Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on July 29th, 2020

Falling overboard can occur unexpectedly and end tragically. Staying onboard is always a priority, and while advanced racers may know the risks to avoid, newer sailors being introduced to the sport may not. Kenneth Haring explains…


I’m not really sure why I am telling this tale about my falling overboard, but empowered by having seen other stories in Scuttlebutt of people falling overboard, it was many years ago when I learned some very good lessons.

At the time I was relatively new to sailboat racing, having crewed for just a few months for a friend of a neighbor who, according to her, “always needed crew.” Harry owned a Cal 25, and his yacht club was having a regatta in which we had a one design class of about 8 or 10 boats.

It was Memorial Day weekend, the weather was great with early sun and mild winds. The course was a twice around triangle (remember those?), and while retrieving the spinnaker at the first leeward mark rounding, the halyard became disconnected from the spinnaker and floated free.

I reached for it and fell overboard, and now over 40 years later, I still have two distinct memories about that experience. The first was how grateful I was to be holding on to the stanchion as I reached for the halyard, so I never separated from the boat. The second was how nice the cold water felt on my knees which lacked sunscreen and were burning.

After climbing back onboard I was instructed how a halyard free flying to leeward would come back inboard when the boat was on the other tack. Lesson learned.

It wasn’t until the second offwind leg that I discovered another reason to stay on board the boat, which was when I noticed a large object in the water swimming across the bow. It was a 13 foot long shark, over half the size of the boat and an important reminder how there are critters in the ocean that might be hungry.
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