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A sneaky weekday sail

Sailed on Weds 16 June - Force 5 - 6 - what a sail!


Normally mid week sailing is not on because work gets in the way but both Tim and I struck lucky on Weds. Arrived at Bewl Water and noted some movement in the trees, Little sign of sailing going on - they were all sheltering in the lagoon! The lower wind speed was around 18 knots with maximum gusts of 28 knots!


Unanimous decision to reef the Xenon, although by the slipway the wind did not seem that bad. Launched and within seconds the wind struck. Grandad leans out hard, Tim spills wind and Xenon flies. White horses are running across the reservoir and sizeable waves hit the port bow and water sprays over the dinghy - Grandad gets wet and can't see through his glasses. Tim too busy to notice. That was just the start.


These are very heavy conditions and the Xenon really performs well. Its a lovely boat. Time after time the gusts struck us and the Xenon often dipped its gunwhale under but Grandad hung on or out. The bailing chutes are working overtime. Helm Tim is complaining of his aching arms as he struggles to maintain maximum speed whilst rapidly spilling wind as the gusts strike. As we approach the lagoon the wind becomes very fluky with intermittent lulls and blasts and rapid changes of direction. Tim suggests we go into the lagoon for a rest and change of helm but as we enter a very strong gust struck, the mainsheet could not be uncleated quickly enough, Grandad was hanging over the side in hope but over we went. Grandad drops into the water and joins Tim.


The capsized Xenon floats high on the water but is fitted with excellent righting lines. Grandad releases one of the righting lines and passes it to Tim (yes we are practised in this routine). Tim holds the righting line to begin his move on to the centreboard. Grandad starts to move around the transom to free the sheets and await a scoop but....   the wind takes over, another gust lifts the sails and blows the dinghy right over reversing the capsize. Tim is now under the front of the dinghy and Grandad is trapped under the transom by the rudder!!  Unhappy Grandad looks around under water and slides out into fresh air. Crew rejoin by the centreboard to check that we are still in one piece and discuss plan B. Grandad releases the second righting line, passes it to Tim and makes his way ready for the scoop. Sheets are cleared and Tim lays on the centreboard and up she comes. A quick furl of the jib and Grandad gives his son a heave and we are back on board. Pull in the mainsheet and the Xenon takes off, water pouring out of the bailing chutes. Not another boat in sight!


Grandad takes the helm and we head back, a lot more cautiously now.  Greatly varying wind strength and direction makes for difficult helming, need to constantly play the mainsheet and rudder. Some time ago we learnt the importance of keeping the boat flat to avoid weather helm.


As we approach the slipway we discuss the best way of landing in the strong wind. The Xenon is a fairly big boat and any careless handling could cause dinghy damage or injury to fellow sailors.  Decide to head into the beach and at the last minute swing parallel to bring us head to wind. The plan works a treat and with the centreboard fully up we drift taxi like on to the beach and ground gently. Very lucky that it is a cross wind rather than directly on-shore.  We were both fairly cold and decided that a burger and coffee in the tea interval was the thing. Fortunately the clubhouse is kept warm and has an excellent galley.


After a warm up we returned to the Xenon and took off again. By this time the wind had moderated and become more consistent. We spent another hour or so ploughing around the reservoir, maintaining full power for as long as possible. All too soon we noticed the light was fading and time to derig and head home.  Easily one of the best days sailing we have enjoyed and a further learning experince for us both. Grandad had problems sleeping that night for all the excitement!


On a more serious note we usually hold an inquest into our capsizes and the lesson from this incident is to keep a better distance away from the capsize dinghy until we are both ready to right.  Another issue was confusion over the righting lines. The Xenon has excellent righting facilities but the colour of the righting line lead ropes is identical to that of our gennaker sheets and momentarily we grabbed at the gennaker sheet instead of the righting line.  Need to change the ropes on the righting lines.


No regrets on our purchase of the Xenon. The only regret was that our third man was not with us to enjoy the occasion - sadly he had to earn his living!



Really enjoying your "field reports" and as a new Xenon owner who had a capsize in very similar cirumstances I wonder if you could elaborate a bit more on the " righting lines" you mention? What are they and how do they help exactly?

Our own recent capsize was in pretty similar circumstances (lake, wind a bit too changable). Was tougher than I expected to right (even with flotation on main) but young crew were calm and up for it and we were fine eventually.


I have just (last week Aug 2010) written a Capsize Procedure as part of the Sailing Guide that we are putting together - have a look at it.

If it doesn't answer your points or is unclear please let us know and we will clarify.

We have had many capsizes in the Xenon and have learned to appreciate its righting facilities and can now get underway again in a couple of minutes.

Many thanks David - that's really helpful. In the guide you mention:

"One excellent feature of the Xenon is that as you become familiar with it you will get plenty of warning that a capsize is coming and in our experience usually one of the crew manages to climb over the side and step on to the centreboard."

Do you mean by this that "you will get plenty of warning that a potential turtle is coming"? (In other words that the boat has already capsized but by climbing out quickly you could prevent it turtling).

Btw - any chance of enabling comment notifications in the drupal admin? I'd like to get notified of responses.