I wanted to reassure you that I am not just being terribly British and stiff-upper-lip about my capsizes last week. They really weren’t all that bad. It occurred to me that there is a kind of sliding scale of capsizes, from the mild to the really, really nasty. So I have compiled a beginner’s guide to boat-rolling.
In all cases, I have assumed that the cabin hatches are both closed. The boats are designed to be self-righting, provided that the cabins are watertight and hence act as buoyancy chambers. The air trapped inside them makes the boat unstable in the upside down position and it will self-right after a few moments. But if the hatches have been left ajar, this is a different, and much more disastrous, story. During the 2005 Atlantic Rowing Race, 6 boats were forced to retire and their crews rescued, and in at least 3 of these cases the crisis was caused by a capsize happening while the cabin hatches were open. Water rushed into the cabins and the boats stayed upside down in an irrecoverable capsize. Game over.
(Click here to see a video of Olly’s ocean rowing boat being tested for its ability to self-right. Thanks to Jay for this.)
So, after all that preamble, this is how the capsize scale goes, in ascending order of nastiness:
Not really a capsize at all. The boat goes through 90 degrees, onto its side, before self-righting. But it can still cause considerable mayhem if things aren’t tied down or stowed properly. And it’s definitely enough to wake you up if you were asleep.
2. 360 roll while in the cabin, strapped to bunk
Unpleasant but not too bad. Injury unlikely to occur provided that all sharp objects such as scissors, screwdrivers, knives etc are properly stowed, and that all heavy objects such as Pelican cases containing laptops are secured. However, outside the cabin, considerable damage is possible. Any protruding objects such as antennae and spare oars may well snap with the pressure of water, and you can wave goodbye to anything that is not attached to the boat.
3. 360 roll while in the cabin, not strapped to bunk
On my second capsize in 2007, the straps that secured me to the bunk ripped out from the floor of the cabin, so unfortunately I do have experience of this variety. The cabin is only about three feet high, so again, major injury unlikely to occur provided that non-human contents of cabin are properly stowed as described above, but increased chance of bruises and minor cuts.
4. 360 roll while on deck, clipped on to boat
I haven’t actually tried this one. Sarah Outen swears she would rather be on deck during a capsize, so she can see what’s coming. I beg to differ, especially if it’s night time. The thought of being suddenly pitched into rough, dark water, not knowing which way is up, fills me with horror. Sarah is welcome to it. Should otherwise be quite survivable provided the rower doesn’t get knocked unconscious during the capsize.
5. 360 roll while on deck, not clipped on to boat
Could be very scary if the rower is thrown away from the boat, and then has to swiftly recover his/her senses and swim back to the boat in rough seas. Not advisable. If the conditions are even thinking about being rough enough for a capsize, the rower should be clipped on. I usually use a surfing leash around my ankle for general ease of movement, but I also have a body harness with a bungee in the back that I can clip to a D-ring on the boat.
6. The pitchpole
You really don’t want to do this. It involves the boat capsizing end over end. Again, I have no personal experience, but I read about it in Tori Murden’s book,A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the OceanMemoirs)
, and it sounds horrendous. Tori received a major beating, including broken ribs and black eyes, and even though she sounds like one seriously tough cookie, she decided enough was enough and activated her EPIRB to summon the Coast Guard and abort her attempt.
Besides bunk straps and a leash, there are a few other things the ocean rower can do to mitigate the risks:
I have a crash hat in the cabin, in case of extreme situations, but haven’t yet felt the need to use it.
Since 2007 Sedna has 200 pounds of lead sealed into the bottom of her hull, evenly distributed between two different locations slightly fore and aft of centre. Generally, you want boats to be as light as possible, but after my capsizes off the California coast I decided that it was more important to me to stay the right way up than to go fast. Water ballast helps, but lead has the advantage of being denser, concentrating more weight lower in the boat. On this voyage I have been occasionally supplementing the ballast by intentionally flooding lockers beneath the deck.
The sea anchor is probably the best safeguard against capsize. It turns the boat bow into the waves, so the water rushes down the sides of the boat rather than slamming into the side. Arguably I should have been using the sea anchor last week, but as the wind was blowing in the right direction I wanted to maximise my overnight drift. After the second capsize I did put the sea anchor out – naked on the deck at 2am, in the dark, in roaring wind and lashing waves. Not my favourite naked nocturnal activity, but better than spending the rest of the night in dread of capsize.
Part of the reason I downplayed the capsize last week is that I took partial responsibility for it. Neptune was not entirely to blame. My trusty weatherman, Lee Bruce, had forecast 30 knot winds with stronger gusts, so I knew that capsize was a possibility, but decided to take the risk in order to maximise mileage. You pays your money and takes your chances. You can get away with it for 99.9% of the night, but it only takes a single wave to catch the boat at precisely the wrong angle, and it all goes belly-up…. literally.
Today, nothing could have been further from Neptune’s mind than capsizing me. There has been the slightest whiff of a wind, but as it has been from the wrong direction, I decided to make the most of the calm conditions for a final day of boat maintenance before the final push for the finish. So I have spent the day on fixing things, laundry, personal hygiene, and barnacling.
I saw another cargo ship today – that makes two in as many weeks. It’s getting a bit crowded out here.
Our latest podcast is now live, “Send Rita To See Roz”. Thanks, Vic, for both the podcast and for setting up the fundraising site. I hear that the response has been absolutely fantastic – thank you so much to everybody who has contributed to my mother’s air fare to Destination X. She and I are already looking forward to a long-overdue hug!
Joan – congrats on completing the smallholding purchase! That is wonderful news. I can’t toast you in champagne yet, but will raise my water bottle to you tonight.
I am excited to hear from UncaDoug and Angela Hey about the ClimateRealityProject.org developments. It seems that there is real, renewed momentum behind the relaunched Climate Project – good for Al Gore. I can’t wait to catch up on the news when I reach shore.
Quote for the day: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” (Confucius)
We have now raised $3929 to bring my mother out to see me arrive. Huge thanks to all who have contributed so far. To make a donation, visit our fundraising website Send Rita To See Roz.
Sponsored Miles: Contrast from yesterday. Few miles rowed, and they were unsponsored.