I just read about the loss of Jan Anderson, of Triple Stars
was washed overboard
on 185 miles northwest of Bermuda
last month, during a rough NARC and it gives me pause:
Latitude 38 - 'Lectronic Latitude
First, I feel deeply for her husband, and her family
and friends. The loss of any sailor reminds all of us of the deep bond we share as sailors - no matter our age, craft or circumstances.
We are all equals before the sea.
Second, each time something like this happens, I think we all are shocked - and think...
What if it had been my wife?
My best friend?
....and when we are alone out there:
What if it were me?
Then there follows a series of questions:
Could this have been prevented?
Did the skipper
do everything he was able to do to recover the victim?
...and these questions give us pause.
Often, I hear fatalism:
"When it's your time, its your time"
"The sea can overpower the most well found craft"
"She should have had a harness on"
"What about a PLB?"
But like any death, there always seems to be a certain absurdity to it - a senselessness, mocking rational inquiries, making them irrelevant.
Still, rational solutions beckon:
Early in my singlehanded preparations, an experienced singlehanded transpac veteran was lost
out on Santa Monica Bay right where I was training:
Irell & Manella LLP: Thomas A. Kirschbaum, In Memoriam
I remember the day well - I'd decided to stay in port - a spring gale was raging, with 45 knot
winds. I certainly didn't have the proper sails
or experience to challenge such conditions at the time, and so I marveled at the show of power nature put on.
I visited the wreckage of Tom Kirchbaum's boat the day after the gale.
And it was a fine boat - meticulously kept and prepared.
Nothing out of place: Jacklines
rigged, mainsl reefed, everything shipshape.
...and he was returning from Catalina Island
- a passage
of about 35 miles that I'd completed the previous summer in calm weather
and he'd died on that same, familiar passage
Then, a few months later, another solo sailor died in the same area:
Easy Reader News – Unmanned sailboat washes up by RB pier - Easy Reader News
I was trained as a creative problem solver.
I was an Architect, and for the past 12 years, I've taught a variety of architectural design and technical courses to college students.
I'm now retired.
The basic premise of all design is that you must research
, and then abandon baseless preconceptions and formulate good questions if you are to develop appropriate solutions to a given problem.
When I encountered the sailing culture I was taken aback by its conservatism and traditionalism.
This was a dangerous undertaking - hidebound in its traditions, with old salts set in thier ways and unwilling to question tradition, much less embrace new thinking, especially regarding safety
...and witnessing the deaths of these sailors on the shores of my "tame" bay made me both cautious and angry - I was determined to question everything relating to safety
at sea, once I felt I had a grasp of the basic problem - which took a year or so of frequent solo and crewed forays, both day and night, onto the bay.
Slowly, after several thousand miles of inshore day-sailing, certain things became apparent:
A sailbag blew overboard
at night in calm weather
- 10 knots perhaps - and my crew and I had great difficulty recovering it - even though it was yellow, even though I had a 1 million candle power spot light, even though I SAW it go overboard.
I was broadsided by a large (15 foot) breaking wave over a shoal that was essentially unmarked, right next to a 1500 foot deep undersea canyon - a "freak wave" that nearly rolled me.
Later, as a drill, I threw a cockpit
cushion overboard, at night, with a strobe attached. Again and again I marked the MOB
and deliberately disoriented myself, and marveled at how difficult it was to spot and recover that well lit and marked cushion solo, in calm conditions at night - and most couples will be "singlehanding" if either goes overboard, so they'd better practice such drills "single handed."
Then, an overweight woman who'd been drinking fell into the water
near my boat earlier this year. Her panicked, drunken companion awakened me at 1:00am - banging on my coach roof:
"Bill!!!! There's an EMERGENCY!!!"
"My friend is in the water
, and I cant get her out"
"SHE'S IN THE WATER???"
...and I immediately jumped out of my berth, and deployed my lifesling, after tossing her a PDF.
...To no avail.
He and I both were unable to lift
her out of the water, and the sling just slid over her shoulders. The docks have no ladders. She was unable to climb a transom ladder I deployed on adjacent boat.
