Happy Ending in the Severn River
Published on December 21st, 2016
by Megan Brockett, Capital Gazette
Sailors know their sport comes with risks, but as the temperatures drop, those risks increase.
That was the case last Sunday (Dec. 18), when nearly two dozen people participating in a winter race series hosted by the Severn Sailing Association were tossed into the water as a cold front swept into the area, bringing sudden high winds.
The Severn Sailing Association will compile an incident report that will identify “lessons learned” from the events, said Kim Couranz, the association’s commodore.
“The timing of it, the way it hit, was highly unusual,” Couranz said of Sunday’s weather event. “And the effects of it were unprecedented for our frostbite series.”
The group is collaborating with responding rescue agencies and meteorologists, and plans to share its lessons with other clubs that hold winter races.
No one was injured in Sunday’s incident, which drew the Natural Resources Police, the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis fire departments, the U.S. Coast Guard and a state police helicopter to the mouth of the Severn River, near Horn Point.
Couranz said half of those who were tossed overboard when the winds kicked up were pulled from the water by first responders and other nearby boaters, and the rest returned to shore on their own.
All of the sailors made it safely to back to shore within about 30 minutes, the sailing association said.
The Severn Sailing Association has policies and safety procedures in place for its Laser and Laser Frostbite Series, which Couranz said helped with a successful rescue.
The association doesn’t permit anyone to race during the winter without appropriate safety gear. All of the sailors involved in Sunday’s rescue were wearing the required wet suit or dry suit, most the latter, and personal flotation device, the association said.
During “frostbite” races, two of the association’s motorboats are on the water along with the sailboats. On Sunday, there was a safety boat with two operators, including an off-duty Coast Guard rescue swimmer, and a race committee boat with three experienced boaters, the association said. Two additional safety boats belonging to the association responded within minutes of the high winds, the group said.
The race committee monitors weather forecasts and conditions prior to and during races, and will cancel races when conditions become unsafe, the association said.
The waters went from relatively calm to 4-foot waves, which made the situation extra challenging for rescuers, said Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Police.
No citations were given as a result of Sunday’s incident, and there is no investigation by the Natural Resources Police.
“People make decisions, and there was nothing illegal about the decision that was made to continue racing,” Thomson said. “We’re happy that everybody survived. We’re happy that everybody made it ashore … (And) we’re happy that none of our guys got hurt.”
The water temperature was 43 degrees on Sunday, according to Thomson.
With cold water temperatures, the dangers of falling overboard increase.
“You lose you’re ability to function,” said Ralph Heimlich, of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, Inc. “Everything slows down, and your fingers get numb … You get really messed up.”
The Chesapeake Paddlers Association periodically partners with the National Center for Cold Water Safety and Annapolis Canoe and Kayak to hold a cold water safety workshop for “paddlers.” The workshop teaches people about the dangers of cold water immersion and shares preventive tips.
Heimlich said among the “golden rules” are to dress for water temperature not air temperature, always wear a personal flotation device and always test your gear before venturing onto the water to make sure everything is working properly and nothing is leaking.
Source: Capital Gazette
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