What’s happening in the image of Red Bull ‘going down the mine’ during the Extreme Sailing Series in Cardiff 2015? Larsen offers tips and advice on the best way to avoid a pitchpole.

I can see the boat has a reef in and the daggerboards slightly raised, so it is obviously windy. Judging by the lazy sheet, the gennaker is still furled so I assume they are on a close or beam reach. They probably/typically have the apparent wind well forward and would ideally be sailing with the windward hull just skimming.

Although the rudders are no longer in the water, the helmsman is trying to head up, which means he sees his get-out as being into the wind rather than bearing away. This would also suggest a beam reach rather than a deep downwind angle where bearing away from the wind might be the safest get-out.

The crew is either right at the back of the boat and/or very well braced for this scenario. Those on the critical controls are locked in so they can still operate even with the sudden accelerations that come with such a dynamic motion.

The helmsman is braced and, although he has no rudder control, he needs to be prepared for if/when it all comes back down. The crewmember in front of the helmsman will be responsible for easing the traveller. He looks to be in good control as is the guy next to him.

Larsen’s advice on how to recover

The process of depowering the boat in a situation like this is dependent on many factors because changes happen quickly. Everyone should be aware of what the get-outs are beforehand to ensure they know what their responsibility is.

When any boat with vertical rudders starts to roll, the rudders become inclined as the force they generate also becomes inclined. There are times when a quick, short jab of the helm to turn into the wind can help pop the nose back up. Conversely, heeling hard and trying to bear away around a mark is a recipe for a classic nosedive.

Assuming they have nosedived while fairly level, they will have gone in fast and, at this angle the boat will decelerate quickly. Blowing whatever headsails are up is a priority. Also, as the boat slows, the apparent wind angle moves rapidly aft. This can be handy in stalling the main and, without any jib set, this will happen quicker and with greater effect.

If the trimmers sense she is about to go ‘down the mine’, easing the traveller will soften the power of the main. If a gust hits to initiate it, then the helmsman should – room permitting – either head up or bear away a little depending on the true wind angle and best get-out.

If the bows go down, blow the headsails and ease the traveller, especially if your get-out is to head up. If your get-out is to bear away, then there is a strong case for leaving the mainsail in the middle and just blowing the headsails. The reasoning is that when the apparent wind swings aft, by easing the mainsail you are just trimming the sails in a way that will power the boat all the way over – it opens up the top of the sail where the most leverage is.

So, let’s say all the weight is aft, you’ve blown the headsails, kept the main in and slowed the nosedive so the boat is now teetering on its bows. The nosedive has stopped and the second stage of the potential capsize is imminent and the apparent wind has moved abaft the beam.

What usually happens now is the boat begins to roll over to leeward. Now is the time to attempt to depower the mainsail as much as possible and shift all crew weight to the high side.

These guys look to me to be doing fine. The three guys further aft are braced, still on the controls and watching events unfold. The helm is to windward, the jibs blown and the traveller is going down the track. The other two are at the back and hanging on. I believe they saved it.

Interview by Sue Pelling

Key points

  • Blow the headsail. This is a priority. It will help to stall the main as the apparent wind goes aft.
  • Keep the main in initially, but ease the traveller if you sense she is going down the mine.
  • Shift crew weight aft to help avoid a potential pitchpole.
  • Assess the situation and dump the main if she starts to roll to leeward.

Paul Larsen

PAUL LARSEN is officially the world’s fastest sailor. In 2012 he broke the world speed sailing record on Vestas Sailrocket 2 (65.45kts), and is currently designing Sailrocket 3 for offshore records. Larsen (46) has clocked up over 120,000 miles including two circumnavigations and eight transatlantics. He races MOD70 Team Concise and A-class cat Exploder.