I used to be scared of capsizing my boat. The idea of being suddenly thrust into the chilly river worried me. I imagined my stuff floating away and the boat refusing to return upright or slowly sinking. All these thoughts are realistic, especially the detrimental effect of the cold water, but what I hadn’t given much thought to is something emotionally scarier.
Now roll the cameras. A small sailboat is speeding along over choppy, cold water. It’s not a major storm, just a stiff 10-15 knot breeze. A few wind waves are bigger than the rest and a little swell is mixed in. Now the wind puffs up at the same time that wave and swell hit. The captain wobbles and falls off the side of the boat. The camera zooms in on his face. He doesn’t look too worried, after all, he’s got a drysuit on, as well as a life jacket. Our captain is surprised at first, but he’s also wearing the right gear. He’s not (immediately) freezing. His head swivels and his look of surprise turns to a grimace. The captain’s head disappears from view with a splash. He’s thrashing through the water. No- a shark didn’t get him. He’s swimming. He’s swimming for his life and his boat.
Why? The boat is sailing on without him. But because he’s wearing a lifejacket and a puffy drysuit, he can’t even swim at a knot. The boat is easily doing three.
That’s the thought that occurred to me last weekend when I did my first man overboard and capsize drill in Row Bird. A lifeline is an easy solution, but if I hadn’t done the drill, I never would have considered it. Flipping the boat back over and bailing it out? Not so scary. Watching the boat sail away from me: absolutely frightening. Once again, reality is scarier than imagination.
(For details and a discussion of the capsize, head over to Woodenboat Forum.)
Click below for a slideshow of larger images.