30 March, 2009

Man Over Board

Man over board - The cry that every sailor hopes he never hears. Well it came on Saturday when I was sailing in a race in Batemans Bay on a racing yacht. I am the pit man controlling the halyards and lines as well as the sheets for the genoa. We have a large fellow on the foredeck who invited along two young fellows for a trial sail. In the marina we fitted the inflatable life jackets and instructed then on their use and why even young fellows should wear them for the duration of the race.
After a good start, a beat to the windward mark, a run down wind. We did have an unexpected jibe rounding the mark but nothing serious happened. We set off for the windward mark again and rounded that in third spot ahead of most of the fleet. The waves had risen and the wind increased to slightly more than 20 knots. Up went the spinnaker with out problems and the crew took up their positions. One youngster was asked to sit on the boom to hold it out!
With little warning we were running by the lee and the boat came over to weather with the boom jibing across the boat. The fellow had nowhere to go but follow the boom. He was projected into the water with a smart hit on the head as a passing shot. The bowman and myself got the spinnaker down and started to sort out the spinnaker pole. We were sailing away from our crew in the water. The skipper was flapping about with the mainsheet trimmer to get the boarding ladder out of an underfloor locker while the youngster inflated his life jacket and started to wave at us.
After a bit of shouting to steer the boat towards the crew and leave the ladder we tacked and started to sail towards the fellow in the water. By this time another yacht was in the vicinity.
We threw the youngster a line and with one mighty heave his friend and I lifted him out of the water, over the lifelines and into the cabin top. A Saturn rocket would have been proud of his trajectory. A relieved crewman found the situation funny rather than serious and we continued on with the race finishing third - not dropping a single place as a result of the incident.
There were many lessons learnt from that situation - the most important is that the skipper should continue to steer the vessel to the overboard crew and not worry about unnecessary things that other on the boat are capable of handling.
My worry over the incident is that I don't have total recall of every second of the event. I have snapshots of sections but I can not run through in my mind the exact sequence of events in any clear detail. Many things just happened and I am sure I was concentrating on doing those that were important to me but to review the whole incident is difficult. I am sure adrenalin has something to do with it. Age may also play a part.
We live to sail again and hopefully a little wiser and much more careful.

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