Ronstan

Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on June 10th, 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. Olof Hult shares his experience.


The 1972 US Olympics Trials were held in the San Francisco Bay area, as was deemed similar to the Munich 1972 Games venue at Kiel. I was in college at that time with a job teaching sailing out of Sausalito’s (now defunct) Cass’ Marina.

On a gray, mid-week day, I had a private lesson for a beginner sailor. Few other boats were on the bay other than a Soling which was testing the waters on the City Front before the trials would begin.

At one point, we were close enough that I could notice how the 3-crew boat only had two sailors onboard. One was standing at the bow, scanning the water around them, appearing as if they’d lost something. We were soon far apart as they sailed closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, but for a split second, between two waves, I thought I spotted a hand waving.

We eased off and headed in that direction, and sure enough we found an east coast sailor, wearing a wetsuit top but no life jacket, floating along.

After presenting a plan for my student, we were able to get him onboard, and sailed to reach the Soling. As they weren’t familiar with the tides in the bay, they had significantly misjudged the direction and strength of the current, looking in totally the wrong area.

Lessons learned: Going overboard happens to even the most experienced sailors and wearing floating devices extends the possibility of staying afloat until rescuers might show up. We parted ways with a simple thank you, and now years later, I wonder if the Scuttlebutt readership includes this east coast Olympic hopeful.
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