Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Some Thoughts on Capsize in the Atlantic

I am back home in Virginia Beach and working my way through the mountain of email, progressing toward normalising my work again. I have swapped the Southern Hemisphere for the Northern one, summer for winter and cruising the Brazilian Bay of Islands for a blizzard that is coming later today. What else is there to do than to dig right into the pile of work that awaited me?

A relaxed holiday on the sunny beaches, mountains and waters of Cape Town gave me time to absorb and reflect on the whole experience of turning a big boat upside down on the ocean.

Many people have said to me that it must have been a frightening experience but I didn't find it frightening at all. I remember thinking "Oh, we are upside down, was that a wave or have we lost the keel?". My next thoughts were about the safety of Sean, who was alone in the cockpit. I saw through the companionway that he was hanging on tight then my eyes and mind went back to what was happening inside the boat.

Sean says that he wasn't frightened either. The wave broke over the top of him and he was entranced by the mast spearing the water as "Black Cat" rolled over. He wondered if the mast would still be standing after she righted herself. He says "Rather a surreal experience more than frightening. BC ("Black Cat") felt safe somehow."

In contrast, Gavin had what might be considered a more normal reaction to what had happened. He got a big fright and his reaction was to move into the cockpit and stay there, where he felt safer (in the event of another capsize) and from where he was able to pump water from the bilge with the pump that is mounted in the cockpit seat. Gavin is the youngest member of the crew but has almost as many seas miles in tough conditions as the rest of us and can cope with anything that is thrown at him at sea.

I think that the big difference between Gavin's reaction and that of Sean and myself is possibly due to our different experiences in waves. Gavin is not a surfer but both Sean and I are. We have spent countless hours in breaking waves that are sometimes big and frightening. As with all things in our lives, our minds get sensitised by our experiences and it takes progressively more intense experiences to break through that sensitising and make an impression. That sensitizing helps us to keep a clear train of thought in intense situations. This situation involved being thrown around by a big wave and was less out of the ordinary for us surfers than for the non-surfers in the crew.

It was also a lot more frightening for those on land than for us on the boat. We knew exactly what our situation was but loved ones on land could only speculate. They were hearing very sketchy reports from multiple sources. They knew that we had hassles and they knew that there was a very violent storm hammering us. Their minds were having a field day imagining all sorts of things happening to us on the ocean in wild conditions. Whether or not our actual experiences surpassed their imagined ones I don't know.

A few people have asked if I would rather not have been there or if I would have preferred it to have happened to someone else. Truthfully, a definite no. I am glad to have been there and to have experienced this. I am pleased that it happened to me and not to someone else. If I could exchange what happened for anything else, it would be that we did not break the rudder and were able to continue our Cape to Rio Race as planned. But that was not to be. We did break the rudder, we did get blown back into a very violent storm, we did get turned upside down by a big breaking wave and we did all survive with minimal damage to the boat or injury to the crew.

The result is that I went through that roller-coaster washing machine and I did it with my eyes open and my analytical brain switched on. I was able to observe for myself what happens in this situation, what happens to the boat itself and to everything that is inside this kaleidoscope tube as it turns through 3D space, jumbling up crew, stores and equipment and leaving them all relocated in whatever positions gravity and rotational forces happened to have thrown them.

I consider myself, crew and boat to be fortunate to have come through as lightly as we did. I also consider myself very fortunate to now be one of what must be a very small number of boat designers who have this experience in their backgrounds, an experience that is foreverafter there to influence how and why we do what we do in every future boat that we design.

I was told a few months ago by an interior design specialist that she wanted to work with me to design interiors for my boats. She said that on boat shows and in magazines she had seen some really bad interiors and the fact that she was talking to me on this subject seemed to infer that she thought that my interiors could do with improvement. I asked what ocean sailing experience she had, which proved to be none at all. I told her that my interiors were designed to be safe for a gyrating boat on the ocean, not for boat shows or drinking cocktails on a marina. My interiors and all other aspects of my designs come from my experience at sea, gained over many thousands of miles of cruising and racing in conditions from delightful to horrendous. From now on they will also be influenced by my experience of being tossed out of control inside a capsizing boat.

To see our range of boat designs, please go to http://dixdesign.com/.