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by Dave Pierce and Greg Marston - Fairview, Oregon - USA

With an Introduction by Ken Simpson, Designer

Hi Chuck

Greg Marston, a builder of the POKE ABOUT XL, has submitted an article that is unusual, to say the least, and lived to tell the story. While out sailing with his cousin Dave in the boat, they experienced a Water Spout literally lift them out of the water! They survived without injury, and the boat survived with minimal damage.

Best regards, Ken


Hi Ken,

Messing about in small boats is something that nautical types like us seek out on a regular basis. Sometimes, a great and awesome adventure sneaks into the hours of relaxing and pure pleasure that ghosting along the shores of a small lake, trolling a line in hopes of a fish for dinner, can provide. This kind of adventure and gift of nature was given to my cousin Greg and I, Saturday, May 25th, 2013.

Greg gave me a call that Saturday morning tempting me with some sailing in his Poke About XL, as well as some fishing to boot. I grabbed my Life Jacket, soft stadium seat, a cushion, water bottle, my favorite lucky hat and my fishing gear. Of course I put my wallet and IPhone into zip lock baggies. Greg loaded up the Poke About XL, his gear and headed my way to pick me up. I have to tell you Greg’s Poke About XL has proven to be an incredibly fun and insanely stable boat.

He designed and added the 3rd rear flotation section. It makes a great seat while sailing as well as a safe dry place for storage of all the stuff you don’t want cluttering the boat. Did I mention, it seems to sail any heading we take, especially when there is no perceivable wind, explain that to me. I think there is magic in the plans.

Additional 18” Aft Module, primarily for the sailboat option.

We arrived at our local favorite lake in Fairview, Oregon. Mud Lake, also known as Fairview Lake, is about a mile long and a quarter mile wide at it’s widest. It is located next to the Columbia River at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge. Strong East and West winds are not uncommon there. The Columbia Gorge is a very large and long funnel between frequent High and Low pressures at its ends.

On this day however, winds were light and generally a bit flukey. The public dock is located on the Eastern end of the lake, along a long narrow cove. We unloaded the Poke About and carried the three sections down to the dock with our gear.

Getting ready to sail, on a normal day.

Assembled in a few minutes, mast and sail rigged, we eased her into the water off the dock. We boarded and rowed for a few minutes to get out of the cove and the wind from the east freshened slightly so I raised the Lug Sail rig with Greg on the tiller guiding us on along the Northern shore. Ahhhh the joys of Ghosting near shore. Broken clouds and some sun greeted us, warm and welcoming. We were now on boat time which of course means that what seems like half and hour ends up being 3 hours. We rigged our fishing gear and commenced to troll while sailing. The winds shifted to a flukey and shifting South Southwest light breeze. Sometimes more South and then it would shift almost due West. So we sailed sometimes tacking and sometimes on a broad reach towards the west end of the lake where the outlet and Dam is. Long about 3:30 or 4pm we were finally at the west end. A lovely day even if the fish weren't biting. After all, we were in a small boat messing about under sail. Life is good. Not much makes me happier. We passed the Dam, close enough to check the water spilling over the boards and the channel beyond that empties into the Columbia River. Now this is how the leisurely boating experience can change in a few moments into an experience that is a first hand demonstration of the unpredictably of nature and it’s awesomeness, and it’s ability to demonstrate how we only think that we are in control.

Under sail, with light winds.

Greg heard a rustling and then a real rattling wind in the tall Poplars off our starboard and stern. I was daydreaming in the warm sun when my first sign of things changing was the rushing sound of a suddenly present bow wake. Our speed was building quickly. Greg was giving slack on the main sheet and keeping us headed East, North East. The following events happened in less than 60 seconds. Our speed built quickly even though Greg kept slacking the main sheet. The boat went through 3 knots, then 5 and through 10 knots. The bow wave was really building and beginning to look like it might bury. The noise was increasing and Greg shouted for me to come back to the back of the boat in hopes the bow would stop plowing. I moved back halfway and looked back to see Greg already leaning over the Stern of the boat and hanging on. He told me to come all the way aft. I moved back to the transom, hanging on as the speed continued to build. Greg was really having to work the tiller now to maintain control. I think by then we were beyond 15 knots.

The bow was still being pushed down hard, but we were not taking any water yet. I remember a huge bow wave and a very loud rushing sound. The remaining part of this story happens in less than 10 seconds. The boat started listing to the starboard, the port chine came out of the water. I went for the high side and shouted to Greg to do the same. With me hanging over the port side and Greg scrambling the same direction the Port side kept coming up. The main sheet was slack and the sail was now spun completely around in front of us. We could see waves around us a foot and a half high, peaked from both sides, droplets dancing and spinning. I looked up and finally knew what was going on. Debris was spinning around wildly above us. We were near the center of a Waterspout that was moving across the lake. I looked out at the lake and estimated the distance to the edge of the Waterspout was at least a 75 foot radius, 150 foot diameter. As the center caught up with us, the boat literally stood up on it’s Starboard side, WITHOUT taking water over the gunnel. The 8 inch quarter turn deck plate on the center floatation compartment blew out from the pressure differential. We were being held up off the lake and then were spun suddenly, pivoting clockwise around the bow of the boat through about 120 degrees and then instantly released. Silence, and then Greg and I found ourselves in the lake with our life jackets floating conveniently nearby. That’s right, we weren’t wearing them. The Waterspout was gone. We looked at each other and then started laughing uncontrollably.