The water was in the 50ies. She only had to climb 18", but she was unable, and two fit, grown men
, with all their might, and with 4:1 purchase
were unable to rescue
I donned my wetsuit swimfins, and PFD
, and cautiously entered the water, to see if I could help.
She was to big - no way I would be able to rescue
(Dont try this unless you are trained in lifesaving and out of options - I trained as a rescue swimmer as teenager and held a Red Cross advanced lifesaving card for a time, and have extensive ocean surf swimming experience)
So it came to this:
Turn on the Chartplotter
Turn on the VHF
Wait for signal acquisition.
Press the red DSC
"MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY:
This is SV Nomad hailing Mayday on Channel one-six, I have a person in the water and I need immediate assistance"
LA Harbor patrol, 20 miles away, was first to respond -
"What is your location?"
etc, etc, etc....
15 minutes later, Santa Monica Baywatch responded with their surf rescue boat.
This boat has a swim / rescue platform 6" above the water.
The rescue swimmer was a petite female in a grey neoprene fullsuit
I jumped out of the water and waddled up to her in my swimfins and springsuit, shivering:
"Look - she's obese - there is no way you will be able to rescue her alone. We need that boat"
Her (assessing the situation) "Right - can you help me? There are only two of us, and my partner has to drive the boat - don't worry - he's good"
....and as the pilot backed the boat down the finger, I gave strict instructions to my friend after litterally cleating her to the dock
with the line from the lifesling:
"don't let her move away from the dock!"
She kept trying to swim away anyway - she was drunk, and didnt realize the danger
she was in.
....and as Baywatch backed their boat up to her, the rescue swimmer and I used a yellow plastic backboard to lever this now delirious, hypothermia, drunk woman out of the still, cold water.
...and it was HARD. It took all of my strength and hers to accomplish the rescue.
This woman had been in the water for perhaps 30 minutes, and I'm convinced she would have died without the immediate intervention of myself and 3 other persons - it took four of us to rescue her in flat water, complicated by the darkness - and three of us were trained in advanced ocean rescue, two were LA County Baywatch lifeguards, regarded as some of the very best in the world at ocean rescue - and if you doubt this, look up how many swimmers drown each year in Santa Monica Bay...
Out of millions of swimmers, its generally "0" deaths out of hundreds of rescues.
DON'T GO OVERBOARD.
NEVER NEVER NEVER!!!!
There are three rules on my ship:
1) Stay on the boat
2) Stay on the boat
3) Stay on the boat
So I developed this prototype to insure that this rule
Boom Brake - YouTube
It's a simple, cheap
, and effective friction brake for the boom, rigged with a climbing figure 8 descender.
Hogan Boat US PFD Competition Final Cut .wmv - YouTube
Everyone wears pants, right? well, integrate a climbing harness with some sailing shorts, rig some jacklines
. get a double tether, and stay attached to the boat at all times. Bonus points:
Rig a waist PFD that allows you to SWIM.
Throw a DSC
HHVHF in your pocket, along with a PLB. Now you can broad cast your POSITION along with you MOB
MAYDAY. HHVHF gives you verbal contact with rescuers.
But DONT GO OVERBOARD, remember?
So I installed a bunch of cabin
top handholds to my coachroof, after analysing where I needed them in rough conditions:
Much to the mockery of my dockmates.
....and my latest thought?
if someone goes overboard on my boat, the LIFE RAFT gets deployed immediately.
Think about it:
What's easier to find: A big yellow life raft, or a coconut floating on the ocean?
A life raft is easier to board than a sailing vessel, it doesnt sail away from the victim (sea anchor
and ballast bags, right) and it offers respite, flotation, a rescue platform, and a much greater chance of survival.
...and that's not all:
I've noticed a disturbing thing in several life threatening storm emergencies:
A well tamed boom (see above) and a bicycle helmet would prevent most of these, and hey - I carry a folding mountain bike, so why not?
Winds over 20 knots?
Put on that brain bucket sailor - just like the CG and AC sailors do.
So what are your thoughts on this?
I think most of these tragedies are preventable.
Not all - but most.
What are others experiences and thoughts regarding MOB emergencies, and especially, their prevention?