Turning Turtle

First-hand accounts of capsizes in West Wight Potters

The 14/15 and 18/19 foot West Wight Potters are noted for having exceptional stability for small centerboard boats. The hard-chine hull, with its relatively flat bottom provides high initial stability. Conservative sail area and iron centerboards also contribute to a lack of tenderness ("tippiness"). These characteristics and other aspects of the Potter designs have enabled experienced and well prepared sailors to complete some incredible ocean passages. But, as Stanley Smith, the designer of the original Potter, wrote, "Remember always that the Potter is a 14 ft, centre-board dinghy, with a cabin." He also pointed out that the Potter 14's best performance and peak of stability is achieved at about 10 degrees heel. [Ref: Stanley Smith's North Sea Sail.]

So sometimes a combination of wind and sea, inexperience or inattention, a fouled sheet, or any number of other unexpected factors can cause a Potter to reach a "point of no return" and a capsize happens. Given additional adverse factors (most notably, an unsecured centerboard and an open hatch), the Potter 15 may continue its roll until it reaches the inverted position (usually referred to as "turning turtle"), a position where the boat is once again stable but, unfortunately, almost entirely submerged.

Safe sailing requires knowledge, preparation, and thought-out procedures. The following accounts are not intended to frighten or discourage Potter sailors. Our intention is to describe what happens when a Potter turns turtle and to give Potterers information that will help them avoid such a happening. It might be reassuring to know that this writer, a self-trained and sometimes absent-minded sailor, has sailed a Potter 14 for over 30 years without capsizing, a fact I contribute largely to my awareness that capsizing is a possibility and also to my conservatism in avoiding, insofar as possible, conditions where my limits or the boat's limits could be exceeded.

Harry Gordon
P-14 #234, Manatee

P-15 Sarah Anne in Oakland Estuary, California
A P-15 Turtled in Ventura Harbor, California
P-15 in Monterey Bay, California
The overturn of Lionheart, Halifax, Nova Scotia
P-15 Tetra, Aurora, Colorado
A rare P-19 capsize in Canyon Lake, Arizona
A near-capsize of a P-19
P-19 capsize in Los Angleles Harbor