizzen. We still showed more sail area with our two masts than many on the lake today, and we managing speeds averaging about 4.5-6.5 mph. I found it quite comfortable sailing in today’s winds with sails reefed, but we both agreed we could have easily let one of the main reefs out.

We sailed around for an hour or so, found and visited briefly with KiwiBird who was camping with the ‘wee one’.  He’s becoming quite the camper these days, and has recently been lent an Optimus sailboat to grow into soon.  But they were starting to pack up, and no time for a short sail.

Leaving the campsite and heading into the main part of the lake, we were ready to start our safety drills. First up, the man-over-board drill. We had a large jug (it wasn’t really heavy enough) that while sailing full on, Paul threw out, and I was to figure out how to get to it. I immediately heaved-to, keeping my eyes on the jug. I was a bit taken aback when releasing the mizzen to start sailing towards the jug and realizing I had no idea which way I’d end up going, but I got us turned around and sailed right along side the jug which was now moving quickly downwind.

Paul almost got his hands on it, but I was moving pretty quickly, and didn’t stop. Hmmm, stopping would be necessary to allow the swimmer to get back in. So around I went again, and then sailed downwind towards our jug. Planning to stop at/near the jug, my attempts totally failed. I let the main go, and pulled in the mizzen (correctly), but the main started twist around all over the place, we hadn’t stopped at all, and it was a bit of a mess. I forgot to head upwind before heaving-to. Attempts to again try and correct the situation had me losing my cool this time, (remember it was pretty windy), and we were now very quickly moving downwind and towards a rocky beach. Paul got us turned around, and sailed up to the jug, which I had trouble reaching and bringing in. “Help”.

There was a Hobie sailor beached on the shore taking a break, and watching our maneuverings (and appearing to be scratching his head). The jug was quickly floating to him on shore. He picked it up and started walking out in the shallows to hand it over. Of course now I’m a bit freaked because we are in very shallow water, near shore, still heading towards shore, and there are these 8 telephone poles (marking off a swimming area I think) about 25 yards off shore, and about 25 yards apart, which we are now inside of.

Our helper on the beach quickly handed over the jug and asked us what kind of boat we had. He said “you guys are amazing”. We grabbed the jug, Paul quickly tacked, and I couldn’t even look as he does another couple of very short tacks through these poles to head out to the open water. After that maneuver, our audience shouted again “absolutely amazing”. I started to realize that I’ve not really given Paul enough credit for his sailing skills. Something that would really help me relax a bit.

We sailing around for awhile longer, with me taking the tiller again and discussed the man-over-board drill and mistakes made. We didn’t really have time for another (and especially since the jug didn’t really work) but we talked about the necessary steps needed in that situation, heaving-to, and what we would plan to do in the event one of us went over. The exercise was full of lessons learned. Another related discussion we’ve been having is whether we need a safety tether in rough weather. It was the last going away present we gave Alan before he sailed off with the Eye (a big hint towards his safety). But we are still debating the safety vs. hazard issues of a tether on our dingy sailboat, with both of us on the boat.

Returning back towards the dock, we sailed into the beach cove, and set anchor in about 6-7 feet of water not too far offshore. Put things away and closed all the hatches. Time for our capsize recovery drill. We’d been talking about needing to do it and always put it off. It’s hard to force yourself to do it (hard work, and the clean up afterwards), when your having a nice sail. But this would be our last day on the water before our trip, so… now or never.

With both of us standing midship on the starboard coaming, I could hear the gasps from folks swimming near shore as the boat slowly came over. The boat capsized on its starboard side largely supported by the cabin. We swam around to the centerboard which was really quite high out of the water. I thought it took both of us to pull on the board (Paul’s pretty sure he could do it solo), but without too much work, the boat slowly worked its way upright. No water in the cabin or its hatches, but the hatches on the starboard side did take on water, and the cockpit took on about 4 inches. (Neoprene gaskets in the lids of the cockpit hatches is still on Paul’s to-do list.) We stated pumping, but decided to give it one more go, this time seeing if I could stay on the boat, and swing around onto the centerboard without going for a swim. It was tough hanging on, but I did it, and standing on the board with Paul pulling down, we were again up. I was not as successful getting back in the boat the same way. A bit more water now, maybe 6 inches, but our bailing bucket, D-battery-powered pump, and hand pumps made for quick work.

With the day getting quite late, we took down the sails and I rowed us back around to the docks. All in all, a very fun and successful day. We’re still working a few chores getting the boat ready, and next weekend we’ll pack and organizing gear.

Then we’ll be all ready to go.


Steve said...

excellent post, great training. I'll look forward to talking to you guys about both inflatable vests and tethers for small boat sailing. We use both - inflatable vests all the time, tethers when it get rough. I think there are reasons that inflatable vests, which cannot carry as much safety gear, have applications on a sailboat.
The trip will be great and comparing notes on equipment and techniques will be great too. steve

Captn O Dark 30 and Super Boo said...

Great post!!