Capsize


 Part One:  The Capsize
The first thing you need to know about capsize in a Tanzer 16 is that you will fall out of the boat on the mast side—not the centerboard side.  
This is not a picture of us.  This was taken from the Tanzer 16 Association
publication.  Our committee boat guys were so busy taking care of us that
they had no time for pictures.
















In that one crucial second when the boat passes through 90 degrees—while you are falling out—try to uncleat the main and the jib.  This will matter a great deal in the following minutes.  Luckily—well not totally luck—we were able to uncleat both.  Of course, you might ask why they were cleated in the first place in a stiff breeze with big, puffy shifts.

The Tanzer is an incredibly stable little boat.  Most of the time, if you just let go of the sheets, she will head up into the wind and sit there waiting for you to decide what to do next.  In order to get the boat to capsize several things must to go wrong at once.  In our case we had:

1) a distracted helmsman and a distracted crew (me),
2) a jammed jib sheet with what is probably the wrong kind of cleat for the jib),
3) 90-dgree wind shift during a big puff, and
4) a big wave that slapped the bow around at just exactly the right moment.
And, just as a further complication, we had a compromised air tank or two that allowed the boat to start sinking while we tried to right it. 
It did not help that Puget Sound is about 48 degrees and we were in the water for more than 25 minutes.

The Story:  We set out to race on Thursday night—last race of the season.  Wind blew at a steady 12 knots or so, but lots of big puffs and big shifts.  We race in a tight inlet and the air was unsettled as a front was passing through.  Unfortunately the skipper left the small jib home, but I have sailed my boat in stronger wind with the Genoa—so no big deal.
We rounded the committee boat and headed up wind to start the second lap.  Skipper noticed the motor was still down and tried to reach back.  I was going to take the hiking stick.  He was looking at the motor.  I was looking at him.  The jib sheet cleated itself (more about that in a moment). A 20-knot gust hit.  It shifted 90 degrees.  A wave slapped the bow over hard.  The wind caught the jib. The boated heeled up on its side.  I pulled at the jib sheet.  It was stuck.  We went over.  As I was falling, I was able to free the sheet.  The skipper uncleated the main.  We were in the water.  All that happened in 3 or 4 seconds.
This is the style cleat that caused the problem.  It is too self-cleating.

























This was a factory option.  I made my own pedestal from sheet metal and
mounted a small snubbing winch.  















We both swam around to the centerboard side and put our weight on it.  The mast was in the water.  You could feel the mast pulling itself down into the water.  The boat definitely wanted to go turtle.  I leaned back my chubby 5’7”, 70-year old body and hung on all I was worth.  Skipper started to swim to the mast side.  I bitched that my inflatable life jacket wasn’t working very well.  Skipper told me that it did not inflate.  I had not realized that and pulled the manual cord.  It inflated, and instantly I became completely immobile.  I couldn't swim a bit.  I could, however, hang on to the centerboard that was trying to fold up into the trunk.
Skipper started pushing up on the mast and threw a line over to my side.  He came back and we both pulled on the line while we leaned back—no help.

A rescue boat arrives and take the rudder from Skipper; it was trying to fall out.  We ask the driver to pull hard on the line by backing her Whaler.  She gets on the phone to her boss who tells her not to do it—“Too much liability.”  We are pissed but courteous.  Skipper says something to the effect that I will hold you blameless.  I remind her that she has a legal requirement to help.  She finally applies a timid reverse.  The stern is starting to sink.  I am still holding to the centerboard thinking there must not be any foam in the tanks.  Wonder if that’s why those inspection ports were installed?  

