Sunday, October 03, 2010

My 2nd Dinghy Race: Well That Didn't Go Exactly The Way I'd Hoped It Would.

Goal for my 2nd Dinghy Race Ever, as optimistically posted on Facebook on Friday:

Sail around the buoys the same number of times as everybody else does.

Well, technically I did achieve my goal - but not in the manner in which I'd envisioned doing so. There was a little too much wind for a less-experienced sailor (and also for some of the club's more-experienced gear), a little too much hell broke loose at the same time, and in the end Jim, who usually serves as our Principal Race Officer, decided that with the crew that he had & the wind there was, he wasn't going to be able to keep things sufficiently under control. So he called the race in the end, which means that I made it around the same number of buoys as everyone else, which was Zero Nada Zippo Zilch.

So as I said - technically, yes, I achieved my unambitious little goal. But there was no satisfaction in it at all - and I ended up being taken back to the dock in the ignominious style you see above.

I had had a feeling things were a bit over my level. I actually volunteered twice to switch out committee duty - the guys who were doing it today were better than me & I thought they might have more fun with it than I did. But they said no, I should sail. OK - at first it was fun, although a bit hairy. I wasn't sure how much luck I was going to have actually sailing a set course, but there was some fantastic surfing getting to the course. But then I let things get out of control going downwind (note to O-Docker - Joe is right, zombies CAN'T sail downwind, not in a decent breeze anyways!) & capsized for the first time in a long time.

Note to self: rescue drills, dummy.

As a paddler, I do rescue drills ALL THE TIME. Partly because it's fun & a good way to cool off on a hot summer day, but also to make sure that if I end up in a situation where something goes wrong & a person (me, or anyone I'm with) needs to get back into their boat, the drill is a familiar one.

Why it never occured to me that I should be doing the same thing with the Sunfish is really beyond me. If I had just done one or two capsize drills before lunch on the sailing cruises over the summer, I probably would've up & going again within a reasonable space of time. As it was, it took me an absolute eternity to get the boat rightside-up (including a little bit of a rest break between attempts), and then when I did, I was alarmed to discover that I couldn't get back in. Got my chest up onto the boat but just didn't seem to have the "oomph" left to get the rest of the way. I didn't try for too long - I was pretty close to shore, at that point I think I was already thinking I was in over my head & should probably just throw in the towel & get back to the basin, but we were a way away & I decided that instead of wearing myself out getting back in, I'd swim into shallow water to get myself back in order. I was wearing a wetsuit, I was comfortable in the water, the wind was pushing me that way anyways, so I started slowly swimming the boat to shore.

That was the point at which Jim came over & said I should drop my rig & let him tow back.

For a minute, I did think about saying I wanted to try sailing back - there's the whole get-back-on-the-horse thing, drilled into me through years of riding lessons, and I do think the same thing applies pretty well to boating - but I was also feeling more than slightly shaken (and stupid) about my inability to get myself back in the boat. That was weird & a bit scary.

There's something I've heard experienced paddlers quote as a rule of thumb - that being that when a person is out in conditions that are past what they're used to, once they get knocked out of their boat once, it's quite likely to be all downhill from there, with a lot more capsizes to follow as the person stiffens up & loses confidence.

And I realized that I was in the perfect position for that rule to apply.

So I admitted, "Yes, I'm in over my head today", dropped my rig, handed Jim my towline, jumped back in my boat (I'd made it to the shallow water I'd been aiming for), and quietly took the tow back.

she who takes the tow away
lives to sail another day...


Next Sunday.

Praying for a more moderate day!


O Docker said...

I didn't sail Lasers much before moving on to more stable dinghies. One of the reasons was that I like sailing more than swimming.

Our local aquatic club requires a 'checkout' test before you can take out their boats and the most important part of that is the capsize recovery drill.

I remember how much different the first 'unplanned' capsize was than the drills. It was like falling off a bike - it leaves you totally fried mentally for a few minutes. If you haven't practiced recoveries to the point where you can do them without thinking, it's easy to panic, and that's when folks get into trouble.

Luckily, all of your water experience helped you here. And - most importantly for a blogger - you managed to hold onto your camera!

Frankie said...

