“Quite a few of us had never done one before, and we had to wait until we were on a Chinese boat to do it…” Yann Riou exclaimed.
It had been on the cards – Yann tweeted direct from the boat a few hours before, at the start of a very dark night – “30 knots of wind, very dark, shifty, gusts. Very difficult to drive now.. ”
When you scream down the face of a wave in the pitch black, with only the blurred glow of the wind instruments to guide the helmsman along with his ‘feel’ and the apparent wind on the back of his head, its very easy to steer the boat just that bit too low and go in to an involuntary gybe – this kind of ‘crash’ can happen very quickly, but take a long time to sort out!
Yann continues “Anyway. Pitch black night, boat ends up heeled on its side, and took two to three hours to put everything in order again. About 300 litres of water inside the boat via the aft air vent, then via my bunk, my sleeping bag and finally the entire boat. I’ve filmed a bit but it was really dark so no idea what the result of it will be like. At least a GoPro and a camera dead, as far as I am concerned.
I’ll film a bit outside now, it’s incredible conditions. Then I’ll go to sleep. Haven’t slept more than 2 hours these past 24 hours. I’m exhausted.”
A “Chinese gybe” in this context is a gybe caused when a boat rolls excessively to windward (usually when running downwind), causing an unexpected and uncontrolled crash gybe. The boat then gets pinned down with everything on the wrong side – boom, headsail, swinging keel – it takes some time to release and reset everything to bring her back upright. And then the inside of the boat takes a long time to clear up and dry out in this case!
With what was the windward air vent open, once the boat was pinned down on the wrong side, the water will have come straight in to the boat. There are dinghy style hatch covers that can be screwed in place – but equally they are there to let the air in to the fresh air starved interior of the boat, and its not often that you expect the windward side of the boat to be under the water in this way. We suspect some other damage has been done as the boat since has been sailing higher than expected, so they may have needed to change sails – or simply sail a bit more conservatively than before. More news to come once Yann and the guys are back on track from this ‘little’ Southern Ocean classic moment…a quick tweet from Yann confirmed a few hours after the mishap “Nothing broken but a lot energy and time lost”.
First Chinese gybe for the Chinese too!
And why is it called a Chinese gybe?
According to Kemp in Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea (1976), 166: ‘It is so called because of its prevalence with the Chinese junk rig with its light bamboo battens and no boom to hold the foot of the mainsail steady.’
So Just What is a Chinese Gybe?
A Chinese Gybe or Death Roll is an accidental, uncontrolled gybe when a boat rolls excessively to windward (usually when running downwind), in which the boom goes to the lee side, but the upper part of the sail does not, putting the spinnaker pole in the water and causing a crash-gybe of the boom and mainsail.
Chinese gybes are usually caused in the following situation:
• Sailing dead downwind or very close to it.
• Not enough vang on the Mainsail, causing it to twist a lot and creating a sideways force.
• Spinnaker too loosely sheeted and not “strapped down”, allowing it to sway from one side to the other
• Often gusty conditions
• Waves can also help trigger the death roll movements
How to avoid Chinese gybes:
• Bring on the Vang of the Main very tight. Note: This is different from when trying to avoid a broach when sailing on a reach, then you actually release the vang to ease power/pressure from the main.
• Steer up a bit avoiding the dead downwind course during temporary wind gusts, temporary set of waves or if sail trim hasn’t been adjusted yet.
• Spinnaker pole strapped down using the kicker lines to further help control the movement of the kite.
• Once the rolling starts, counter intuitively, steer in the direction of the roll.
And in heavier winds:
• Keep both tweekers on maximum
• Keep spinnaker sheeted on to prevent the spinnaker flying too far from the bow of the boat where it likely to shift from one side to the other.
• Or let the Spinnaker pole forward a few feet more than you would have in calmer downwind conditions.
• Consider reefing, use a smaller spinnaker or just white sails.
If the Chinese Gybe still happens what to do?
• Hang on to the boat for dear life! Keep low to avoid the crashing boom, mainsheet and main traveller.
• Once the boat has gybed and is down on its side the priority is to get the boat upright again and the best way to achieve this is to depower the spinnaker by releasing the spinnaker halyard while keeping the sheets and brace still on enabling the crew to get the sail in.
• Rescue any crew overboard by following the man overboard procedure.