Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on May 13th, 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. Roger Marshall shares his experiences.

Yes, I’ve gone over the side. Three times in fact! Two of which were the spinnaker’s fault and the third time was my fault. Only the third time hurt.

The first time was in the Vineyard Race which is really three races. First you race to the entrance (or exit depending on which way you are going) of Long Island Sound. If there is no wind, you anchor until the wind or tide is in your favor. When you get out of the sound you wait for the Southerly to fill in and race from Long Island Sound around Buzzard’s Bay light and back to the parking lot at the entrance to the sound.

Around here, the southerly generally comes in around noon and builds until it is twenty-five knots or so by late afternoon. At about 5:15 that evening, we rounded Buzzard’s Bay light and headed toward Block Island under spinnaker. Being young and fit and doing my first Buzzard’s Bay race, I was on the foredeck.

We had to gybe to get around Block Island, and in the days of the two-pole gybe, we had taken the guy off the spinnaker. (Yeah, I really am that old! I also remember wire sheets!) To keep the story short, the crew hauled the sheet down as I clipped the guy to the tack. Somebody shouted ‘made’ and the crew let go. I didn’t and the spinnaker filled. I cleared the rail by about four feet to land in Block Island Sound with a resounding splash!

This was in the days before lifejackets became mandatory. I swam for 26 minutes while the crew struggled with the spinnaker. They said they were voting whether to come back. It was only the rule that they had to finish with the same number of crew that made them come back, at least, that’s what they said.

I figured that without me they couldn’t get the kite down, but they eventually arrived and hauled my wet butt from the drink, an effort made harder as I hadn’t taken off my foul weather gear or new sea boots. The stuff was too darn expensive to lose!

The second time I went over the side, we were racing a J/22 on a shy reach. The pole skied as I was trimming the spinnaker sheet. I stood on the guy to keep the pole down, but without looking, the crew aft winched the guy down until it straightened with a mighty boing and I back flipped into Narragansett Bay. This time I was smart. I held onto the spinnaker sheet and the boat stopped until I climbed back aboard.

The third time I fell off a boat, I was working on my own boat in the yard. When a friend stopped by, I stood up and walked off the boat. The ladder was on the other side! I landed in the privet hedge. That really hurt and I’ve never fallen off again.
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