Always Learning

almost 2

“I always hate putting on my drysuit,” I told Keith as we rigged up, “but once it’s on, I hardly notice it.”

“I’m wearing all poly,” he replied, “but a drysuit is definitely on my wish list.”

It was about 42 degrees at noon when Keith, Bill and I put our boats in the river. The sun had a hint of warmth and the last leaves of fall fluttered lightly; clusters of dark clouds loomed in the distance, which supported the forecast that the winds would shift directions mid-way through the afternoon and we thought we were ready.  

Keith was the first to sense a change coming and began filling the water ballast in his Scamp sailboat, Zephyr. Black lines of wind and cats paws came rushing across the water. The air noticeably cooled as Bill and I pulled out of the navigation channel, set reefs in our sails, and and did our best to stay upright during the squall. As it moderated, we tacked down river gleefully.

I was keeping an extra eye out for Bill, since his boat is new to him and has the lowest freeboard of our crew, but he was handling the conditions skillfully.

almost bill
Bill’s boat, Muskrat, is a Joel White Shearwater.

I knew that Keith’s boat is the most stable and very difficult to capsize, so when I saw Keith off in the distance I didn’t give it a second thought. I figured he was tuning his sails or heading in his own direction; a pretty common scene since this is our home port. We know it well and don’t worry too about each other since we sail here so often under a wide variety of conditions.

Keith's boat, Zephyr, is a John Welsford Scamp.
Keith’s boat, Zephyr, is a John Welsford Scamp.

We all had VHF radios, but we didn’t coordinate a channel, so when I noticed Keith heading to the dock a little later, I figured he had someplace to be and forgot to tell us.

I found out the truth via a text message a few hours later:

“Sorry I had to bail. I dumped Zephyr and was a little hypothermic and experiencing a bit of shock. I’m home, warm and dry.”

I felt awful when I realized that both Bill and I failed to notice our friend had gone into the water on such a cold day. I called Keith up to get the full scoop and learned that during a gust his boom had somehow swung ahead of the bow and the boat capsized suddenly. Keith didn’t get fully submerged and had self-rescued himself, spent some time gathering spilled gear, then wisely, decided to head home.

Here’s what we did right and what we could have done better:

Right on! Learning Opportunity
·  Had radios in hand·  Familiar location·  Out with others

·  Self-rescue knowledge and equipment ready

·  Emergency blanket nearby

·  Awareness of weather and forecast

·  Some of us wore drysuits, no one wore cotton

·  All radios on the same channel and turned on·  Float plan shared with each other and folks at home- even at the home dock·  Everything in the boat tied down

·  Change of clothes should be on each boat, especially if captain is not wearing drysuit.


  1. Glad to hear this fellow (Keith) is okay. A fall in the river this time of year is no fun. Good for you all for getting out there, though. I second the plan to keep all radios on and tuned in to Ch 16. You never know whose life you might save, perhaps someone not even in your party. I carry it even when kayaking in the channel.

  2. On a boat with standing rigging the boom is usually prevented from going forward of perpendicular to the centerline. On a boat without standing rigging the boom can go forward of perpendicular, unless there is a stopper knot in the mainsheet. When the boom and mainsail are forward of perpendicular, typically on a reach or run, there is a lifting force that works to capsize the boat to windward. This is well known to Laser, Sunfish, And El Toro sailors, among others.

    I’m glad Keith is OK. A dip in our cold PNW waters can ruin your day.

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