Here’s Part 3 of our list of capsize causes and solutions for small boat sailors. In Part 1, we covered upwind situations with too much heeling force and not enough righting moment. In Part 2, we talked about off-wind balance. To finish off the series, we’ll discuss waves and avoiding other boats. We also include a table summarizing all the causes from Parts 1-3.
Waves present two primary capsize risks, both while you’re sailing off the wind. Either you plow your bow into the back of a wave and spin out, or a rear quartering wave upsets your balance by rolling or turning you.
We covered this topic in our post Sailing Downwind in Waves – MC Scow. That post gives you three approaches – fast and risky, slow and safe, and managing risk. These approaches vary according to your confidence in maintaining balance (which we discussed in Part 2), while steering to surf and avoid plowing into waves.
If you’re struggling with control when sailing downwind in waves, watch the videos of good laser sailors like this one of Charlie Buckingham at the 2015 World Cup in Hyeres. Then, on a wavy day, get yourself a masthead flotation panel (maybe even a rescue boat), and go out and practice.
Avoiding Other Boats
The antics of other boats can definitely cause you to capsize. The laser video below is the best illustration I found. One sailor makes a mistake at a crowded mark rounding, and seven other sailors pay.
Plenty of things went wrong here. Here’s what I saw:
- Several boats are rounding the left gate mark (looking downwind). The boats are going wide of the mark and lining up to round in roughly single file, presumably because they were not entitled to mark room on the boats ahead (Rule 18).
- Boat #3 follows Boat 5 into the picture. It’s likely that Boat 3 is not entitled to mark room on the boats ahead, since she follows them into the picture. However, the boats all appear to be leaving room at the mark (the mark is visible during a few frames of the video).
- Rather than follow the others in a wide turn, Boat 3 turns down to begin a gybe and sails into into Boat 16 while death rolling. From the video, it looks like Boat 3 initiated the turn down intentionally. Boat 3 is on starboard tack, but does not give 16 (on port) room to keep clear while changing course. The collision capsizes 16 almost immediately.
- Boat 5 attempts to sail around 3 and 16, but can’t manage the gybe and also capsizes. Boats 31 and 18 can’t react quickly enough to avoid 5’s mast in the water and get stopped dead.
- One boat (can’t read the number) wisely decides to go to the other gate mark and rounds cleanly. This is often the best move at crowded gates. 7 also attempts this, but capsizes while gybing.
It would be nice to know who to trust and avoid sailing near less experienced sailors when conditions are dicey. In a situation like the above, that’s not always possible. However, in less drastic situations, use the basics:
- Think ahead
- Have your boat under control
- Have an escape plan
- Give a wide berth to boats in trouble
Summary of Capsize Causes
In the table below, we’ve condensed the causes from Parts 1-3 of this series.Capsize-table2