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.