Troy and I showed up. Victor and Amber, two prospective members, were also eager to get out on the water. Troy and I figured that two boats was not enough incentive to deploy all the racing marks, so we just rigged up two boats for a nice trip across to Bainbridge Island. I decided to take Amber out for her first sail and give her some general instructions and terminology. Troy went with Victor at the helm.
When we left the dock the sun was shining, the wind was a gentle breeze mostly from the NE, and it seemed that the weather was going to remain in our favor. We slowly made our way out of the marina past the breakwater and began making our way across towards Bainbridge, hoping to take a look at a small inlet. Amber and I played cat and mouse with Victor and Troy most of the way. We found a sunbathing seal to go look at, but I think he just wanted some privacy. I took some time to make a few unnecessary tacks in order to get Amber comfortable with the idea of moving around the small boat.
We met back up with Victor and Troy as we approached the shoreline. At this point I could feel the wind beginning to pick up speed to the South. We made our way down the shoreline a bit with the sail on our starboard Side and the shoreline fast approaching on our port. I gave Amber the basics of what a jibe entailed, noting that it would be similar to a tack, just a lot faster. Meanwhile I looked behind us to watch Victor execute a jibe and sail away from the shoreline.
When I felt the time was right I gave Amber the signal that I was ready to jibe, she was ready. I grabbed the boom to guide it across, as I often do for greater control of the maneuver. As I started to swing it over my head, I felt the wind grab it a bit sooner and more violently than expected. At this point it is unclear what went wrong, but I think the main sheet got snagged on the starboard side of the transom, not allowing the boom to swing fully to the port side. Amber and I immediately knew the boat was tipping way faster than it should and we lunged for the starboard side to counteract it. It wasn’t enough.
I swung my body over the starboard side and onto the centerboard that was now fully out of the water. Amber went into the frigid water, not knowing what to do next. I leaned over and called out from above. She was okay and much more calm than I expected. I signaled to Troy and victor that we were okay. I quickly described to Amber that we were going to point the boat upwind and flip it back upright.
Somehow Amber was able to keep her head about her and help me maneuver the boat into position. My weight alone was not enough to right the boat, so Amber swam back to the stern and climbed onto the rudder to help get the mast vertical again. Once she was up out of the water, I saw the mast lifting. I yelled to jump in the boat as it was rolling towards us. We jumped and were in! I was greeted with a face full of salty water, and I fumbled to orient myself. Before I even had my eyes back open I felt the boat continue rolling and capsize again on the opposite side. However, this time I was not in position atop the centerboard.
Now with two of us in the capsized boat, the mast was sinking much faster than before. I knew that if we turtled it in this cold weather and so near the shore, that there would be little hope of righting it ourselves and sailing home. I could see now that all of our personal items were falling out of the boat and either floating away or sinking to the bottom. I briefly cursed to myself for leaving my smartphone in my pocket so I could take pictures. And with that I jumped in, making some very odd noises as the cold violated my entire body.
Amber was already moving around the stern and making her way towards the centerboard. Even after being in the water for a few minutes already she had enough strength to pull herself up onto the centerboard. She lay on it unable to pull herself up to stand. I was able to stand on the rudder and grab her feet to give her the last push she needed to stand on the centerboard. I stood on the rudder and said “Okay, let’s do it again, this time a little slower.” The mast lifted, coming out of the water. I knew it had to work this time, otherwise we may not have the strength to try again.
We again tumbled over the side into the boat. The rolling stopped, the sails began to fill, so I grabbed the rudder and the main sheet. We were up and moving! The boat was already pointed straight at the Brownsville Marina, so all I had to do was trim the sails to get us moving.
The whole time Troy and Victor remained very close by in case they needed to make a rescue. Luckily they only had to rescue our few belongings that remained floating. Their teamwork and experience showed as they went back and forth in the now heavy wind, scooping up our lost gear.
I pulled the transom plugs out to let the cockpit drain. It took about 10 minutes, but the chill of water around my legs was finally gone. I finally had time to realize that the wind that had settled in was much stronger than I expected. At this point I was so shaken by the experience and the unexpected change in weather, I couldn’t bring myself to do much more than adjust the main sheet and shiver. Amber bravely held the jib sheet and continued to help me counteract the gusty wind changes we encountered on our return trip.
I didn’t relax until we had our boat safely tied up at the fuel dock. I apologized to Amber in the best way I knew how, I bought her a nice cool beer at the marina deli. In hind sight, I probably should have found some hot chocolate.