A couple of things:
regarding fitness: Another sailor drowned a few years back here in MDR - he was a yacht broker, and the fleet was hit by strong conditions outside of the harbor.
He went overboard
, and was "recovered" but was so overwieght that the fully crewed boat was unable to bring him aboard.
He expired in the water
, right next to the boat.
So obesity is a risk factor - but so what?
After assisting in the rescue
of the young lady, several people made comments that they thought were humorous "Call marine
mammal rescue" etc.
They werent in the water
She was a human being - she had family
and friends, and even though she was drunk and over weight, that shouldnt earn the death penalty for falling off of a boat in the harbor.
But given the current
state of MOB
recovery tactics and equipment
, it often is.
It's high time the whole thing was questioned - Keel
Millions of people swim here in Southern California
in the summer.
From little babies to geriatric obese tourists.
We get huge hurricane
driven south swells that break like freight trains and that generate powerful rip-currents - currents that occur over deep channels in the surf line, and that will suck you out to sea like a river.
LA, Orange, and San Diego
county lifegaurds are some of the best in the world, and drownings are almost unheard of here - even on hot holiday weekends crowded with people who barely know how to swim, and powerful surf that even I wont venture out in.
It didnt used to be like this.
At the turn of the century, drownings were common at popular beaches - sometimes a dozen or more people would be dragged out to sea and drowned:
"On the first weekend of May 1918, San Diego
was enveloped by a spring heat wave. Large crowds descended on the beaches, where lifeguard protection was minimal at best. On the first Sunday, strong rip currents began pulling off the shoreline of crowded Ocean Beach. Within view of thousands of spectators, several swimmers found themselves being dragged out to sea. Soon tiring, they began screaming for assistance. Without a professional lifesaving corps in place, the victims drowned. At the risk of their own lives, several military personnel went out into the treacherous surf to assist, only to suffer the same tragic fate of those whom they had sought to aid. When the disaster unfolded, thirteen men
had lost their lives."
Surf rescue was poorly understood, and so were wave and current
Work boats would founder near shore, usually with the loss off all hands, while bystanders watched helplessly.
Eventually, self bailing surf dories were employed - a better adaptation of fishing
technology, but still inadequite. To this day however, county lifeguards engage in fierce international surf dory competitions, keeping this legacy alive:
Then a Hawian surfer and olympic gold medalist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, visited LA:
Duke Kahanamoku - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
What followed was a watershed event in the history
of Los Angeles lifesaving:
"While living in Newport Beach
on June 14, 1925, Kahanamoku rescued eight men
from a fishing
vessel that capsized in heavy surf while attempting to enter the city's harbor. 29 fishermen went into the water and 17 perished. Using his surfboard, he was able to make quick trips back and forth to shore to increase the number of sailors rescued. Two other surfers saved four more fishermen. Newport's police chief at the time called Duke's efforts "the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen."
Duke introduced the surfboard as a rescue device, and demonstrated its effectiveness by personally rescuing 8 sailors from drowning.
Today's lifeguards still carry rescue surfboards atop thier jeeps.
But the surfboard itself is almost never used: Now they all use those red torpeedo floats made famous by "Baywatch" - an invention of another Hawaain surfer (and freind of Duke's) named George Freeth:
LEGENDARY SURFER: GEORGE FREETH By Arthur C. Verge
"To George, an ocean lifeguard was "at one with the water," being proficient not only in ocean swimming, but also in rowing and surfing. In Freeth's vision, the concept
of lifesavers, whose primary mission was to respond to someone in distress
, would be replaced by lifeguards, whose purpose was focused primarily on preventing situations where rescues became necessary. In short, where the traditional view of lifesaving was reactive, Freeth's view of lifeguarding was pro-active."
Freeth's contributions are legenday - driven by a rational approach to surf rescue.
Note his empasis on "prevention".
Note how he understood the dynamics of waves and beach currents, and turned them to his advantage:
Rip currents are a surfer's best friend: When the surf is really big at a "beach break" (sand bottom) they carve channels perpendicular to shore, and flow out to sea. So what a surfer does is he looks for the disturbed turbulent water - the "rip" and jumps into it, gaining a free ride out past the breakers, to safety
, where he can then manunuver himself into position by swimming or paddling parallel to shore, and out of the current.
The only way a rip current can kill you is if you fight it by attempting to swim directly back to shore - the exact instinct of a panicked, unskilled ocean swimmer in rough water.
I see many paralells with 19th century surf drownings and 21st century MOB
The dynamics of ocean waves are poorly understood, and thus feared.
But as a lifelong surfer, when I look at such waves, I have to chuckle:
Yes, they are BIG.
But they are what surfers call "mushburgers" - mostly whitewater - areated foam - and even huge walls of whitewater dont scare surfers much - we just "duck-dive" under them, to the solid water a few inches below it, and we wait for it to pass.
Surfers understand that there is a rythm to the sea. This is reflected in "sets" of waves - generally they come in groups of three larger waves - double the average hieght.
and we wait for these waves, and try to spot and catch them before the other surfers, which requires a sixth sense and a keen eye.
These same waves are generated by the storms sailors find themselves in, so it stands to reason that storms have a similar rythm.
Swim in the surf, even small surf, and try fighting it: You will be quickly exhausted by 3 foot waves, I assure you.
But learn how to go with the rythm, duck-dive, and conserve energy through good timing and use of currents, and suddenly, even large surf is fairly simple to deal with.
