Tipping over in small sailboats is always undesirable, but, if the boat does not turn entirely upside down (turn turtle), the situation often can be remedied by quickly climbing over the side, standing on the centerboard or daggerboard, gripping the gunwale, and leaning backwards. This generally rights the boat, after which, taking down the sail and bailing vigorously, usually makes it possible to resume sailing.
If the boat turns turtle, a much more serious set of problems quickly can arise. For one thing, everything loose in the boat tends to fall out of the boat and, if they can't float, to the bottom of the body of water on which you are sailing. Several years ago, I was sailing a Snipe in Burnham Park Harbor in Chicago, and a vortex gust coming around one comer of the McCormick Place Exhibition Center tipped me over. I had my wallet, spectacles, and other things in a covered cookie can that was designed to be lashed to the boat, but had not had the presence of mind to secure the tether. Everything went irretrievably to the harbor's bottom.
Because the Snipe had a wooden mast, I was very much surprised that it turned upside down. I had assumed that a wooden mast would float enough to prevent the boat in which it was stepped from turning turtle. What happened was that wind blowing on the bottom of the Snipe caused the boat to drift to leeward, water caught in the sail, and the turtle turn occurred. The experience freed me of the delusion that a safety factor lay in a wooden mast.
Another experience that I had turning turtle occurred in a Flying Junior (FJ) that I purchased some years ago. The FJ is a 13' sloop originally designed as a trainer for teachng people how to sail the Olympic class Flying Scott. It has an aluminum mast. Because of its exceptional ease of sailing and seaworthiness, it became a class in itself, and the mainstay of many college, university, and other sailing clubs. I have had many fine sails with the FJ in the Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence River.
However, on one windy day, when I was sailing alone through a channel between two large islands out into the eastern end of Lake Ontario, during a tack, the mainsheet fouled on its swivel pulley/clamcleat fitting, and I tipped over. Almost immediately, the FJ turned upside down. While this situation might have posed an interesting challenge had I been in my teens, I was in my late 60s, and simply did not have the strength to right the boat or otherwise cope with all of the problems.
Fortunately, there were a number of people picnicking on a dock on one of the islands, several of them noticed my predicament, and they came out in a power boat to rescue me. They towed the boat and me back to the dock, introduced themselves as members of the Kingston, Ontario, Yacht Club, and proceeded to right, and baif out, the FJ. On noticing that the flotation chambers had not been adequately corked and were flooded, they emphatically observed that I was sailing an unsafe boat, a criticism that was fully justified. The next day I changed the mainsheet pulley so that it would not swivel 360 degrees and foul the sheet, and solidly plugged the flotation chamber drain holes.
These experiences turning turtle made me thoughtful about how to prevent small sailboats from doing so. In looking through a catalog distributed by Murrays, a California company that sells catamaran, windsurfing, and other kinds of sports gear, I noticed masthead floats that could be attached to the tops of catamaran masts. These were important safety devices. Once it has turned turtle, a catamaran can be much more difficult to right than a monolmll. The floats were made of molded plastic, teardrop shaped, and were of two kinds. A large version was mounted on ball bearings and had a fin at one end that would keep it pointed into the wind. The smaller float was simply streamlined, and did not rotate. In studying the floats more, I noticed that they were rather heavy, weighing several pounds, and somewhat expensive. While they might have been ideal for catamarans, they probably were too heavy for the small monohulls that I sailed.
Therefore, I set about to design and build a masthead float suitable for my boats. The main body of the float consisted of two 1.5 gallon bleach bottles. I then made a 3/4" square oak piece whose length was the same as the diameter of the bottles, and down the center of the piece drilled a 5/16" hole. I had noticed in a boat equipment catalog that it was possible to purchase small ball bearings that would not rust and had purchased two of these that were 3/4" in diameterand acconnnodated a I/ 4" shaft (thermoplastic ball bearings with glass balls, available front McMaster-Carr Supply Cornpany). I then drilled Out the ends of the oak piece to accept the hearings with a snug fit. Next, I fitted a 1/4" stai niess steel rod about 30" long through the bearings. I held the rod in place with stainless steel collars secured with Allen head setscrews.
After removing the rod, I made two nearly half-circular pieces of wood, which, when epoxied to the oak piece, made a disk with the same diameter as the bottles. For strength, I thickened the West System epoxy with silica powder. Using epoxy thickened in the same way, I then cemented the flat ends of the bottles to the disk. Next, I made an aluminum fin and epoxied it to the end of one bottle. This gave me a float that would turn and point into the wind.
Calculations indicated that, since such a float would displace about three gallons of water, it should produce a buoyancy of approximately 25lbs. It seemed to me that this should prevent the masthead from sinking. However, it also was apparent that, once the boat had tipped over, the shock of the float hitting the water easily could break the epoxy glue, and the bottles would float free. Therefore, I lashed the bottles and wooden parts together with nylon string. Even if the float disintegrated, its major parts still should produce buoyancy. I drilled two holes in the free end of the stainless steel rod and screwed the rod along the top of the FJ mast.
This float is much lighter than the commercial catamaran floats, and cost only a few dollars; the main expense being the ball bearings. I have used it for several years, and have not noticed that it significantly affects the way in which the FJ sails. I have not tipped over with it since it was on the boat, but have rea-son to believe that it will prevent the boat from turning turtle.
After the second summer of use, the bottles broke away from the epoxy securing them to the disk. My guess is that the plastic of the bottles constantly flexed slightly and gradually pulled loose. I then reattached the bottles using clear 100% silicone sealant. Since the silicone is flexible, I expect that the bottles won't pull loose again. However, were I to make another float, I still would begin with silica-thickened epoxy as the material with which to cement the bottles to the wooden disk. The thickened epoxy, although it did not last indefinitely, did create seats into which the bottle bottoms fitted snugly. This made the silicone hold better when it eventually was used as the adhesive.