MAX EBB — "S
teer under the boat!" We were about to round up on starboard tack, so the driver spun the wheel to port and we bore off hard, bringing us momentarily upright but now rolling to starboard. The starboard roll continued, threatening a round-down. "Head up!" I shouted again, along with several other crew yelling pretty much the same thing. "Too much!" yelled a trimmer as we entered another round-up, and the driver turned down again. We rolled three more times and then lost it to windward, knocked down flat off the Cityfront in what was really just a typical afternoon sea breeze. We eased the spinnaker sheet and the vang, and after much flogging got the boat upright and the spinnaker drawing again. "Max, why don't you give it a try?" the owner said as he gestured for me to take the helm. This was a fast boat in its day. Big and heavy with a tall rig, "from the dark
years of IOR," as Lee would say. It was still a fast boat upwind; lots of ballast and a long waterline for its rating. But off the wind in a blow, we were done for. "Lee, take over the trim!" I ordered. Lee Helm and I were guests on this crew, filling in for two regulars who couldn't make it that weekend. So we didn't want to assume any undue authority. But this was survival mode, and I wanted Lee calling the trim. "Like, pole forward two feet, please," she called to the afterguy trimmer. "And spinny sheet in, we need to oversheet to suppress the windward roll. And vang back on ASAP." That helped, but everything still felt incredibly unstable. The boat seemed like it couldn't decide which way it wanted to roll, and my helm inputs were mostly out of phase and behind the action. There was an impressive stern wave behind us. We had to shout to be heard over the bow wave. And this old lead A spinnaker on a rolling boat can produce an aeromine was only going 12 knots. dynamic force that pulls the boat in the direction it's "I just can't keep this thing from already rolling. rolling," I said in frustration. We were likely to broach again, one direction or the other, so I was favoring a windward spinout to starboard. On two occasions we had to dump the spinnaker sheet to keep the boat upright, but if we didn't sail a deeper run we would have to jibe soon. And one place I did not want to go was into the early ebb current to starboard. "Lee, see what you can do with this," I said after the second hairraising round-up. I have many more big-boat miles than Lee, but she has the small-boat chops, the fast reflexes, and even the stronger, more durable arms from her windsurfing. Maybe she could get this beast to the leeward mark before the rest of our division passed us. We swapped places as the boat started another roll cycle. But when we started to roll to starboard, with risk of a leeward broach, her first move was to snap the wheel to port for a second, then make the required turn to starboard. "It's like, a small-boat maneuver," she explained over the roar of tortured 12-knot water. "Use the transient roll moment from the rudder to cancel the roll to starboard. Works great on a Laser. There's like, major negative roll damping in this rig, so the roll motion pulls the boat Page 106 •
• April, 2019
farther to the side it's already rolling to unless you can . . ." She yanked the wheel hard to port again, then eased the helm to starboard. " . . . Unless you can stop the roll with a quick rudder jab." I overtrimmed the spinnaker sheet a little more, and asked for the pole to go another few inches forward. We seemed to be almost under control "Sure wish this boat had a tiller," Lee grumbled as she struggled to produce more sharp spikes in turn and roll inputs despite the geared-down helm linkage. "I think I see what you're doing," said the owner. "Let me take it back." Well, it was his boat, so we let the owner have his helm back. The boat started to roll again. "If we spin out," I tried to brief the crew, "release whichever string is on the low . . ." But it was too late. We rolled to port, barely recovered from another almost round-up, then rolled heavily to starboard as the boat yawed way to leeward. The helm was still over to port after overcorrecting from the last roll, and with the rig leaning way to starboard there was nothing to keep the boat from spinning out to leeward. At that point, the rudder was mostly out of the water anyway. "Heads down!" I yelled. The boom flew across in the classic jibe-broach maneuver. I called for holding the sheet and running the guy, but the sheet had already been let halfway out in a panic, and the two wraps left on the winch drum had found their way into a tight override knot so the sheet was not going out any more just then. The afterguy had also been released, but so had the foreguy, and that allowed the pole — which had been eased forward not just for roll control but also to keep it out of the water if we broached in this direction — to became deeply immersed in the Bay and promptly wrap itself around a shroud. I was watching how far we went over and never actually saw the masthead touch the water, but others in the crew would later swear that it was several feet under.
he race was over for us. We still had our mast, and the spinnaker was still in one piece, but the pole was bent in half. "I just couldn't stop the rolling," the owner shook his head as we cleaned up the mess for the sail home. "Negative roll damping," said Lee.
The April 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.