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Old 28-10-2012, 23:39   #1
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Did I do this Rright...?

Hello boaties,

A year ago I experienced a pretty scary event while sailing, and now, a year later, I am starting to wonder if I handled it right.

To set the scene, last summer I took out two 65+ y/old friends of the family, with my wife and 11 year old son, for a day sail on our Austral 20 on the Port River Estuary near Adelaide in Australia. (The Austral is a solid little family trailer sailer, not particularly fast but very stable, self righting (with the keel pin in), and very good manners, the Port River is a largish inlet/river that serves as the shipping terminal feed for Adelaide, so big enough for easy sailing).

By the time we arrived at the squadron the weather was a bit unsettled (gusting up to 15 knots) despite a reasonable forecast, so I decided discretion was the better part of valour and opted to stay in the Port River Estury rather than head out with an unknown pair into the Gulf of St Vincent, which is a good 30 miles across.

We had a good sail up the river, but by the time we turned to come back we could see a front approaching from the West which looked ugly, so I started the outboard, lowered the main and set the storm jib as a fallback option. (The outboard has never missed a beat, but I just don't trust outboards.)

Half a mile downwind from the squadron we were hit by what turned out to be 54+ knot head wind (according the readings at the club) and rain that reduced visibility to less than 50 meters. Enough of a wave was created to lift the outboard (long leg 8hp) clean out of the water on crests, and I started to find steerage difficult.

So, here's how I reacted, and these are the bits that have been bothering me since.

1. I decided to turn AWAY from the squadron, down wind, and run back up the river on low throttle, on the logic that I could maintain steerage, and that I knew the area well enough that the poor visibility was less of an issue, and that there was a bend in the river I thought I could hide behind. (Also, the area I was heading into was the shipping terminal, and the winds around the ships are odd at the best of times.)

2. I sent all passengers down below and closed (but not latched) the hatch and washboards to try to keep them safe and dry. This did leave me alone on deck, but the cockpit is very sheltered, and they could see me through the washboards themselves.

As it panned out, the main blow lasted about 10 minutes, by which time we had gone back around the corner in the river, and I managed to tie us to an old jetty pile where we rode out the remainder of the weather, before contacting the volunteer coastguard for a weather update, (not overly helpful really) and motoring back to the squadron about half an hour later.

My concerns are:

1. Should I have turned tail to the weather? I now can't decide if I was better off increasing outboard power and trying to battle up to the squadron, rather than turning away from "safety" when I had no real idea of how long the weather would last.

2. Sending the passengers down below worries me. Were they safer up top where, had we capsized they would have been more easily able to get clear of the boat (they were all wearing proper Type 1 PFDs by this stage) into the fairly warm waters of the river?

I would appreciate the thoughts of anyone who has ideas on the best approach to this sort of thing (aside from the obvious "don't get caught in that sort of weather"). I have already decided trusting the weather forecast despite the odd nature of the weather I was witnessing is something I will not do again. The rest of it... well I just don't know.


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Old 29-10-2012, 00:21   #2
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Re: Did I do this right...?


I would say you were half right. If you can run with weather like this it is often advisable to do so, since trying to beat into it is a real killer. It's almost impossible to control heel angle in this type of wind, and gusts become incredibly powerful.

So turning down wind particularly since you had a sheltered spot to head for, was a great idea. It reduces the apparent wind strength, at the same time it allows for a more sedate ride, with minimal heel. Typically heading dead down wind is to be avoided, and a very broad reach is to be prefered. Just to reduce the possibility of auto-jibeing as you surf down waves.

I would not however put people down below with the hatch boards in and closed. I may have moved them downstairs, but left the hatch boards out. That way if they needed to escape there would be minimal stuff in the way of them doing so.

As for the weather... Squalls are highly unpredictable, so sailing just when they can't occur would be a highly restrictive practice.

The other option, and one I have used is to drop the anchor with maximum scope out, and so long as it is holding just hunker down below. Obviously this only works in shallow water, and I wouldn't do it in a shipping channel. But where appropriate it can be the safest and most comfortable way to ride out a squall like Ti's.


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Old 29-10-2012, 02:43   #3
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Re: Did I do this right...?

The responsiblity of skipper can be awesome sometimes. Given that you had guests and your daughter aboard you acted conservatively. Even though you were *this close* to the squadron when the squall hit, consider trying to dock or moor in the same. Also, consider how if the outboard gave in or you lost steerage or that the outboard cavitating, a shackle coming undone (or a host of things) would have compromised your intentions to preserve safety of your passengers.

Turning as you did preserved steerage. Having local knowledge of the waterway you ran afore the wind for cover.

Most likely I would have done the same. Having guests aboard means you cannot sail to your utmost capability. Their physical safety supercedes all. That means while you might think you could have done fine by making way to the squadron, at what cost to your passengers?

Bottom line; act decisively and leave the 2nd guessing to the armchair sailors. At most you had minutes to decide. They (you) will have hours and days to question your actions.
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Old 29-10-2012, 02:47   #4
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Re: Did I do this right...?

Allow me to clarify that. Having passengers may mean you must sail to your utmost although not in the manner you would if alone or with a crew that expects and is prepared for a wild ride.

Given the conditions you did fine.
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Old 29-10-2012, 03:10   #5
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Re: Did I do this right...?

Turn and run? yes - definitely. Send them below with PFDs? No no and no again. If you capsize and the water hits the PFDs, they will inflate (as they are supposed to) and your passengers will not be able to get out. The PFDs will push them up against the floor (now above them) and with a PFD on there is no way they will ever get out the hatch.

SEnd them below, tell them to keep their PFD at hand, meaning they hold it in their hand
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Old 29-10-2012, 03:58   #6
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Re: Did I do this right...?

