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Sunday, October 16, 2011


A friend of mine was delivering a 50 foot sailboat from Tahiti to Newport Beach. While motor sailing through the doldrums on auto pilot she left orders for the 2400 to 0400 watch to wake her at 0330. She was quite surprised when sun light beamed her awake though the sky light at 0630. She dressed quickly and went on deck. To her dismay, the boat was steering itself and there was no one on deck. She awakened the the other three crew members, searched the boat from stem to stern and yes, the early morning watch stander was missing. An inspection on deck showed the pelican hook open and the cable was down on the starboard stanchion gate. What a dilemma? Did Jim fall overboard when he first went on watch? Mid way through his watch? Or perhaps later? The boat was traveling at eight knots, he could be treading water anywhere on 52 mile course line. She knew her single sideband radio was inoperative so calling for help was out of the question.
She turned the boat around and motor sailed the opposite course back and forth for 3 days. The crew member was never found and the skipper suffered a mental trauma I don't think she ever recovered from. Two things could have prevented this tragic accident. The first would be to not use the auto pilot during the night watches. This would force the watch standers to be more alert and if they did fall overboard the boat would go in circles and the change in motion and the racket of the sails luffing and backing would be sure to bring other crew members on deck. The other solution was something I did on my lengthy voyage aboard my schooner "Shearwater." I had two small kids aboard and I wanted to keep them on board. As you know, most stanchions and lifelines are too low. If you fall into them they tend to trip you and toss you over the side of the boat. On all passages I rigged what I called "deep sea life lines." This was spare line that I had that I ran about chest high around the entire boat. I then took lighter line and laced it in from the rope life line down to the upper permanent life line. This made a sort of net like arrangement. On several occasions yours truly and other crew members got tossed into them and rebounded back on deck instead of going overboard if the "deep sea life lines" hadn't stopped them. My ship was a schooner and the jury rigged life lines were easy to rig. On other boats you might have to be a bit more creative. Had my friend on her voyage from Tahiti to Newport rigged something like this out of extra line sure to be aboard a boat the size she was delivering. Her favorite crew member might still be alive. Pictured is "Shearwater" running in heavy trade winds across the Indian ocean. Note my "deep sea life lines" in place on the starboard quarter......

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome. You are really a master