Harken Derm

Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on April 29th, 2019

Falling overboard can occur unexpectedly and end tragically. Staying onboard is always a priority, but even the most experienced can find themselves off the boat. Toby Cooper shares his experience.


John Siegel and I became repeat offenders, racing the Doublehanded Farallones Race (San Francisco, CA) several times on his Moore 24 Mooragami. On one such misadventure, we had a nasty brush with the same spot that later claimed the ill-fated Low Speed Chase in 2012.

We pounded out to the islands in a typical booming westerly without mishap. The sturdy little Moores are built for this stuff and we enjoyed the usual exhilaration of challenging ocean sailing combined with silent abject terror. Yes, we do this for fun.

We rounded the north end of the islands with a weather eye on the swells that were just completing their long journey from Japan. All good. But just as we got to that critical point where the seas pile up on an undersea shelf, we saw Ian Klitza and Gary Tracey on Bruzer cutting well inside. Should we crack off to cover? At that moment, a wall of water rose up to weather and knocked us over like a nine pin.

How fine a line is that judgment call! We were well outside the point where solid breaks instantly compound your problems, but this was a case of one small boat on one big ocean and two people in the water (yes, tethered).

I basically got catapulted onto the main, and as the boat righted itself I bounced off the boom and landed half on the rail, enabling me to grab a sheet and kind of roll back on board without actually swimming for it. John, on the other hand, was actually swimming for it.

He recalls being buried like a big-wave surfer, but in a sublime, spa-like state until he surfaced, sputtering in the foam. He got a hand on the backstay and thanks to getting his foot in that handy slot on the Moore’s transom, we collectively heaved him home. Given the situation, this was a fortunate outcome, no question.

Soaked through, John went below for good. As we rounded the south end we were further unnerved by the doomsday sight of a capsized trimaran – crew already rescued. From there, it was a feisty two-sail reach back to the St. Francis YC that would have been the envy of any 505 regatta. And then, bless my soul, hot showers.

They don’t call him King Neptune for nothing, my friends. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
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