You quickly learn that angling across wave faces is much more effective than slamming straight into them.
You learn when "caught inside" by a large "set" to relax, hyperventilate for a few breaths, then turn your back to the 10 foot wall of whitewater at the last second, with a lung full of air, allowing it to pass over your boyant body.
You learn that some days are more dangerous than others.
Some days you stay on the beach.
So - when at sea, understand that you are in an uncontrolled, dynamic environment
Seek to balance the forces on your boat, and keep it moving diagonally through the dominant waves.
Understand that an ocassional "set" of waves will strike. These are not rouge or freaks - they are just the product of dynamic superimpositions and chaotic - not random - forces.
They will pass. Keep an eye out for them. At night you cannot see them, so you better be securely attached to the boat.
Mountain and rock climbing used to be much more deadly than it is today.
But techniques and belaying equipment evolved, and now equipment failure is rarely implicated in deaths.
The arguments sailors make against tethers remind me of the arguments people used to make against seat-belts in cars and helmets on motorcycles.
They remind me of the debate in surfing when leashes were first introduced to keep surfers attached to thier boards.
These areguments were spurious - bogus - and now even top professional surfers use leashes - and foot straps for tow-in surfing of unimaginably huge waves like this:
....note: he wiped out in the whitewater at the end of that ride - and he survived. Even larger waves have since been ridden - but they only appear once every decade or so.
We need to re-think small boat MOB prevention and rescue techniques the same way men like Grelach and Laird Hamilton rethought surfing.
If they can play in such waves, sailors should be able to stay attached to thier damned boats.
Wear a harness and rig jacklines
at sea. Rig those lines close to the boat's centerline, and consider a double tether. If your boat is big, consider dividing the lines into short segments to reduce stretch, clipping and unclipping around thier attechments with yoir double tether. Rig chest high lines from your cap shrouds to the stern pulpit at sea.
Net your foredeck.
Install additional handholds - inside and outside of the cabin
, especially around the companionway
, after carefully studing where you habitually brace and grab in rough weather
Use a tether at all times out of the cockpit
, and even in the cockpit
at night. All crew are required to wear PFDs outside of the harbor at all times if they can swim, and at all times, period, if they cant or consider themselves weak swimmers.
No exceptions on my boat, and as skipper
, I set an example by wearing mine at all times.
I use my tether at all times singlehanding
, and Its now second nature - I feel wierd when its off.
the Standard Horizon waterproof DSC
, and require all watchstanders to carry one.
make sure your radio
is interfaced with your GPS
, and can make and recieve DSC
calls. Yes, DSC and the whole MMSI thing is needlessly complicated and poorly implemented - but its benefits are enormous:
90% of all distress
calls contain no position information, and DSC eliminates this problem.
Practice with it - get seperate MMSIs for each VHF
aboard - there are other benefits to DSC like position polling that allow you to track your ship or crew when they are seperated.
Practice with it. This may be your only way to find a MOB victim:
Think about it:
MOB survivors universally report "watching the boat sail away" from them, while crews attempting recovery universally report "not seeing" the victim.
Turn this apparent liability into an asset, just like surfers use rip-currents:
The MOB is in a position to verbally GUIDE THE CREW BACK TO HIM if he is in voice contact: HE CAN SEE THE SHIP.
Current MOB equipment mostly focuses on making the victim more visible - its a passive strategy.
Empower the victim to aid in his own rescue: Empowerment is a powerful psychological tool - it's when a victim gives up that they die. As long as they have hope - and talking to your potential rescuers will certainly provide that - there is hope.
When winds are over a certain force - say "7" have everyone don helmets and kayak
style life vests.
Helmets prevent head
injuries, and the semi-rigid floatation foam of a kayak
vest will prevent the internal injuries and broken ribs so often reported by surviving crews caught out in ultimate storms.
Consider deploying your life raft for the MOB.
"it takes too long" you say?
FIGURE OUT A WAY TO ACCOMPLISH THE TASK WITHIN 10 SECONDS SAILOR!
Mount a small valasie style raft on the stern pulpit - it can benan open 2 man model, and it wont take up anymore space than that almost useles lifesling you should abandon in favor of a climbing harness anyway.
Deployed quickly, along with some marker dye or a smoke signal andna strobe, and you have a much better visual marker than the best MOB pole in the world, and again, a place for a victim to climb into, or at least cling to - as well as a platform for recuers to climb into and assist the victim out of the water.
Someone independent should conduct trials - like the US Sailing association - on an ongoing basis as products are developed - at sea, in bad conditions - with people trained in ocean rescue like USCG rescue swimmers.
US Sailing did a flatwater evaluation a few years back as I recall
of several major products, including the lifesling, and the results were not encouraging.
Testing protocols and standards should be developed.
Assumptions must be questioned, and abandoned if they dont prove useful.
Solo ocean sailors should consider carrying PLBs in addition to the HHDSCVHF - these have become amazingly affordable, and at least inshore, give your best hope of alerting rescuers to your position and distress.
When I look at the photo
of that couple, I see two people who had the courage to set off and live thier dreams - dreams that were senselessly denied them becuase of the collective failure of the recreational cruising and sailing establishment to insist on a level headed, systematic program of risk reduction and management at sea.
I hope to never hear of such a tagic thing again, but unless the sport / passtime of sailing moves into the 21st century, I fear such stories will remain all too common, costing lives, spreading heartbreak, and scaring potential sailors and cruisers away from a wonderful sport.