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Effective Use of the Self-Rescuing Lightning

by John Schneider
(From Lightnimg: Tuning, Tactics, Technique, Sailing)
In the first race of the North American Championship qualifying series we capsized and required assistance to right our boat. This is the first time since I began sailing a self-rescuing boat in 1972 that I have had this experience. In retrospect it could have been prevented. The purpose of this article is to share with those of you who have had, or may have, the same experience, some thoughts which I believe will be helpful in utilizing the self-rescuing capability of the Lightning to its fullest advantage.

Preparation of the boat and the crew before the race is particularly important. All gear including extra sails, spinnaker poles not in use, tools, clothing, mast blocks, anchors, tow lines, paddles, etc. should be secured so they do not float away after capsize.  Energy and time expended in recovering such items could be better used.  Each crew member should wear a top quality life jacket adjusted to his or her particular requirements. The boat should be equipped with an effective preventer and a member of the crew should be designated to release the preventer when a board adjustment is to be made and re-secure the preventer after each adjustment.  The rudder and tiller assembly should have a safety lock, which will prevent the rudder and/or the tiller from becoming disengaged when the boat is in a capsized position.

After capsizing, two members of the crew should go immediately, to the centerboard and the third member of the crew to the rudder. This will give each crew member a place to hang on to, place maximum weight on the board for righting and the crew member hanging on to the rudder will help stabilize the boat in a position broadside to the wind add/or current.

From this point on there is no simple solution to the problem. Each situation will be different depending on the wind and sea conditions and the sails that were in use at the time of the capsize.  The skipper will have to evaluate his situation and make appropriate judgments based on these factors. There are, however, a few points that may be of general help to you.

The first objective should be to get back into the race as quickly as possible. To that end, an immediate attempt should be made to right the boat with all sails flying as they were prior to the capsize, and for the crew to immediately re-enter the boat. The first crew back in should release the main, jib and spinnaker sheets and an immediate effort should be made to stabilize the boat and begin sailing in a broad reaching position. The skipper must decide whether in this unstable condition he can carry the spinnaker and, if not, get it down and drain the boat with main and/or jib only.

In the event the boat has turtled, or a spinnaker has completely fouled and will prevent further competition, an effort should be made to right the boat without assistance. In a large regatta there may not be enough crash boats to handle every capsize and not all crash boats are capable of rendering effective assistance, especially if the crew, in the water is unable to direct their activities. First, the boat should be stabilized on its side. Once this has been done the board should be lowered to its full down position and the preventer retightened. All sails should be lowered and stowed in the boat and then with two people on the board and one on the rudder, the boat should be righted and the crew re-enter the boat. At that point you are ready to take a tow or to re-hoist your sails and proceed to the beach.
A third situation, (the one with which we were faced in the North Americans), is what to do when a boat turns turtle prior to the time that the crew can stabilize her position on her side.  This is one of the most difficult situations a crew can face in the water, however, it can be effectively managed.

There have been circumstances where the crew was able to right a turtled boat without assistance. If the boat is all the way up in the trunk, this is most difficult and requires extraordinary effort. Getting the boat broadside to the waves is helpful in getting the boat back on its side.

Most likely once you have turtled the boat you will require assistance from a crash boat. Most crash boats will not know what to do to help you and you will have to direct their activities. First, get your boat broadside to the wind. Then have the crash boat go to your weather side a safe distance from your boat and throw you a line.  At this time you should have one crew on the weather side of the boat and two crews at the rudder. The crew on the weather side should take the line from the crash boat, run it through the spinnaker guy down-haul hook on the weather side of the boat and cleat it in the spinnaker guy cleat on the weather side of the boat.

The crash boat should then continue in a wide circle around your boat stopping directly downwind of the capsized boat with the line then trailing across the bottom of the capsized boat, perpendicular to the keel. The crash boat should then be directed to proceed slowly dead downwind, with the crewmember who had been on the weather side of the boat going to the bow of the boat. By pulling across the bottom of the boat to a point on the weather rail, a force will be exerted which should pull the capsized boat out of the turtled position. It is important to stop pulling and maintain only enough pressure to keep the boat on its side, rather than attempt to completely right the boat at this time. As soon as the boat is on its side one of the crew members at the rudder should go to the center of the boat and lower the centerboard to the full down position, retighten the preventer, lower the sails and return to the rudder. The other two members get on the centerboard, and then without assistance from the crash boat return the boat to the full upright position.  You are then ready to attach the line from the crash boat to the mast and take a tow to the beach or to re-hoist your sails and proceed to the beach.

There are a few basic points regarding personal safety which are most important:
  1. Never allow a crash boat to approach from leeward.  The wind will be blowing you down into him and he may have difficulty in maneuvering to stay clear.

  2. Never allow any of the crew to leave the capsized sailboat unless they have a line from the crash boat.

  3. Be realistic about your own strength and that of your crew. Heavy exertion in the water, which sometimes may be considerably colder than the air temperature, and when you may be wearing heavy and bulky clothes, drains your strength quickly.  An insured boat can be replaced and if you feel you or your crewmembers are reaching the limits of your strength, by all means board the crash boat or hang quietly off your own boat, saving your energy and waiting for assistance.

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