My First Sailing Rescue

Paraphrasing Elton John… “I saved someone’s dignity today…”
This weekend had me up in Maine lounging about on the dock during some pretty windy weather. We regularly get gusty days across the lake, but this was unusual in that the wind held steady for almost 2 days – probably 15-25mph gusts. Enough to whitecap the lake pretty regularly.
Around midday on Sunday we had gotten the boat settled in at the dock, and were getting ready for a nice quiet afternoon when Cat’s mother pointed out onto the lake “Hey, someone just flipped over.”

We’d noticed there was a fellow out sailing… it was windy and steady, why not head out and enjoy the weather? I thought it a little odd that he was sailing a 14′ boat alone with both the mainsail and the jib set, in what was decidedly heavy air sailing, but he seemed to be holding it together.
Eventually the wind got him, and he went over. We stood for a bit watching to see how well he’d do righting the boat. There’s an established procedure to follow when you have a knock-down on a small centerboard boat… In short:

  1. Get out from under the boat / away from the rigging
  2. Undo the mainsheet and jib lines and/or drop both sails.
  3. Swim around to the underside of the boat, stand on the centerboard, and grab the gunwales. Heave. The boat will come upright.
  4. Climb back in, re-rig, and off you go.

Alas, our intrepid sailor missed step 2.
He did manage to right the boat, which, still being fully rigged, with centerboard and rudder set… proceeded to do what sailboats are supposed to do. It tried to sail away. He managed to get a hand on the railing and was dragged for a few dozen feet before the boat caught another gust and went over again.
At this point we figured he needed a hand. Brian and I grabbed some spare lifejackets, piled into our boat and motored out to see if we could help.
The fellow was indeed getting tired – turned out to be a middleaged (German?) chap named Johanne who was clearly getting flustered. After coaching him on dropping the sails and pulling the centerboard, we decided the best bet was to haul him aboard, clear the rigging on the sailboat, and tow it back to his dock.
He was grateful, if a little shamed at the situation. Brian went aboard and secured all the rigging and sails, secured the bow line to one of our transom cleats, and we motored over to the fellows dock, where his anxious family waited.
He was very thankful and seemed a little shaken by the experience, and he waved to us as we headed back to our dock after dropping him off.
In the end, I think Brian and I did the right thing. Was the fellow in any real danger? Somewhat. He was wearing a life jacket, so the real danger was him getting tired and possibly getting tangled / hurt by the rolling boat. Second danger was the boat getting away from him, which would leave him floating in the middle of an active lake (lots of other boats about).
The moral of this story? When sailing, remember the dangers, and know your procedures. He should not have been out alone in such heavy weather, and he should have remembered the proper steps for righting after a knock-down.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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