Great sense of humor! Don't worry about the 'ignominious style'... a Mr Tillerman has done a similar thing recently I believe. It shows you!

Pandabonium said...

Wise move. I believe the whole "get back on the horse" nonsense was thought up by the military to keep soldiers fighting to the end. Screw that. Sailing isn't war, it's a sport.

Tillerman said...

I think most dinghy sailors have been there at some time. I certainly find there comes a point where multiple capsizes take all the "oomph" out of me and I lose the confidence to sail the boat properly in a big wind. It's best to call it a day at that point.

I am a little surprised that you couldn't get back in the boat. Maybe you got very tired from all the attempts to right the boat? Some women don't have the upper body strength to do a capsize recovery even when they are not tired but I can't believe that you would have that problem with all the kayaking you do.

Better luck next time. And I think you are right that some capsize drills in more controlled conditions would be worthwhile.

John Edward Harris said...

I assume you were racing on Sunday, not Saturday. We were out on Jamaica Bay Saturday afternoon but there was hardly enough wind to sail. We enjoyed a casual run from Mill Basin to near the Marine Parkway Bridge, but by 5 PM the wind was not even measurable and we ended up motoring back to the marina.

bonnie said...

Yes, it was Sunday. Jim's estimate was 18 gusting to 20. However, Holly recommended readings for JFK as being pretty good for J-Bay & if I read those right, we were actually dealing with 18 gusting to 25.

Which makes me feel a tiny bit better about the whole mess. However, the business about not being able to get back in the boat is a HUGE issue, that was a stunner finding that just righting the boat had apparently taken all my strength. Could've been the "mental fry" O Docker mentions too - whatever it was, it was a terrible feeling.

Although Jim & Holly didn't officially revoke my solo-sailing privileges, I've sort of mentally done so until such time as I'm personally sure that I can do better.

bonnie said...

BTW, Pandabonium, I think another reason that riding instructors make kids get back on the horse is because otherwise the horse gets the idea "offload the kid = pau hana time"!

Fortunately, dinghies aren't as prone to drawing that sort of conclusion.

Tillerman said...

I agree that not being able to get back into the boat, especially when sailing on your own, is a big issue. I'm sure you will want to practice and experiment with different techniques to find one that works for you.

The technique that seems to work best for me (on the Laser) when my arms are tired is to grab hold of the hiking strap with one hand and then to pull on the strap but also wriggle with my body and swim with my legs to push myself on to the deck. That way I'm not really using my arms to do all the work.

bonnie said...

You know what - there was no hiking strap in this boat. I was wishing there was, I'd already been missing it every time a gust hit & then when I was halfway up on the boat, I felt like if I could just get a little more purchase I could have hauled myself the rest of the way in, but there was none to be had.

I wonder if the other time I capsized, I had a strap & that was why I was able to get in more easily.

Also thinking through the righting - I think I may have been trying to "muscle it" too hard. I only really made 2 attempts - the first one was a long, concentrated effort. I got around in plenty of time to grab the centerboard, which was pointed slightly up. It came down to parallel to the surface of the water then just seemed to stall there. I started really yanking down, trying to pull myself up on it, and did that until my arms gave out. At that point I decided to stop for a breather - still hanging onto the centerboard so as not to lose what I'd gained, but not fighting it.

A minute or two of that & suddenly the boat relented & the centerboard started to lower - I started hauling away at it again & this time up she came, nice as you please - but of course by then my arms were shot & that's why I couldn't get back in.

Suspect I need to take a more slow & steady approach to the initial phase where you're draining the sail - I know I'm better at stamina than short bursts of power anyways.

Worth working on speed, too, of course, but wearing myself out trying to wrestle the boat out of the water faster than it wanted to come didn't work too well.

Tillerman said...

Yikes. You need a hiking strap for sure in those 25 knot gusts! And they are a great aid in climbing back into the boat. Sounds like you need to persuade your club to fit all the club Sunfish with straps as a safety issue.

bonnie said...

Most of them have them. Maybe I'll donate one for Love Child.

It wouldn't have made a difference in the capsize -- I was going very fast downwind, I let the sail get away, boat got out of control, high side very abruptly became the low side & it was all over after that.

