Staying upright when ama fails

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Staying upright when ama fails

Post by Alm »

Looking at my BSD amas skipping over white caps of not too warm Baja waters in winter, with heavy wind blowing and no accessible shores in view, I was questioning my own sanity. These thin inflatable bladders are the only thing keeping me from capsizing in 30-knots wind. What happens if leeward ama suddenly fails?

So, finishing the route one day ahead of schedule, I had a time and opportunity to test this. Coronado Island near Loreto had relatively warm and sheltered bay, and I had nothing else to do.

Test conditions:
The boat was K1, sail - 32 sf BSD. I deflated one ama, leaving it hanging on the "stick" (aka), loaded K1 with roughly 50 lbs of gear + 150 lbs of me, hoisted the sail, and began the testing. Wind conditions were too benign: 30-knots wind blowing for 2 days turned into a light 5-7 knots breeze on the testing day. In real life, capsizing due to failed ama in a weather like this is next to impossible, but this was the weather that I had. Once again - I was testing the possibility of capsizing when leeward ama fails, i.e. when wind blows from the other side. Disabled windward ama does not affect the balance, naturally.

My findings:
1) With the sail powered, in a light breeze K1 leans to the disabled leeward side, but doesn't capsize without my help.

2) Stability increases when I let the sail out, so this is the first thing to do in accident (and probably any sailor will do this automatically, this is almost instinctive reaction of a scared person).

3) If leeboard is on the disabled side, stability increases with the leeboard lowered (BSD leeboard is heavy, so center of mass becomes lower). If leeboard is not on the disabled side, - I don't know whether one should lower or lift it.

4) If I don't let the sail out and keep on sailing with deflated ama, the bare tube is "plowing" the water, reducing the stability, so the tube with failed ama should be carefully removed ASAP and stowed on the deck (because of seasock and tons of gear on multiday trip I doubt that could stow it under deck). I'm saying "ASAP" rather than "immediately", see par. 6 why.

5) When I lean my torso to the disabled side, the boat leans and will eventually flip over - of course. Even without sail on a tall mast K1 will flip over if you lean to one side too much. It's hard to tell how much wind or stupid torso movements or sudden broaching wave it will take to flip it over. I leaned to a degree when the cockpit coaming was on the edge, and the boat was not at the tipping point yet - it immediately regained the equilibrium as soon as I righted the torso up again. This boat has impressive primary stability. Heavily loaded, K1 will be more stabile than in my testing.

6) It is possible to remove the failed ama with its 4 ft long tube section, but this requires leaning to this disabled side to reach the connecting pin, so... This brings us to paragraph 7 - deploying a temporary stabilizer.

7) I tried to use a spare ama (stored deflated on the deck) as a "Sea Wing" - attaching it to the perimeter loops next to the cockpit as a quick fix. Hmm... It took me 90 seconds to inflate it by mouth and clip it to perimeter loops, but this didn't work. Wrong shape, wrong location of loops on the ama. I would imagine using spare ama for this purpose with some fabric shell and loops/straps sewn to it, so it would better align to the board. I wonder if anybody tried FC Sea Wings - this is what they are made for, a temporary "crutch" attached next to the cockpit. I saw an article on using FC Sea Wings, I think on Watertribe, but can't find it anymore. With a Sea Wing attached, I can either continue sailing at low speed, or will replace the failed ama with a spare one and continue a normal sailing.

Overall results of the testing were reassuring. Flimsy-looking inflatable bladders did not endanger my life as much as I thought they would.

John Monroe

Re: Staying upright when ama fails

Post by John Monroe »

Hi Alex,

I see you try to anticipate all that could go wrong ahead of time. A good book to read is “Sea-Kayaker, Deep Trouble” by Matt Broze and George Glonseth that shares the true stories and lessons of other kayakers that have been in life threatening situations. I would think a sea anchor is an addition I may add for my overall safety.

Also in the book “Arctic Crossing” by Johathan Waterman,,, who has a Balough sail and pontoons similar to yours…was sailing in the Arctic without his pontoons on when he capsized near shore. What was he thinking? I believe he said if he had been 50 feet farther from shore he wouldn’t have made it because of hypothermia setting in so fast.

But the book Deep Trouble helps to anticipate problems you may not have even thought of.

Testing the flooded kayak reintry concept. This works on my 28" wide kayak but didn't on my 21" wide kayak. So the extra width leverage is the differents I guess.






Re: Staying upright when ama fails

Post by Alm »

John Waterman capsized in Klepper AEII with 24ft or 28 ft BSD sail. He had outriggers but decided not to install it for the day, as the wind seemed to be low and he wanted to go faster (isn't it what every sailor wants?). The the gust of wind hit him when he rounded the point. He always sailed/paddled no farther than 50 ft offshore in Arctic, as this was the distance he could cover swimming/walking before his limbs lock and heart stops in icy waters (even though he wore a drysuit). Overall, not too useful book to learn about wilderness trip planning and preparedness - it's more about nature impressions, culture etc.

I hope my chances to capsize will be lower than John's (even though my boat is narrow) - I will not attempt to sail if ama fails, and instead will let the sail out completely. In heavy winds I'm checking both amas visually every few seconds, just to make sure that they are not pressed into water too much (this would signal that the boat is "overpowered" and I should reef the sail or let it out a little bit). Deflation of ama won't happen as fast as a lightning strike - it will take a few seconds or longer. Thanks God, Baja waters are MUCH warmer than Arctic. I will check the "Deep Trouble" book, - thanks.

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Re: Staying upright when ama fails

Post by krudave »

Deep Trouble is a good book, for sure. I bet Alex, as salty as he is, has learned most of its lessons, already.

Good testing of the amas, and an example we all might follow. I would also be very nervous at speed offshore with a loaded boat, watching those babies like a hawk!

Alex, your report might be worthwhile to spread farther. OK if I link to it from Paddlewise?
Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR
Folbot Kodiak, Cooper, and Edisto; three hardshells; Mothership: Surf Scoter the Bartender; dinghy Little Blue Duck.


Re: Staying upright when ama fails

Post by Alm »

Dave, sure you may link it to Paddlewise - though those are mostly paddling dudes, by far more proficient in this sport than me. They are usually less interested in kayak sailing, not to mention - sailing with outriggers.

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