Overboard: Stories from off the boat
Published on June 17th, 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. Gene Rankin shares his experience.
We were racing Intl. 470s on Pewaukee Lake, for the Spring opening regatta. It was April 1974 and the water temperature was about 45ºF, air temperature maybe a little better. Both skipper and I were wearing PFDs (mine a nifty new one from the North loft) It was blowing in the low to mid 20s and gusty.
We were debating about setting the chute on the first reach as we tacked at the weather mark, and we got knocked over by a puff just as I was going out on the wire. I lost my grip and got separated from the boat which sailed off downwind and promptly capsized.
I floated high enough, and though cold, felt good. I spent close to 45 minutes in the water before Peter Harken came by in his new hard-bottomed Avon, for he’d been busy picking up others who’d had mishaps. When I got hauled into the boat, I found that I could not even do a push-up; I had no body strength at all.
I spent a substantial amount of time under a hot shower and bought me a wetsuit the next Monday. Wore it thereafter every time the water temperature was below 65° (in the midwest, that means most days even into August), which made the wetsuit into a mobile sauna. A PFD over a trapeze harness over a wetsuit means you can’t unzip much to cool down when the air temperature is in the high 70s.
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