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Capt. Calamity is again boatless

Brit who surfs on a catamaran is 'rescued' for the ninth time at $4,000 a pop after capsizing

Glenn Crawley wants to set the record straight after trashing his second catamaran in the last four years - flipping for the 13th time overall - in angry surf off Newquay's beaches in Cornwall, England, where rescuers have taken to calling him "Capt. Calamity."

Glenn Crawley thinks of himself as a skilled sailor who likes to 'take a few risks, have a little adventure.'

"I can be accused of being irresponsible," says Crawley, 55, whose 18-foot Dart broke up Sept. 22 off Fistral Beach. "I can be accused of being a maverick. I can't be accused of being an incompetent sailor. I'm a damned good sailor."

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a volunteer search-and-rescue service, says it has come to Crawley's rescue nine times in the last seven years - each time at an estimated cost of $4,000.

At one point, Newquay harbormaster Derek Aunger banned Crawley from sailing alone until he took a basic sailing course. Crawley took not just one but several courses and he points out that he has never called the rescue service for help. Worried onlookers ashore have.

Crawley says that neither the rescue service nor the British press, which also calls him Capt. Calamity, understands who he is or what he is doing. Crawley is a die-hard surfer. "I spent my life surfing but was taken out of the loop with a motorcycle crash that very nearly killed me," he says. That was seven years ago. Reluctant to give up a sport he took up when he was 10 years old, he segued into sailing and then returned to surfing - on a small catamaran.

Crawley says he loves the exhilaration of riding a catamaran on Newquay's notorious Cribbars - some of the biggest waves in Europe that draw surfers from all over the continent. "I'm essentially riding waves on a catamaran," he says.

In midwinter, when the winds pick up, the faces of the waves can build to 20 feet. Like other kinds of "extreme sailing," catamaran surfing can be risky. "You play the odds," Crawley says. "Most of the time you get away with it. Once in a while you get your butt kicked."

This last time he got his butt kicked, he was riding a smaller Cribbar - about 8 feet high - and rode it a little too long and a little too close to shore. The wave broke over his catamaran, Mischief, 200 to 300 yards from the beach. It broached, Crawley was tossed into the water and the current carried Mischief around a headland, depositing it in pieces in 30 feet of water. Crawley swam to shore, but the rescue service launched a personal watercraft in case he needed help.

"Because the Cribbar was so small, I think I took a few liberties," he says. "I paid the price." That would be about $3,000 for another used Dart 18. He last lost a catamaran, a Hobie 15, about four years earlier under similar circumstances.

Crawley's Dart broke up after he capsized riding a Cribbar wave a little too long and too close to shore.

Crawley, who worked as a surveyor before his accident and now sells wetsuits at a surf shop in Newquay, thinks that's a reasonable price to pay for a sport that puts a smile on his face. "I'm happy I had Mischief for four years," he says. "It's not like I'm destroying a $60,000 state-of-the-art carbon-fiber high-speed boat."

Crawley, who weighs about 170 pounds, says it's hard to right an 18-foot catamaran alone. When he struggled to right his boat after a capsize, well-intentioned observers on shore would call the rescue service. He says he has solved that problem by designing a bladder that he fills with 55 pounds of water after a capsize. Using that bladder and his own body as counterweights, he says he usually can right the catamaran in two to four minutes. "It used to take me 20 minutes," he says.

He expects to buy another small cat and be back on the water "surfing" by Christmas, the height of the Cribbar season. "We live over here in this nanny state," he says. "It tells us what we can do and what we can't do. I like to go out and take a few risks, have a little adventure."

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.