Jumping Joe

Published on October 14th, 2022

by Greg Gilmartin, WindCheck magazine
I still remember one of the first sayings I learned when I tried out sailboat racing. “One hand for you, one hand for the boat!” Couple that with a legendary comedy bit where the punch line was God asking Noah, “How long can you tread water?”

These sayings are still with me and through nearly fifty years of setting sails, running races, and watching some of the very best sailors, I still believe that no one can walk on water. Sailing god or not! So, imagine my surprise when I watched a skipper jump off his boat moments after starting a race.

It was Labor Day weekend and the 66th Fishers Island Yacht Club ‘Round Island Race. Sixty-eight boats were swarming around the starting line ready for a 15-mile circumnavigation on a beautifully sunny day. As the Principal Race Officer, I was on the signal boat coordinating the starting sequences with my crew of Elby, Hutch, and Hatsie. We were all focused on the rhythmic beeps of our automatic timer, the “Mikey Box,” counting down eleven classes in five-minute start sequences.

Class Three was off, and we were about to hoist “Prep” for Class Four when yelling from across the starting line grabbed my attention. I saw a J/27 had taken the pin end on the reaching start and were 100 yards into their race when the helmsman began pointing and shouting at his crew.

“You have to do that! God damn it, pick that up! You have to do it! Now!” He was pointing and screaming toward the three others on board. Now, this was a non-spinnaker class, and they were fetching the first mark about a mile away. No complicated maneuvers that I could perceive were required. The main and jib were drawing in the 8-knot breeze and the current was with them in a flood. Eezee peezee!

Then, as I watched, the shouting ended with an exclamation and the helmsman jumped off the boat! He immediately confirmed the adage I mentioned earlier. No matter how good you think you are, you can’t walk on water. And he was in it, with a splash. He started swimming away while his boat sailed on, the crew not moving, likely as shocked as I was.

I looked for some action on board. The usual you would expect when a sailor goes overboard: Someone pointing and shouting, “Man Overboard!” Someone jumping to the unattended helm. Maybe someone going to the radio and calling, “Man Overboard” to alert the other boats around. Throwing a life jacket toward the departed helmsman!

Nothing. I sit here wondering if maybe the crew was just happy to see him go! – Full report

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