January 4, 2011

Just don't fall overboard

AS FAR AS FALLING OVERBOARD is concerned, I have always shown a great deal of respect for lifelines, harnesses, tethers, and jacklines. That is not to say I have always had these safety aids, nor have I always used them when I did have them, but I have always thought a lot about them.

As a result of all this long and deep thinking, I always come to the same conclusion. The best advice is not to fall overboard in the first place. Second best: if you do fall overboard, stay attached to the boat with a harness and short tether. Third best: stay attached with a harness and long tether.

Third best, unfortunately, is not good at all.

Many years ago, the Japanese singlehander Yukio Hasebe explained to me the problem with a long tether. He was sailing toward Australia from the east with his self-steering wind vane engaged when he fell overboard. He was dragged alongside near the stern and couldn’t pull himself back on board against the pull of the water because of the speed of the boat.

For hours he lay there, helpless, half-drowned, and losing blood from being scraped up and down against barnacles on the hull. Finally, the boat slammed up against the Great Barrier Reef and was pulverized. But Yukio was saved. He was somehow able to drag himself ashore. He lived to buy another boat and keep sailing around the world, only this time with a much shorter harness.

A really short harness should stop you going over the side in the first place, but on a small boat with meager beam, it’s not easy to arrange. A normally short harness should suspend you with your shoulders somewhere around deck level, from which position you have a fair chance of hauling yourself back on board. And a long harness ... well let’s not even think about a long harness.

Bernard Moitessier, who never used a harness, once told me it was better to learn to cling like a monkey. You know the old rule: One hand for the boat, one hand for the banana. But his theory, at least, has always made sense to me. Don’t go overboard. Just don’t. And then you’ll never have to worry about the length of your tether.

Today’s Thought
What matter in what wreck we reached the shore,
So we both reached it?
— Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #142
A single outboard motor is more economical than two outboards motors half the size. A twin rig with the same power as a single motor costs about 30 to 40 percent more and weighs about 50 percent more. Underwater drag is increased and fuel consumption goes up by between 30 and 50 percent.

I wish I was a fairy prince,
And if it came to pass,
I’d climb up all the rocks and trees
And slide down on my hands and knees.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Aaron Headly said...

If I find myself worried about going overboard, I plan on hooking myself to the mizzen staysail halyard using a rope with big knots tied in it (to facilitate climbing back aboard). I hope I never find out how well that'll work.

My ketch has four shrouds on each side, so I could rig nice high lifelines as well.

The main thing to avoid going overboard that I was taught (and that I now teach) is to never rush; do everything deliberately. Thinking about the third step ahead is no help if the next step turns out to be over the rail.

Anonymous said...

If you do ever find yourself being dragged behind a boat, turn over onto your back. Your body will then try to plane, lessening the drag considerably. But you are right... Once you fall off a boat, you should not plan on the idea that you can get back. STAY ON THE BOAT.