RUNNING INLETS: How Not to Fall Down and Get Hurt

Inlet 1

I’m thinking about this (again) after watching an exciting video (see below) of a sailboat wiping out trying to enter an inlet at Zumaia in northern Spain. The photo above shows a different boat entering the same inlet successfully, which should give you an idea at a glance of how hairy this can be when conditions are uncooperative.

I can’t make out what type of boat this is in the video:

Velero volcado en Zumaia from Gabi on Vimeo.

But it looks like they’re just coming back from a race. They’ve got laminated sails, a spinnaker pole poised on the foredeck, and a large crew. Presumably they’ve run the inlet many times before, judging from the cavalier disposition of the crew, which is sprawled all over the deck.

Running through breaking surf like this, there’s always a fine line between totally screwing the pooch and just having a close call. For example, that boat in the photo up top (a Beneteau Oceanis 46), did end up broaching like the one in the video in almost exactly the same spot:

Inlet 2

Inlet 3

Inlet 4

Inlet 6

But was lucky enough not to capsize. (For the full sequence of pix check out Voiles Et Voiliers.)

FYI, here’s an aerial view of the entrance:

Inlet aerial

Watching videos of successful inlet runs in breaking seas can be just as entertaining:

But don’t necessarily show you how to do it safely.

Get lucky a few times, and I’m guessing it’s easy to get complacent, particularly if you routinely have to transit an inlet like this. The winter I kept my boat Lunacy at Oyster Pond in St. Maarten, which has a sometimes surf-ridden entrance, I was amazed that the charter boats there were running in and out in conditions I considered untenable. I was thinking I was just a big chicken, but sure enough one of the boats wiped out one day coming in after the Heineken regatta. The crew was badly injured, and the boat was lost.

Bottom line: being a chicken may not be admirable, but you are less likely to get hurt. Because even when you’re very careful, these inlets can bite you.

Check out this viddy here:

Then check out the back story. The owner of this boat, a Perry 43 catamaran, was highly experienced, had run many inlets before, had even attended an inlet-running school, and waited 18 hours before making this attempt.

And yes, he was successful, but that wave he surfed in on did catch him by surprise. And if you watch again you’ll see there was one instant where he did come close to losing it.

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4 Responses
  1. Nick Kats

    Fin keel boats have no directional stability, will broach much faster than a full keel.
    Also, I wonder whether a drogue over the stern on a Y-bridle when coming in might help? Pull the hull back as the wave passes underneath, go in slow. Plus the drogue gives the boat a lot more more directional stability. With everything battened down, breaking seas sweeping the deck should be ok, in these pics anyway.

  2. Charlie

    @Nick: Yes, I think a drogue would help. Capt. Voss, of Tilikum fame, was big on using drogues to run inlets, as I recall.

    @Kevin (SailFar): Is it a Bavaria? With laminate sails? You’re not the only one now who has told me this, so it might well be true!

  3. Sole sUrchin

    Perhaps the prudent thing would have been to either stay at sea or put in elsewhere with more shelter in the approach? Reckless action by the skipper IMHO.

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