Light schooner logoSWAMP TALES
A Water-Level View of the 1997 Milang-Goolwa Freshwater Classic

Every race a saga...

...and this one was supposed to be the race which would finally deliver the elusive Line Honours to Flying Tadpole II. A forecast of winds 10-20 knots from the north-east with fine warm sunny weather - almost perfect, though the winds were at the 20+ knot end on the day. A heavier-than-usual crew of four. A business associate in the race sailing a Noelex 25 yclept "Red October" which we could hunt for. A website to gloat on afterwards. And a combination of a lot of individually minor things turning into a "cascading series of consequences" which made this the race that was never meant to be.

Lake Alexandrina, always a nasty piece of water, delivered some sharp and painful lessons to the Flying Tadpole II crew. Some 2 miles out from Milang and fifteen minutes after the start, FT2 was knocked down to 100+ degrees, beyond her beam ends, and totally swamped - crew in the water, rescue boats, ambulance men, floating debris, the works.

How this startling state of affairs happened to a boat renowned for her ability to come flying through one shambles after another certainly bears thinking about. But first, some points to still the mills of rumour which ground through the press, the radio and the local yachting community.

And now the post-mortem...

....exposing a whole series of events, actions and attitudes, all of which contributed to the fiasco. Any one of these, handled differently, would have resulted in a very different outcome. Read, apply to your own approaches to your boat, and take warning...

recipe for disaster

First:Conditions though a bit windy were much better than some Flying Tadpole II has encountered on the lake. That the poor boat has taken everything that's been thrown at her and come through flying had reduced our paranoia level. We used to set sail on the assumption that the Lake was out to get us. This time, the attention was more on getting other boats.
Consequence...The sail area set, marginally high for the wind alone, was overlarge for the combination of wind and wave which could, and did, appear further out.

Second:Racing crews seriously racing need to be fully functional. Girlfriends new to the boat and one-armed main sheet hands are not such a good idea. The boat and crew have to work together in stressed conditions, rather than relying just on the boat to carry through once more.
Consequence...Divided attention and a slow reaction time.

Third:A little too much gung-ho concentration on getting in front fast...
Consequence...Pushing on in worsening conditions rather than hauling up and regrouping.

Fourth: Not listening to what the boat was lee decks going under and booms tripping. A certain sense of deja vu here...
Consequence...The boat loses patience with her crew.

Fifth: Not immediately getting rid of water which came on board.
Consequence...Unpredictable and highly dynamic stability changes.

Sixth: Being bullied by bigger boats. Not much one can do about this, whether they're within their rights under the racing rules or not.
Consequence...Being luffed up at precisely the wrong moment by a boat seemingly headed for Narrung rather than Point Sturt. (And another consequence, avoiding a collision. In this respect, a capsize was the lesser of two evils)

Seventh: Two crew being on the wrong side at the wrong time.
Consequence...Even more unpredictable stability changes.

Final: At the last gasp, the wrong sheet let go...

Did anything go right?

Well, yes, the buoyancy calculations while building turned out to be right (support a swamped boat, crew, motor and gear in a retrievable condition, upright) and the flotation firmly fixed. The boat would have been bailable in calmer waters -- we're working to improve that aspect now.

Also, we've always worn lifejackets whatever. The thought has been not so much a major capsize as someone being knocked out in both senses of the word by a boom, and unable to swim when they hit the water. Now that we've been in the water in a real mess, not in a drill (ever noticed how drills are never performed in bad conditions?), we would truly hate to have to cope with even just a man-overboard without a life jacket. We simply don't see how you could don one readily, fully clothed, in a three-foot chop, assuming any were still within reach to don. Fear would lend wings, presumably...

We really didn't think about the lifejackets we were wearing until after the event, just got on with retrieving the situation. But afterwards, the realisation dawned that we all would have been in real trouble if they weren't already on. Do you have lifelines on your boat? No?? Then you always wear lifejackets, don't you, hmmm???

Also on the happier side, we're pleased to report that the floating crew were savaged only by humiliation and the occasional carp. The water temperature approached 25 degrees centigrade, ie somewhere around 72F and was not a problem even for extended immersion.

On the other hand, we don't think Flying Tadpole II will go on a Hunt for Red October again...

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