Rescue recognized at Soling US Nationals

Published on March 25th, 2024

The US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee has awarded the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal to five Chicago-area sailors for saving the life of a skipper who had fallen overboard. The medals were presented in an award ceremony on March 23 at Wilmette Harbor Club in Wilmette, IL.

On Friday, September 8, 2023, the Sheridan Shore Yacht Club and the Sheridan Shore Sailing School hosted the 2023 Soling United States National Championship amid a forecasted wind of up to 20 knots with 3 to 5 foot waves. The water temperature was 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Skipper Dave Slaght, Bob Nickel, and Kent Smith on Soling USA 802 were sailing by-the-lee downwind when a wave hit them, causing an accidental jibe. Slaght, 73 years old, was violently flung backward to the leeward side of the boat where he landed on his back squarely on the oak tiller, severing the tiller where it attached to the rudder post.

He then continued over the side and into the waters of Lake Michigan where he stayed alongside the boat by hanging on, and his crew hanging onto him.

In the aftermath, conditions on the boat were challenging for the remaining two crew members. The broken tiller made it impossible to steer, the spinnaker was flagging, and the main was catching wind and propelling the boat sideways.

The result was how the crew was unable to get into the proper position to rescue their skipper, who weighed some 220 pounds. After 10 minutes in the water, Slaght discovered his PFD was inadequate, and found it difficult to kick and hold on to the boat.

While his crew kept hold of him for 20 minutes, two Race Committee Zodiacs, crewed by John Kennedy, John Kiener, and Richard Traub, saw the vessel in distress and came to aid. The Zodiac with two crew tossed Slaght a line, pulled him to their boat, and together they pulled him on board. The victim completely recovered.

For their high degree of situational awareness, tenacity, and unhesitating action resulting in the rescue of a sailor in peril, US Sailing awarded the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal to the rescuing crews of Soling 802, Zodiac 1, and Zodiac 2.

Award recipients:
• Bob Nickel
• Kent Smith
• John Kennedy
• John Kiener
• Richard Traub

Above photo (from left): Kent Smith, John Kiener, Richard Traub, John Kennedy, Robert Nickel

Lessons Learned and Safety Reminders:
• Always wear a lifejacket on the water. Adding leg/crotch holds it in place in the water. (Skipper reported that he was having a difficult time keeping his life jacket from riding up over his head)
• Make sure there is a “throw rope” rescue bag on all safety boats. Consider also having a boarding ladder and/or Lifesling to assist in getting the victim out of the water.
• Having a second “type 4” crew overboard “throwable” on board the boat, allows you to throw one, and have a second one for the person in the water to hang onto.
• Evaluate, and re-evaluate weather conditions before sailing.
• Practice emergency VHF radio communications.

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the United States, or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in the U.S.

The medal was established in 1990 by friends of the late Mr. Hanson, an ocean-racing sailor from the Chesapeake Bay, with the purpose of recognizing significant accomplishments in seamanship and collecting case studies of rescues for analysis by the Safety at Sea Committee of US Sailing for use in educational and training programs.

Any individual or organization may submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal.

For more information:

Source: US Sailing

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