My description and takeaways for a nasty event. I will humbly accept feedback. This event took place in October, 2019.
It was the first day of a 12 week beer
can – lake sailing - race
every other Saturday. Typically, we manage to get in three races each race
day. During the last leg of the second race on the older 30 footer, the two of us were pressing hard at 5+ knots beating windward in a 13 knot
breeze with gusts to about 18 knots. The sea state was very comfortable with a steady wave cycle of about 12 or 15 inches but very tolerable. Water
temperature was approximately 65 degrees. Things were looking nice for our finish. The boat wasn’t overpowered at all on port tack with about 470 sq ft of sail area between the main and the genoa
. We were moving pretty respectfully with the boat nicely heeled at about 5 to 8 degrees. We had put several boats in the 12 boat PHRF fleet behind us.
That’s when we heard a loud BANG! Then, in fast succession (almost simultaneously) another load BANG! Less than two seconds later the entire 38 ft tall rig went over the port side. The boat lurched to port and then settled flat with wire, rope
, and sail cloth everywhere. A quick check proved neither of the two of us were injured. The rig was folded in half just above the spreaders, totally destroyed and hanging under the boat still attached by the roller furler
, back stay, three shrouds to port and one shroud to starboard. Additionally, the sheets
for the genoa, and main sail were all under a lot of tension, Our 10 sq ft rudder
was now nearly 480 sq ft but there was no control and the fresh breeze was pushing us into a channel between an island and a point of land separated by a shallow bottom about 200 meters wide.
First things first. Neither of us had any injuries. Second, the boat was at the mercy of mother nature; we had no steerage except for the breeze against the freeboard and the chop on the water
. We needed to get control of the boat as much as possible to prevent going into the channel. (Avoid making things worse). We dropped anchor
in about 54 feet of water with two hundred feet of rode
to stop our movement into more shallow water in the channel.
Once stabilized, we discussed our next course of action. First, use the VHF radio
and call for help. Our club discusses use of channel 72 for race committee and competitors for communications
during each race. The race committee dispatched a 16 ft skiff to provide aid.
The rig was a mess but it was secure where it was. It could be helpful to release some of the stays and shrouds to let the rig go behind the boat or to fall to the bottom of the lake for later recovery. At the least, release of the furler
at the deck
would help. The rigging was still under a lot of tension and now was not at all laying at the convenient angles for removal
you typically see in the boat yard. An attempt was made to stabilize the furler
and then remove the pin securing it to the deck – something requiring basic tools or maybe a wire or bolt cutter
. I carry bolt cutters on both of my boats for this very problem should it ever occur. I assumed others carried tools for the unthinkable also. I had a Leatherman and a folding rigging knife on my hip but it wasn’t enough. I needed at least another pair of pliers or screwdriver to remove the cotter pin from the clevis. That should be a simple enough matter to address. A request to my partner for a plier or screwdriver was met with a response that the toolbox was removed from the boat. There were no other tools.
We knew starting the engine
was not possible due to potential fowling of the prop from the birds nest of wire and line beneath the boat. The race committee skiff arrived but did not have any tools aboard and did not have anything for towing other than dock
In relatively short order it became obvious our options were limited. I requested a tow by radio
from the race committee skiff to a beach near our berth where the boat was maneuvered parallel to the beach. The boat had a 5 ft draft
but the rig was suspended at least 15 feet below. So, the boat was pulled onto the beach until the rig was aground. An anchor
was dispatched from the bow and from the stern, both to be secured around separate trees to hold us in position allowing us to address the rigging mess below.
The rig was prepared for removal
by securing a fender
via a 20 ft dock
line to each visible end of the rig to mark the ends when the rig sank to the lake bottom. Dock lines were used to have line long and strong enough to lift
the rig. A request ashore was answered with the delivery
of two sets of bolt cutters to cut loose the quarter inch diameter stainless shrouds. Additional pliers were also obtained but unable to complete pin removal at all remaining clevis attachments. One bolt cutter
was three foot long that was dull and wouldn’t cut the wire. The other pair was 15 inches long but was able to cut by taking multiple ‘bites’.
With the rig cut away and laying on the bottom of the lake, the bow and stern anchors secured at the trees were released and the hull
was towed to its slip. The rig was pulled onto the beach using the winch
on the boat owner’s Jeep.
Event analysis and inspection revealed rigging failure due to corrosion at the top of the swage fitting on both lower starboard shrouds. First failure of the starboard aft lower shroud, then the starboard forward lower shroud, both in the same manner and at the same location. The root cause is failure to inspect and address corrosion issues in the rigging. Contributing cause included a new sailor with little rigging knowledge and experience, and an experienced guest that did not inspect the rig when coming aboard.
We have located another mast and are in the process of re-building the rig as the cold weather
permits. We expect to be able to sail her again in about 4 to 6 months.
While the Captain
is ultimately responsible for his vessel, in the case of inexperienced sailors, experienced guest crew members should take precautions and coach appropriately to ensure the vessel safety
WHAT WE DID RIGHT:
• Check for injuries FIRST.
• Call for help
• Stabilize the boat (get control to prevent matters from getting worse)
• Remain calm and thoughtfully prioritize problems and adapt appropriately.
WHAT WE DID WRONG:
• Have a tool kit on board.
• Include bolt cutters in the tool kit.
• Assumed the rig was good to go
• Rigging needs to be inspected at regular intervals. Cursory inspection every time the vessel is boarded, more detailed inspection at regular intervals
• While the Captain
is ultimately responsible for the vessel, inexperienced sailors need appropriate coaching to ensure vessel safety