Every year in the 1st part of June, the annual FL 120 Sailing Raid takes place here in Pensacola, FL. Over a four day weekend, a flotilla of small sailing vessels, converge on the area to sail 120 miles, and camp out each night. Each vessel should be self reliant and carry enough cargo (food, water, shelter) to sustain the 120 mile trip. While help or assistance may be near by (a fellow sailor), each Skipper should be ready to execute a Self Rescue Plan, in the event it is warranted...
Having planned and trained for several months, for the FL 120 Sailing Event to begin, I was very excited and short of a hurricane, nothing was going stop me.
At 04:00 in the morning I was up and getting ready or the 1st day of the FL 120. The winds were blowing at 21 to 27 knots, the rain was just letting up, and old man winter was still hanging on. When I arrived at the dock, I made quick friends with a Lady Sailor from out of S.C., who was very unsure of launching the sailboats under such conditions; for the most part, she was correct. We talked for a short while; planning, preparedness, and formed a strategy as a tandem sailing team.
As the sun began to rise behind the wet, windy grey skies, we set sail for our 1st destination 40 miles away. The 1st hour was flat out rough and scarey. We had to stop and beach both sailboats on the windward shore to make adjustments to the sails, and check the sanity meter.
With the adjustments made, our sail strategy improved, and the next several hours were totally thrilling. The hull speed of each sailboat is 4.3 knots; we were flying along at 7.5 knots; smooth, stable, all was well...
With the Lady Sailor 40 yards ahead, VHF Marine Radio for communications, and the high winds coming in over the portside stern quarter... I noted a loose line hanging down from the end of the boom. Loose lines have a way of causing mischief. I wanted to secure the loose line.
The high winds were on the stern quarter. A slight shift in direction, could easily result in a full scale accidental jibe. In these winds, flying along at 7+ knots, an accidental jibe will absolutely result in a Full On Capsize or worse.
The Rookie Manuever...
Feeling over confident, and self congratulating that we had taimed and harnessed the beastly sailing conditions, I stood up, reached over to snag the loose line with my fingers... bad idea.
The direction of the sailboat shifted slightly, as I was focused on the line; the hurling winds slung the boom across the cockpit. The boom slammed into my chest and knocked me clear out of the sailboat. The sailboat capsized, and began to take on water.
Meanwhile, the Lady Sailor continued to sail ahead unawarenof the disaster that had just occurred.
Planning, Training, Self Rescue...
To accommodate the cold waters in the event of an unexpected swim, I wore a wet suite. In the event of a capsize, I had training procedures ready for execution; in the event that I went MOB (Man Over Board), I had a 75 ft MOB line trailing from the stern, with knots tied at every three feet along the line; In the event that I was outside the boat and in the water, I had a boarding ladder mounted on the stern. Collectively, I had a Self Rescue System ready to go...
As I surfaced after landing in the water, the sailboat was on its side. Seconds later, the sailboat began to lift the mast up from the water. The wind got under the sails, and up she went; back on her feet. As the main sail flew across the cockpit and slammed into the starboard side, the entire sailboat took off like a rocket. With the sailboat well beyond reach, and now racing out to the roughest region of wind and waves, I immediately swam, like greased lightning, for the MOB line (before it was out of reach).
I hit (grabbed) the MOB line at 35 ft from the sailboat. The question, which has never been tested... Can you pull yourself up to the boat, inspite of the cold water over your hands, as the sailboat, like a tractor, pulls you along...
The answer: yes; adrenaline is your friend
When I got to the stern of the sailboat, my entire body is streaming horizontally behind the boat, as I hang onto the MOB line. With one hand holding onto the stern, my body streaming horizontaIly, I released the ladder into the water. Normally, the ladder falls into a vertical position behind the sailboat. Today, like me, the ladder is streaming horizontally behind the sailboat. After a couple of failed attempts to mount the ladder, I waited a few minutes to catch my breath, and then tapped into the adrenaline boost... Once on the ladder, I entered the cockpit, and regained control and navigation of the sailboat.
As I turned the direction of the sailboat back toward calmer winds and waves, I spot the Lady Sailor heading out toward me. Via the marine radio, I instructed her to turn back; I will explain everything when we get back on track.
The Lady Sailor was not aware of any of the issues I was working through. By the time she became aware of my strange position and direction, I was too far away; she could not see anything that was going on. All she could see was my sailboat heading out into the roughest wind and waves. To her credit, she stuck with me as a team member, inspite of the challenging conditions. When she could not raise me on the marine radio, she suspected something was wrong. When we got back on track, I filled her in on all the sailing drama.
We arrived at Spector Island, along with a handful of others, in record time. About half the flotilla never left port that day. A handful of others, soon after leaving port, capsized.
In retrospect, what could have happened...
From the point where I capsized, my sailboat would have traveled quickly out into the roughest wind and waves without end. The Lady Sailor, did not know I was in the water, leaving me stranded. The Lady Sailor would have followed a Ghost Ship into the roughest wind and waves. We could have ended up with two sailing casualties.
Today, the Lady Sailor has her USCG Captain's license, and continues to explore and expand her sailing ventures.
Today, I own a Sailing Tour business:
Sinbad Sail Ventures
Please feel free to stop by, and connect with me when you are in town.
Link To: Sinbad Sail Ventures