Oh yeah, I forgot to address sending them below. I may had done that but I certainly wouldn't have dogged the hatch.
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Old 29-10-2012, 04:29   #7
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Re: Did I do this right...?

Austral 20? I would have pulled up the CB and just beached it on the river bank. Simple and safe. (Disclaimer- I dont know the geography there. Perhaps there is a reason you couldnt -rocks- walls- shipping etc- But Google Satellite shows a nice cosy place on Torrens Island it appears you could have beached.) Then again, your jetty idea has worked. Kudos!

But yes, you did well. Perhaps a better weather check in the future and keep your 27meg on loud enough for you to hear a Pan Pan from the local Marine Rescue- these guys would have put out a bulletin which it appears you missed. We all have!! During some Chaos, marine rescues can be a little busy monitoring boats that may be in distress. If you were safe, its likely they didnt give you much time as they would have had greater concerns.

Also Google Cumulonimbus and get to know its features- black underneath- sometimes anvil shaped top when seen from head on. Next time you see one, you will recognize it and know its time to head for cover.

A lot of outboards Pop Out of the water in a heavy sea/chop. They will over rev- but for a short distance thats ok as long as you keep an eye on the OB temp.

Yes, on deck for the passengers may have been safer in a capsize. Trailer yachts aren't known for their stability. But its unlikely that on a run you were going to. I bet the little Austral was a dream to sail off the breeze in that. They are a tough and respected little TY. I used to sail an RL, it would have been a real battle.

In all, you did very well. You kept your boat safe and hence kept your passengers safe.
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Old 29-10-2012, 15:44   #8
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Re: Did I do this Rright...?

Thank you all, very reassuring. Consensus goes with turning away from the club, but the problems of putting passengers down below seems to be the hardest to solve. The Austral is pretty crowded in the cockpit with two people, and near impossible with 5, so perhaps the best solution comes there from Stumble. It's funny, but closing the hatch at the time seemed to be "protecting" them, but now it seems a bit silly. My wife wears the only inflatable PFD, the rest were wearing the conventional foam types, including myself, so a bit of the Michelen man problem on deck.

OzSkipper, your point about the clouds was doubly interesting as the two older passengers were both professional pilots (retired) who still fly daily and they were the first to spot the incoming weather problem, (even from a much lower altitude than they are used to) hence we were at least well prepared. If they were not there, I would have missed it, so I am now reading my son's pilot training books on weather. Sadly, dashing for the club in an Austral is not really an option, 5.5 knots is about all she'll do flat out. And beaching was the fallback option, but we were on the rocky side, the man-made part with VERY big rocks.


Finally, as I alluded to in my post, the volunteer coast guard did not star in my books. I leave the radio on scan mode all the time (a new GME VHF marine radio) and I am willing to swear there was no warning. My son loves the radio as you get the chatter from the tugs and ships, which is fun, and l listen hard as it is good to know when something big is about to come down the river (the Austral is a bit fat!). There was no warning.

Secondly, after we were safely tied up, and the wind had abated, I wanted to see if it was safe to run for the club. I tried three times to raise them before the guy over at Ardrossan (I think?) responded. He could hear me fine, but was waiting for Adelaide to respond. They never do, nine times out of ten I get Edithburgh or Ardrossan responding first when I check in at the start of a trip, no matter which side of the Gulf I am on. Anyway, he ended up PHONING Adelaide, and they finally got on the radio to call me back. It was quite clear they had no idea what was going on, they could not tell me if anything else was coming and seemed quite suprised by my suggestion they maybe they could look at the weather radar on the BOM site which they did, and pronounced it all clear. I know they are volunteers, and I thank them for their work, but it was pretty bad. And it seems from the radio that they were not swamped with calls for help, all was pretty quite on the radio at the time (well VHF at least, don't know about the other frequencies, it was a week day and pretty quiet on the water).


I am so glad we were on the Austral, it is a very forgiving boat which is why we chose it. Dad has an RL24, and it is a lot more fun, but my wife and I felt it was just a bit to skitty for us. Thank goodness, though I suppose we would have been back at the club, tied up and maybe watching the weather from the bar if we had been in the RL.... Hmmm, there's one to ponder.

Thanks all again, for the words of wisdom and reassurance, back out I go, and I've invited the pilot couple out again, I guess it will tell me how they felt I handled it... if they accept or decline.

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Old 29-10-2012, 17:38   #9
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Re: Did I do this Rright...?

Sounds like you got caught in a classic thunderstorm. Good call on learning more about the weather. Here in Singapore if we don't go out when there is a chance of thunderstorms, we basically wouldn't go out.

- Stay in Estuary - Good call
- Shorten sail - Good call
- Run from storm - Can't second guess you on this. Running probably kept you in the cell longer, beating would ave been rough
- Visibility 50m - A good compass and taking a safe bearing is very important while sailing blind. You need to know where the rocks are and avoid them
- Crew below - Not a bad call. Many of my crew won't stay on deck in a storm
- Crew in vests - Not a great call for reasons cited. Vests in hand. or manual inflatables donned
- Hatches closed - Not a great call. I have put the lower hatch in to keep rain out but plenty of room to get out over them

I still relive my stupidest adventure. It was a potential loss of life situation and I beat myself up a bit every time.

Your experience bag is slightly fuller and if you are superstitious your luck bag is slightly emptier.

Here are a couple of preparatory options

- You should be able to "sail" through a thunderstorm. Hurricanes, cyclones etc. are a different matter but you should be able to put max reefs in and sail the boat. Relying on an engine can be dodgy
- Engine is second choice. I've motored in many bad conditions and it is a resource on the baot to be used as necessary
- Ground tackle is always ready to deploy. Failing sails and engine deploying ground tackle is the next choice.

Don't beat yourself up. You did fine.

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