However, I do think that with a strap to grab onto I could've been in the boat again.

Guess they're a bit like decklines on a kayak in that way. When people make pretty wooden kayaks, they're often reluctant to spoil the lines with decklines - but they usually get over the aesthetic qualms after the first rescue practice shows them just how slick wet varnish can be.

bonnie said...

not that a hiking strap is aesthetically objectionable. Just that I was suddenly missing it a lot as I was hanging halfway into the boat & unable to make any further progress!

clairesgarden said...

have fell off/out of horses, kayaks, back on em all too.
its all marvelos fun!!!!!!!!!

my2fish said...

bonnie, sounds like a very frustrating day!

a couple thoughts/questions - was the mainsheet cleated? that would make it harder to spill the water out of the sail. I actually try to hop up a bit onto the daggerboard, and use my body weight to slowly right the boat, instead of my arm strength. I also sometimes wriggle back onto the boat from the back end of the boat - it sometimes help keep me from tipping it right back over when I'm climbing in!

last year, I had a similar experience, as I tipped it 3 or 4 times just getting started again after picking up my 8-yr old son, who was a trooper, and didn't seem to mind swimming so much! but, on the way back to the dock, we got all tangled up in weeds, and couldn't make headway. I foolishly lowered the sails, and tried to swim and pull the boat to the nearby docks. I was EXHAUSTED, and barely able to get the boat out afterwards.

stuff like this definitely makes you re-think your procedures - and like you said, making sure you have some practice time with capsize drills makes a lot of sense. I think I need to make sure I involve my son(s) in those as well as they get old enough to sail with me.

keep your hopes up!

cheers, my2fish

bonnie said...

No cleat! I don't know if our club boats even have cleats, come to think of it - I've never used one & there have been quieter days when it would've been tempting.

Nah, just a moment of lost concentration, or something, and a proven need for more capsize practice.

I wonder if maybe the reason I never thought to do those was that my first capsize, the recovery went pretty much the way it was supposed to. Lesson learned, and how!

Thanks for sharing your own bad-day story. Good thing your son didn't mind swimming - kids usually don't, though (I've taught kids' kayaking classes & it's such a joy watching kids fall in for the sheer fun of it)!

JP said...

The whole capsize & struggle to get back in does put me off lasers, particularly in cold waters. I guess there must be tricks to make it easier (like to doing a kayak roll)

That's one nice thing about a yacht: it mostly keeps the right way up!

Holly Sears said...

Great capsize comments.
I contend there are ways - particularly for women who don't typically have as much upper arm strength as men and who often have more of their body weight on their lower half - that are better than others. Being primarily a laser sailor I've had a lot of practice at trying different ways.
What I find works well at getting the boat upright is swimming around to the front edge of the dagger board, step on the edge of the boat to help, if necessary, to heave your chest up on the board. Another way is to put your feet underneath the daggerboard on the edge of the boat and hold onto the board and lean out. Just holding onto the daggerboard is not sufficient to get that boat upright and you wear yourself out trying.
Once you're got the boat up, rest a second if you're tired, then with a good powerful kick in the waterpush and bellyflop into the boat - not relying solely on your upper arm strength. This way you're using your lower half to help get you in and not dragging yourself with your arms only. Anyway... we'll try some different ways. Everyone is different and there are ways that will work for you.

bonnie said...

Well, I'm ready to do a little remedial swimming on Sunday, I'm sure we'll work something out!

I was also wondering if maybe the wind shifted, or the boat drifted around to a better position or something - I tried and tried and tried with the boat basically not budging until I took a break, and then while I wasn't even trying, all the sudden the boat started coming up slowly & I just jumped back on to help it along.

Anyways, looking forward to getting this sorted out (I hope) on Sunday!

bonnie said...

BTW, for those of you who don't know her, Holly is one of the sailing co-chairs at Sebago & has been one of my main mentors in this mostly rewarding, if occasionally frustrating, business of learning to sail tiny boats!

Pandabonium said...

If you recall, Kimie and I learned this lesson the hard way last summer when we capsize, she became separated from the boat, and we had to be picked up/towed in. Hard on the ego, but as long as no harm done a good lesson we won't forget.

Oh, and I lost my camera in that misadventure!