If You Huli, by Jamie Brown

Since there is no manual or safety video on how to right a sailing canoe, I thought it would be helpful to share how we righted Noio, and the lessons we learned. I think it would be a good idea to share this with sailing canoe crews and escort boat drivers so they have some idea of what to expect if a boat huli’s.

We were 11-12 miles out from Haleiwa, and the wind had just kicked in – probably 12-18. Direction was NE, so fairly abeam compared to the later part of the channel. The wind chop had just kicked up to probably 4-6 feet. We had one (light) person on the tramp sheeting. We got hit by a big gust, heeled over, buried the safety ama and were hit by a big sideways wind chop. The boom hit the water, wind got under the main trampoline and over we went.

We nearly righted Noio by ourselves before the escort boat arrived, but we hadn’t spun the boat around enough (see step 4 below). The escort boat helped us spin the boat and helped us pull the righting line. Once we righted and got our act together, we finished the race. The whole process took a little over an hour, and we expended a lot of unnecessary energy with extra swimming. If we knew what we know now, we could have righted the boat by ourselves in much less time, and with much less effort.

Here are the steps that worked for us:

1.      Check that everyone is accounted for and is OK.

2.      Get all gear and paddles stowed in the boat. You need all 6 paddlers with free hands, and all your gear secured so it doesn’t float away either before or after the righting. Get your gear off the trampolines and in the hull (gear on the tramp will make righting harder).

 3.      Make sure the mainsheet is un-cleated and eased all the way out. You don’t want the underwater sail impeding the righting process.

 4.      Spin the boat so that the main ama is on the windward side, perpendicular to the wind. In retrospect this is the most important and hardest step of all. When you huli, the boat has the main ama on the downwind side, so the boat must be spun 180 degrees to get the main ama on the windward side. It was really hard to swim the boat’s nose through the wind. It would really help for at least one person to have swim fins. We had the escort boat pull the nose of the canoe counter-clockwise as if we were gybing. I’m not sure if it matters which way you rotate the boat – clockwise or counter clockwise. We took our tow line, tied it to our bow and gave it to the escort boat. You need to tell the escort boat driver to slowly pull the boat in a circular fashion, ideally would be to have the towline perpendicular to the boat.

5.      Tie the righting line in the middle of the main ama. We tied a bowline in the end of the tow line and ran the line around the ama and through the bowline, so as the line was pulled, it tightened on the ama, and lessoned the chance that the line would slide from the middle of the ama. I would consider using both ends of the tow line to create 2 righting lines.

6.      Run the righting line over the boat and to the safety ama. If you don’t have an escort boat, do this before you spin the boat. That way as soon as the boat is positioned correctly, you can right it.

 7.      Right the boat by standing on the safety ama and pulling the righting rope. It didn’t take much to get the boat fully righted once the main trampoline caught the wind. Without an escort boat, all 6 paddlers need to stand on the ama and pull on the righting line. In our case, we nearly got Noio righted by ourselves, but we had not spun the boat completely so the main ama was perpendicular to the wind, and when the main ama came up, a wave hit us and spun us the wrong way. We got the job done by having the escort boat pull the righting line (after having spun the boat). The escort boat did NOT have to pull very hard, because as soon as the main ama came up, the main trampoline caught the wind and the boat righted quickly.

 Lessons learned:

 1.      If the wind is building, anticipate and get a second person on the tramp sooner rather than later. I didn’t make that call soon enough, and that caused the huli. Noio is particularly susceptible to a huli because she has very short iakos, plus we had a light sheeter. So when we got a big gust, we didn’t have enough righting moment.

2.      Stow everything after the huli. You need all 6 paddlers with free hands to rotate the boat and pull on the righting line. Once the boat is righted, it starts drifting fast, and it will be nearly impossible to chase lose gear. For us, stowing gear in the hull seemed to be the best place.

 3.      Bring swim fins, mask and snorkel. Spinning the boat was the hardest part. Having a strong swimmer with fins on would make this much easier. Alternatively, I think having 3 paddlers at each end (with nothing in their hands) swimming in opposite directions would work. The mask and snorkel are if you need to dive under the boat to get loose gear, or untie gear from the trampolines, or cut rigging line if you have to ditch the rig.

 4.      Make sure everyone stays close to the boat, especially as you right it. As soon as the boat is righted, it will start drifting really fast – faster than someone can swim. Make sure everyone is holding a line attached the boat BEFORE you right the boat. A second righting line would give more line for the crew to hold and make righting easier.

5.      Foam hoops. The huge amount of extra floatation from our 6 large styrofoam hoops helped the boat right easily and come up nearly dry.

 6.      Talk through the process BEFORE you go sailing. Talk to your crew on land about what to do in the unlikely event of a huli. In our case, we didn’t have a plan, so we had to make it up. Let everyone know where the safety equipment is located – rigging knife, VHF, flares, life jackets, etc. Establish a chain of command – you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen in the event of a huli or an emergency.

7.      Immediately after the huli, huddle crew together and talk through the plan. We were fortunate that no one panicked and our crew trusted that I knew what I was doing.

 These Tips will be added to the safety page.

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