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Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on November 14th, 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. Scott King shares his own overboard experience:

It was a calm and cold day off the east coast of Block Island in May 1975. I had landed a ride on an Ericson 39 for the Block Island Race and things weren’t going well. Just two of us were on deck struggling to make the boat move in almost no wind. The sun had just come up and I was wearing everything ‘warm’ I possessed as a young cadet at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point).

I had been really excited to get a ride on the boat. Clearly “Wildcat” was a step up from what we normally sailed for the Academy on Long Island Sound. We called them ‘private’ boats and getting a berth on one was a combination of luck and an introduction…in this case from my friend Pete. If you were good enough, hopefully you were invited back. It was a coveted ticket away from marching and standing inspection at the Academy for the weekend. And there was beer…!

I really can’t remember the start or working our way out through The Race to Block Island Sound. Suffice to say it had been a long, cold night and we were parked a few hundred yards off Block Island knowing it was going to be a slow sail to the finish.

I went to the leeward rail and leaned over the lifelines to change a snatch block lead when the upper cable suddenly went loose and over the side I went. Instant cold wetness hit me and I came up to see the boat just sitting there. Swear words followed I am sure. Pete came off the helm, leaned over, and grabbed my arm to help me climb back on board soaked to the bone.

Fifty yards away another boat was also parked and had seen/heard the whole thing. Once I was back on board, an amused voice called over, “How’s the water?”. I quickly compared my cold, wet state to what I currently thought of the race and their questionable parenthood, which only served to evoke more laughter on both sides.

Over the years that followed, Pete and I sailed with, and against, each other in the SORC, on Maxis, Admiral’s Cup boats, and in the America’s Cup. If the competition wasn’t going well, or the boat you were on wasn’t a happy one, we would sometimes wave to each other with a raised hand clawing the sky. That day off Block Island on “Wildcat” was never forgotten.

PS – I never fail to check how the lifelines are secured to the stern or the pulpit before I go sailing. Life’s lessons.
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