Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on May 21st, 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. Richard Hayes shares his experiences.

The first unintended dunking was during an early sailing lesson with Dad, aged about 7 or 8. I was helming our little dinghy and Dad had just said “try to avoid sudden movements on a small boat; it can quickly upset the trim and tip someone o.b.” He then made a sudden movement to my side and – well you can guess the rest.

Second: same Dad, different dinghy. Aged about 15, I now had some 8 or 9 years of experience with boats and Knew What Would Happen. However, our neighbor’s daughter didn’t and of course our mistake was assuming she did. Coming down the vertical ladder from the quay to the boat 3 or 4 metres below, she stepped onto the gunwale, still holding the ladder. I was right underneath to ‘help’ her and … I went in head first and she went in bum first, having let go of the ladder. Why does it always happen in slow motion?

Third: Many years later, in a harbor somewhere in southern England, we were moored alongside and I was on the non-moored side, leaning over the rail for some reason. It was an IOR ‘optimised’ yacht which was almost as wide as long, and as I couldn’t see what I was looking for, I leaned out a bit further.

With wash from a passing vessel, I was in the same place as previously but this time outside the rail, hanging on. I don’t know if this MoB qualifies, as I didn’t get my feet wet, but the point is that I couldn’t get back onboard without help, which I received after the crew, bless them, had stopped laughing.

Fourth and latest, summer of 1988 on a charter yacht anchored in a bay in SW Turkey. My then girlfriend and I were standing on the foredeck canoodling. We were in our bathers (mainly) having just been for a swim, when the wash from a passing vessel (which we hadn’t noticed) pitched us neatly over the side, still in The Clinch. Nearly drowned from laughter.

For what it’s worth, the funniest unintended dunkings I witnessed happened about 30 years ago towards the end of the sailing season, on the Beaulieu River, Hampshire, UK. It was one of those wonderful late summer nights, still warm on deck at 11.00pm.

There were lots of people on their boats enjoying the peace, when we heard the distinctive sounds of a lot of yotties returning from a convivial evening at the pub. Turned out that a very well-known sailing school and charter outfit had just finished their end of summer, er, de-brief and were returning along the unlit footpath.

Now these are seasoned professionals who know they are supposed to keep the noise down, so they made more noise by going “SHHHH!!” KEEP QUIET! etc. By now half the marina was awake, watching the antics and wondering what would happen next.

They managed to find the pontoon where they had left the fleet some hours earlier, but not the exact berths. To the delight of their audience, the advance party – probably the senior ones – walked straight off the end of the pontoon and into the drink.

We didn’t fail to mention it to them next morning.
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