After a knockdown

The storm starts easing, and you relax a little. Just as you decide the worst is over, a rogue wave rolls you over on the beam ends. As quickly as it happened, though, it’s over. Dazed, you look around the cabin at the confusion. The boat has done her job and come back up, but what a mess around you! The lockers have emptied onto the sole, there’s a funny sound coming from the rig, and you can smell fuel. Now what? Only a few actions are urgent, so do the first things first. As a first priority, count heads. Is everyone still aboard? It’s easy to get washed overboard when the whole world turns upside down. If someone is missing, look for a tether leading overboard. He or she may be dragging alongside the boat on a too-long tether. If someone really is overboard, the missing crew is obviously your first priority. The next step is to treat any injuries. Check your crew (and yourself) carefully. A head injury, which is common in a knockdown, may not be immediately obvious. The adrenaline that is still flowing may mask injuries. Ask again after life returns to normal. Now to the boat. Is any water coming in? If the boat is flooding, turn all the electric pumps on, and then find the source. If you must choose between pumping manually and looking for the hole, look for the hole. If the flooding is from a hole of any size, you will not be able to keep up with a manual pump. A hole only one inch in diameter will overwhelm almost any pump. Find the source, stop the flooding, and then concentrate on removing the water. Is the rig still standing? If not, look at what’s left. Can you get it all up on deck? If so, that is probably the best plan. You then have more parts to jury-rig a way home. If not, cut the rig loose. (You do have bolt cutters, don’t you? And you know where they are? And they are not so rusty as to be useless?) In any sea at all, a loose mast over the side will quickly beat a hole in the hull. If the mast is still visible when you look out the companionway, start looking for rigging damage. Are any big pieces of the rig missing or bent (like the boom)? Are the sails intact? Take a quick look at the chainplates to see if they have obviously been overstressed. The rig, after all, is what exerted all that force on the hull. There is likely some damage somewhere. For now, just take a quick look to see if the rig will stand until the wind dies a bit. Do you still have steering? Run the rudder back and forth to see if the boat responds and if the steering system feels right. If there is even a hint of a problem, start thinking how to jury-rig some way of steering. Again, make just a quick inspection at this time. Some damage not obvious The immediate checks listed above should take no more than a few minutes. Then take a deep breath. Get the boat going again. When weather settles enough, check the boat more thoroughly. A knockdown strains the boat as much as it does the crew, and some of the damage will not be obvious. If the boat has a centerboard, and it was down, be sure it’s still there. The lateral forces on a keel can be high in a knockdown. Run the board up and down several times to be sure it’s not jammed. Remember that the rig and sails provided the force that knocked the boat down. Drop the sails that were up and check them carefully. There may be torn seams or stretched areas. Check the standing and running rigging closely for damage. As soon as practical, and if the mast is in good enough shape, send someone aloft to check the masthead, spreaders, etc. Are there any loose or bent fittings on the mast? Pay particular attention to the fittings on the windward side of the knockdown, since they probably experienced the highest stress levels. While someone is aloft, have the person check antennas and lights at the masthead. The stays and/or shrouds may have stretched. While you probably can’t tune the rig at sea, check the rig’s tension. Examine the end fittings on shrouds and stays. When wire is overstressed, it’s usually the end fittings that fail. Have any elongated? Has the wire been pulled out of the swage slightly? If you find any problems, replace the wireif you have spares. If you do not, leave the damaged wire in place and rig a parallel length of halyard or sheet to relieve the stress on the damaged piece. Next look at the engine and its support systems. Check the bilge for any battery acid or fuel that may be sloshing around. If the batteries dumped acid, find out how much. Will one or more be able to crank the engine? Do you have any electrical power left? If the oil level in the engine is not right, find out where the oil went. We would all hate to pump oil over the side, but at sea that may be a better solution than having it slosh up on the sole. (You do have plenty of spare oil on board, right?) Have the engine mounts moved? Look for obvious movement, such as unpainted areas that have been exposed, and twisted mounts. Engines are big, heavy chunks of iron, and mounts are not designed to support the engine when the boat is on its side. Can the prop shaft be turned by hand, with no binding? A problem may indicate that the engine has shifted significantly or that the prop is fouled. Do not run the engine if you cannot turn the prop shaft by hand. If something is seriously out of whack, you may damage the shaft log, causing further problems. Check all tanks Is there any sea water in the fuel or water tanks? Not all fuel tanks have sample sumps. If yours does not, check the water separator after the engine has run a couple of minutes. For the water tanks, just taste a sample from each tank. Check all the tanks now, so you know if you have a problem. A brief knockdown probably did not put water in the tank vents, but check anyway. As a last check, start the engine and run it under load for a while. Watch for overheating or unusual noise or vibration. If the engine has a problem, better to find it now and troubleshoot at your leisure. After shutdown, check the water separator. If possible, drain the bowl and check for water. Check the electrical systems and electronics. Was anything submerged when the boat went over? Are all circuits still operating? If breakers, connections, or motors were submerged in salt water, they will probably be okay for a while. As corrosion sets in, though, expect problems. If you can spare the water, rinse affected items in fresh water and dry them thoroughly and hope for the best. Are the running lights okay? Check the masthead lights. Do the radios (and anything else with a masthead antenna) still work? Now look for structural damage. Check the obvious things immediatelybulkheads moved or cracked, hull split, hull-deck joint open. When life settles down, empty every locker and inspect the hidden areas for tabbing damage. Pay particular attention to the areas around chainplates, which experience stresses from the rigging. Make a second check of the steering system now that you have more time. Does the rudder feel right? Is there any binding in the cables? Does the rudder still travel the same amount in each direction? Empty the cockpit lockers and crawl in to look. Remove whatever panels it takes to make a thorough inspection. Look for any loose items in the cockpit lockers that might have shifted against the cables. They may chafe the cables or block the steering system. If possible, put someone in the water to inspect the underwater hull. If the boat has a centerboard, check to see if the lateral movement (if any) is normal. Inspect the prop and rudder. If all is well, pat yourself on the back for being well prepared, and then head for home (or wherever the next port of call is). Depending on your expertise, you may want to call in a marine surveyor and/or rigger to check things again after you make port.

By Ocean Navigator