A new sailor's tale. Paul Flint.

Paul is learning to sail an RS Feva in Japan. The following is a story that should be of interest to newbies and wannabes.

Photos of the RS Feva

Well, my philosophy of sailing got a small reality adjustment today. I experienced my first "knock down," as one group of sailors calls it. A knock down is essentially capsizing. The boat tips too far and finally the sail hits the water. This is a regular occurrence for dinghy sailors, and everyone reads about it and prepares for it. Some people even drill it, and drill how to recover from it. I've been looking forward to it since I started.  Today I got my fill.

The first knock down was a simple affair. The main sheet (the rope, that controls the main sail) got wrapped around something, which prevented the sail from swinging out when I let go of the main sheet. I let go of it because the wind was too strong, and I had to let the wind out of the sail to stay upright. Unfortunately, said main sheet--being wrapped around something--didn't go, and SLOSH. The sail hit the water.

Now, with the mast and sail touching the water, the boat is at 90 degrees to the water.  A small air bag at the top of the mast prevents it from going all the way under (which would be a true capsize), and one side of the boat is in the water and the other side is pointing to the sky.  No need to panic.  One need only to climb to the top side of the boat and crawl over the edge to stand on the center board--which usually sticks out the bottom of the boat to prevent it from being blown sideways in the wind, and which is now horizontal to the water--and use it as a lever (with all one's body weight on it) to right the boat.  The sailor ends up half in the water at this point, but can easily climb back into the boat, which I did.

However, the main sheet is still wrapped around something, and as soon as I get in, a gust tries to blow the sail out, which it can't with a stuck main sheet, and SLOSH, we go back over, except this time, the mast is in the water, while the sail is pointing up out of the water, being held in place by the short main sheet. The wind is blowing pretty hard, and the boat starts scooting through the water on its side.

Now, with me on the same side as the mast and looking into the cockpit (the term for the place where the sailor sits), I can see the main sheet wrapped around a bunch of stuff. So, I start to unwrap it before trying to right the boat again. Several minutes of hanging on with one hand and using the other to unwrap, boat and sailor slowly scooting through the water, I finally free the main sheet.

However, the center board is on the other side of the boat. While being careful to not let go of the boat, I inch my way around to the bottom/back side. Getting up on the center board from the water is like climbing a tree. But before I can get myself completely on it, the boat starts to right itself. Unfortunately, I am down wind, and as the boat rights itself on top of me, it also blows in my direction, putting me completely under water, boat on top. I try swimming under water towards the side I was closest to, the down wind side, but the boat is also moving down wind, and I realize that it isn't going to work. I come out from under the boat on the upwind side and grab the gunwale (pronounced gun'le, which just means the edge of the deck), and hold on.

After catching my breath, I pull myself back up into the boat, half drowned, half exhausted, and completely embarrassed. My instructor has sailed nearby to inquire about my general health, and I give him the thumbs up, repeatedly, but he continues yelling at me to go back to the beach, thinking that the wind was too strong for li'l ol' me.

I start to head back to the beach, but I'm fine, the boat's fine, and the wind is still blowing pretty good, so I point the bow back out to sea and skip across the waves towards the setting sun, and Mt. Fuji, while hiking out over the edge.

Paul Flint
Kawasaki, Japan

If you want to know more about small boat sailing stop by the new Dinghy Sailing Group that I created on Yahoo.
Get in on the ground floor. There are only 3 members as I type this.