Second rescue boat arrives.  These are our committee guys.  They reach down with a boat hook and pull the mast up so it rests on their gunnel.  We are not going to turtle.  Skipper is able to get the main down.  Young lady finally pulls hard.  The boat pops up. Skipper swims over the transom that is now awash.  I grab the gunnel.  Boat starts to go over.  The committee guys stabilized the boat.  Skip starts bailing.  Bucket is old plastic—brittle—it breaks.  Skipper keeps bailing with another bucket.  It breaks.  He keeps bailing with another bucket.  It is working. Boat is starting to float.
I have now been in the water a little more than 20 minutes. I know that I won’t be helpful much longer.  I will become a problem.  I start swimming for the committee boat.  The inflatable life jacked won’t allow me to swim. It takes five full minutes to move 30 feet.  Skipper is still bailing.  They can’t pull me in over the side of the committee boat. Finally, they have me step up using the outboard as a ladder.  Skipper keeps bailing.

I tell the committee guys that I must go in now because I’m in the first stages of hypothermia.  Violent shaking will start soon.  (If I stay here I will become a bigger problem than the swamped boat). They tow the boat to the committee buoy and tie it off.  Difficult to tow a boat with no rudder. Eric keeps bailing.  They take me to the car.  My hands still work – kind of.  Luckily the wind has died down as I am walking the 300 yards to the truck where I change into a pair of dry coveralls.

Skipper finishes bailing, and they tow him and the boat back to the launch.  I have been in 48-degree water for more than 25 minutes.  I am just starting to shiver hard.  My hands still work.  Barely.

In three hours I am fully recovered.  Skipper gets help putting the boat on the trailer.
Moral of the story—no rescue boats and we are dead--literally, but we were lucky.  Sometimes it’s just not your day to die!

The boat probably would have floated bow pointing kind of up like a resting seal. It seemed like the bow tank was enough to keep the boat afloat.

Part Two:  Some analysis

A--We violated the first rule of sailing small boats—Never make fast the sheets of a small sailboat—especially when the wind is brisk and shifty.  On this particular night I think the skipper may have cleated the main.  I know my jib sheet was cleated; that is kind of the default position of this particular cleat.  Had we not cleated those sheets and just let go of them, the boat would have just headed into the wind and waited for us to get things under control.  On my boat I used a snubbing winch.  It was an option on the factory boats.  It gave you easy control of the jib without cleating it.  Cleating of the main is less critical since it will tend to cock the boat to weather—but still you should never cleat a sail in moderate wind with shifts.
B--Given the chance, a capsized Tanzer 16 will turn turtle.  If I buy another Tanzer or a Harpoon, I would add some mast head floatation. We calculated that a 3-inch diameter tube 13 inches long would provide enough buoyancy to keep the mast from heading down toward the bottom.
C--You can’t trust the integrity of the air tanks.  They are tabbed into the hull and the fiberglass strips are 40+ years old.  There is a high probability that they are compromised by cracks.  Make sure the tanks are filled with foam blocks.
D—Once the main sail is below the surface of the water, you will need to pull it in (take it down) before you can right the boat.
E—The centerboard will want to fold up into its slot.  Use a preventer as described on the Tanzer 16 Association website.
F—The rudder will try to fall out.  Make sure you have cotter pin through one of the pintles to keep it in place.  Over the years I have seen several Tanzers for sale without rudders.
G—Wear a life jacket (pfd) that will allow you to swim and maneuver.  The inflatable does not fall into that category.  I will no longer allow them on my Catalina 22.
H—A jib sheet thrown over the side of the boat will provide enough leverage for a rescue boat to pull you upright.
I—A fairly new bailing bucket should be tied to the boat so it won’t float away, sink, or crumble when you need it most.
J--How are you going to get into the boat?  If it is floating high in the water, you are not coming over the sides.  Since our boat was sinking, the skipper just swam in.  A ladder or a rope with a foot loop would do the trick.
K—If you sail in cold water, make sure some help is at hand, should you need it.
Would I keep sailing a Tanzer?  Heck yes.  We had to work really hard at doing some wrong things to get this boat to capsize.  With just a few changes, I think that even one middle aged and one old guy could probably have righted the boat.

No comments:

Post a Comment