All sail elements in place, daggerboard down, ready to cast off.

The lake is only about 7 or 8 feet deep and luckily the water wasn’t to bad as far as temperature, around 55 degrees, if I remember what the then submerged thermometer was showing. After we finished laughing the mast finally stuck in the bottom. Somehow both of us were loosely tangled in some of the rigging. We quickly untangled ourselves and went to work. Greg went to the stern and I went to the bottom side to right the boat. I put some weight on the dagger board and I could feel the mast starting to come up. She moved slowly till the mast cleared water and then she quickly came upright and settled a bit bow low. I moved aft and steadied while Greg climbed over the stern. With that extra 3rd section on the boat, and our weight in the back, the gunnels cleared water and Greg bailed out about 2/3 of what was in the boat. He grabbed the oars and rowed towards shore with me comfortably hanging on the stern, occasionally if within reach, tossing things into the boat as we passed them. We got to the shore, dumped the remaining water and gathered our gear. We were laughing a lot, after all that was one amazing and very cool experience!!!!

Another boater thankfully came by and gathered some more of our floating things still out in the lake and brought them to us. We got ourselves squared away relaunched the boat, had a very nice sail back to the dock and then loaded up and headed soggily home.

The hull modules nested and loaded in the truck bed.

What we learned from this:

Nature is bigger and more powerful than us.

She steps in when she wants too and doesn’t have to be invited. You never really know what might be coming at you next.

We were very fortunate that the Waterspout was not more powerful and that it didn’t last any longer than it did.

We will be wearing our life jackets now while in the boat.

I’m glad both of us are good swimmers. Note to others if you don’t swim, learn how.

To put my IPhone back into the zip-lock baggie after I’ve sent a text message (it got very wet). Greg’s phone was dry in his zip-lock baggie.

To use Croakies on my glasses which are now on the bottom of the lake.

That this was a really fun, exciting and a once in a lifetime experience and was totally worth losing glasses and a wet IPhone!!!

There’s nothing better than messing about in small boats.

About the Boat:

The Poke About XL performed admirably and she took care of us, kept us safe.

The watertight compartments were dry with the exception of the one that had the 8 inch quarter turn deckplate that jettisoned itself.

Having sealed floatation compartments are necessary. The boat floated well and high in the water.

She is one tough boat. I did some quick math and for the bow to be pushed down within about 2 inches of the surface of the lake with Greg and I in the stern, (total poundage for us about 380 pounds) would amount to nearly 1000 pounds of force on the bow including the force of displacement. (Ken maybe you can do a better estimate here of the force on the bow.)

She survived the tug of war between Aeolus and Neptune, gods of Wind and Water without damage of any kind, including the Poly Tarp sail.

The winds were probably in the neighborhood of 50 or 60 mph, possibly higher if you take into account we were plowing through the water at high speeds with the wind at our back. A very, very impressive bow wake.

We crossed over 200 yards in less than 30 seconds which averages out to over 13 knots. I believe at one point we were pushing 20 knots.

She was a handful at the tiller but Greg managed her skillfully and said later she felt very solid and in control.

She righted easily and was reasonably stable with water in her, allowing Greg to feel secure and to row ashore.

She kept us safe and she took us home. :-)

Perhaps we should paint a small twister near the bow, a symbolic kill mark for the victory of surviving an encounter with a Waterspout.

So, thanks Ken for designing an awesome boat that can even sail in a Water Spout!!!

I just have to wonder what our next Adventure might be like.

Dave Pierce and Greg Marston  :-)

The Poke About XL - 3 Module Layout

Addendum, by Ken Simpson

The experience of Dave and Greg was not part of the original concept for the Poke About XL. But it does go to show that a well constructed boat can endure unimaginable trauma and survive. The sail rig was an original design adaptation by Greg Marston, and because of his forethought and craftsmanship the rig allowed them to manage the forces of nature, and come out the better for it. The primary lesson learned was to always wear a personal flotation device, because you never know what may be in store for you in just the next few minutes.

I am pleased that this story ended so well, and equally pleased that one of my designs passed this unique test of endurance. The fact that Greg and Dave are able to look back and laugh at the experience is a testament to their strong will and perseverance. May you all be so lucky!

Ken Simpson

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