Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on September 9th, 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. Australian Bill Hatfield, onboard his Northshore 38 L’Eau Commotion, is attempting to sail non-stop Westabout around the world at age 79, but after nearly three months at sea he shares his story from off the boat:

I was just settling down with a nice hot cup of coffee after lunch when suddenly everything became too peaceful. A glance at the speedo showing four knots confirmed my first thoughts so up on deck to see most of the sail in the water though billowing up between the pole to starboard and the boom to port.

It soon proved useless trying to pull the sail out of the water with the autopilot still pointing downwind so it was disengaged and the helm lashed hard to port. This encouraged the sail to further gyrations, and while I was trying to grab handfuls and to lash it down, the combination of a lurch and a gust had me now in the water with the offending piece of sail wrapped round my ankle.

This was easily kicked free and then here comes one for the psychologist. Instead of a gentle swim round to the stern, I handed my way along the gun’l which was quite difficult with the yacht beam on to a reasonable sea and with no sail up when she rolled to starboard it took some hanging on.

I made it to the stern without that much trouble and surprised myself how easy it was to get back on board with all the clutter there associated with the Windpilot and Watt & Sea hydrogenerator.

Piece by piece, I managed to disentangle the sheets and stuff the sail and its furling gear in its bag and tossed in the saloon. Now here comes the interesting part as now I put on my safety harness, clipped on, and ran out the jib, took off the sail ties and hoisted the main to its second reef without once falling in the water. Safety pays!

Scuttlebutt wants to feature your overboard experience. Send to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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