March / April 2024

A Cautionary Saga

A capsize sparks a re-evaluation of keelbolts
A Nordic Folkboat


In 2017, SAGA, a Nordic Folkboat launched in 1951, capsized and nearly sank (inset) during a class regatta in Flensburg Fjord, on the border between Germany and Denmark. After the 25’ boat was recovered by a German search and rescue boat and towed to shore for haulout, the cause of the incident was clear: corroded keelbolts had failed and her cast-iron ballast went to the bottom.

On a fair but chilly Sunday in September 2017, Vincent Regenhardt piloted his Nordic Folkboat, SAGA, out of a marina and into the Flensburg Fjord, a 16-nautical-mile inlet straddling the border of Germany and Denmark, for a race. The wind had been building, but Vincent was fully confident in his boat’s seaworthiness, and he had been sailing SAGA all his life. “A Folkboat cannot capsize,” he told his crew.

The three sailors were as exhilarated as always when SAGA heeled to the breeze as she sailed close-hauled at the start. On the day’s final leg, they were again close-hauled when she heeled alarmingly to port, putting the gunwale under water; in quick succession, before they knew what was happening, the cockpit flooded, she downflooded through the open companionway, and the mast and sails hit the water.

Vincent had struggled to prevent a full capsize, but he quickly realized that all he and his crew could do was stay clear. They were in the water but buoyed by their life vests. A sailing yacht close by came to their assistance, lashing fenders to SAGA’s masthead to prevent her from turning turtle. A rescue crew, responding to Mayday calls, took the crew to the Danish shore for transfer to a hospital to be checked for injury or hypothermia.

After they were discharged later, three fellow Folkboat racers from the regatta drove them back to the host marina, where they had a surprise for Vincent: there was SAGA, hauled out by a boat crane. The reason for her capsize was immediately obvious: SAGA’s one-ton cast-iron ballast keel was gone.

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