A Dangerous Way to Learn

Published on December 15th, 2019

Darrel Nicholson at Practical Sailor brought our attention to an incident that occurred some time ago, but the details of the story hit close to home for Nicholson as he seeks to heighten awareness of a hidden danger within our safety practices.

We recently talked about the tremendous forces at work when a person goes overboard (see PS December 2018, “Leg Straps Put the Load on Fanny”). Monterey Bay (CA) sailor Jack Davies, 63, who is lucky to be alive, felt those forces firsthand.

Davies set out in his Ericson 35 Ean na Mara for a winter sail from Monterey Harbor to Point Pinos about three miles away and back. On the return leg, with sunset closing in, he started having engine troubles. The events that followed were harrowing.

Unable to make headway in the light winds against the heavy winter swell, he was pushed toward a rocky point. Before he could tack away, a breaking wave rose far above his boat, broke and washed Davies overboard.

A video of the wave and the Ericson’s terrifying trajectory down the face of it is on a YouTube post that Davies has created. Captured by a bystander on shore, the video is a wake-up call for anyone who has been lulled into a sense of complacency. As Davies described in his written account of the accident:

“One wave curled and broke above me, washing me overboard and breaking my tether safety line. I was submerged for 15-30 seconds until I came to the surface and manually activated my life vest.”

Just as it appeared he would be dashed on the rocks, a rip current sucked him outside the break where a rescue boat was waiting. He had been in the water approximately 15-30 minutes and was hypothermic but still conscious.

Davies found a number of lessons from the experience, which he shares in the video.

The list is long in this case, but one item in particular stood out, since it is a topic we’ve paid particularly close attention to over the last couple of years—safety tether equipment and their use.

Davies unwisely decided to join two tethers to make on long, 12-foot tether. Instead of killing him, though, the force of his flying body being jerked back bent his tether hook and broke the jackline, sending him into the water.

For the lessons learned… click here.


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