Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on August 12th, 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. Bengt O. Hult shares his experiences.

Some years ago there was a Star Class international championship on our island (Lidingö, Sweden) and an overseas crew had left his jacket afterwards. It was a thin kind of jacket lined with flour-cloth swab of the kind that soaks up water. When wet, it was very heavy.

Soon after, when our eldest son and daughter were racing a Snipe on a windy day, he brought along that jacket for extra weight. But when rounding the windward mark, and while our daughter was trying to set the whisker pole, she struggled as her brother was not keeping a steady course. She turned around to ask him what on earth he was doing and found that she was alone in the boat.

Far behind she could see his head bobbing up and down in the heavy waves. I doubt that she could have sailed up to save him, but luckily there was a spectator boat who spotted him and managed, with great difficulty due to that jacket, to get him on board.

This reminds me of another Snipe race where the helmsman had to use his very tiny little brother as a crew. We saw him stumbling around in a peculiar way so he was asked to open his jacket. We could not believe our eyes at what we saw, as on his chest he had two heavy bricks tied to his body. If he had fallen overboard I am sure he would have sunk.

I know that sailors have a tendency to groan when seeing “all the new things” in the rule book, but it is important to realize that change is rooted in an effort to make the sport better. Otherwise we would not have had Rule 43 and Appendix H that work together and prohibit things like what I have described.
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