Expect the Unexpected

It happens quickly. Be prepared!
(Reprinted with permission and in the hope that this shared experience will save a life …. it could be yours.)

“Jack  Friday Investigates the MOB”

(Screen direction: Fade up on Cal 20’s racing on the Columbia River.)

(Voice Over: Read in the style of Dragnet)
The story you are about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(Set: a long summer evening as the sun sends its last rays beneath the I-5 bridge)
Portland is my town. The Columbia is my river. I’m a Sailor Detective. My name is Jack Friday. I’m assigned to a special MOB investigative squad. When a well-seasoned ring of sailors experiences a MOB on my river, it’s my job to investigate and report the case. This is one of the most curious cases I’ve ever encountered because I saw the crime. I was involved in the crime. My new job: save the Chief.

(Music sting)
Dum da dum da dum daaaaaaaaaaaaa

(Scroll on screen)
, the documented drama of an actual sail, investigated and solved by the men who unrelentingly stand watch on the security of your boat, your family and your life on the River – They are the Sailing Force. For the next few pages, transcribed in cooperation with the Cal 20 fleet, you will follow step-by-step by the side of Sailing Force Detective Jack Friday through an actual case from official sailing files. From beginning to end — from splash to rescue — Sailnet is the story of your Sailing Force in action.

(Music sting)
Dum da dum da dum daaaaaaaaaaaaa

The Facts

Place: Columbia River
Time: Evening
Date: May 18
Conditions: Windy, gusting to 20 out of the northwest against the river current.
The Team: The Chief (skipper) – Bill Thursday. My partner – Ben Momero. My name – Jack Friday.
The Boat: s/v Three Coins in the Fountain, a Cal 20

The Timeline

6:45:00 – We start the race in good position.
6:59:00 – We round the mark mid-fleet and have an uneventful downwind ride to the next mark.
7:14:00 – We round the final mark and tack early to get lucky on the finish line.
7:18:00 – Not going to make the mark on a starboard tack. Thursday calls for a tack so we can finish. We tack.
7:18:03 – Momero yells, “Pull the Jib down – pull the Jib down Friday! Now!
7:18:30 – Jib is down – I turn around and ask Momero, “Where the hell is Thursday?!”
7:18:37 – Momero points out to the water. I spot Thursday floating – he sort of waves at me, gets splashed in the face, gulps some water and starts coughing. Thursday is doing his best to stay calm floating in his life jacket. He leans back to keep from swallowing more water. Thursday seems to know he has been spotted and someone will get him.
7:18:39 – I start yelling “Man Over Board – Man Over Board!” I keep my eyes on Thursday. Only one other boat hears my hail. The wind is too strong to be heard. They come to help.
7:20:00 – Momero is already positioning the boat for recovery. We need to be windward of the Chief.
7:22:00 – The other boat attempts a pass. The boat is leeward of Thursday. They do not have a long enough throw rope. Attempt unsuccessful. They do the right thing – assist, clear and standby for further assistance.
7:24:02 – Momero “Get our long green line from below Friday!” I reply, “Way ahead of you Momero – I have it in my hands and I’m ready.”
7:25:00 – Momero is doing a really good job positioning the boat – boat is windward and down river of Thursday. My eyes have never left Thursday. I am ready with the long line.
7:25:05 – I throw the line ahead of Thursday and perpendicular to him – it will float into Thursday no matter what. I did not throw it at Thursday.
7:25:15 – Thursday grabs the line, and we tow him a short time until I pull him next to the boat.
7:25:45 – Thursday grabs ahold of the boat – I grab ahold of Friday’s life jacket.
7:26:00 – Thursday climbs on the motor mount – I never lose grasp of his life jacket.
7:26:30 – Another boat – not paying attention – almost clips us near the motor mount. I respond with an emphatic verbal admonishment to pay attention. I note: In these cases, it is very important to stay vigilant on our boat and on the other boats nearby. People can get hurt.
7:28:00 – The committee boat buoy boat arrives just as we pull Thursday into the boat.
7:28:30 – Thursday, shivering and with adrenaline pumping says, “Let’s keep racing!”
7:28:31 – Momero and I in unison, “We’re retiring!”

The Verdict

Department 000 of the Superior Court of the Columbia River, in and for the City and County of Portland: Thursday was convicted of the crime of water pollution (urinating in your drawers from the cold water was no defense), bad knees, and questionable balance. He was sentenced to humiliation and ridicule with time off for staying calm while being in the river. After the verdict, he was escorted to squad’s usual watering hole for two Sapphire Martini’s and more seriously snide comments and reasonably good-natured ribbing by the rest of the Force.

Case Closed – Jack Friday
(Screen direction: Fade to black – end credits – run commercial)

The Serious Part

As an intro, I truly appreciate Friday’s lighthearted touch of this serious subject. Here is my (“Chief Thursday’s”) take:

After racing thousands of offshore miles and likely more than a thousand races on the Columbia River, Mexico, Canada, Hawaii, Bora Bora and in Puget Sound over 30+ years, I fell off a boat for the first time. Why? How? Who cares? Here are the lessons I learned:

  •  It happens in an instant no matter how experienced you are.
  • Wear a life jacket. Without a life jacket on, it very well could have been a different result given the conditions. I’m a good swimmer. Still, with the waves and the current, I just don’t know if I could have kept my head above water for as long as it took to get me out. As I recall (and it’s a bit of a blur), there were at least two unsuccessful boat passes. That takes time. I was grateful for being able to lean back and let the jacket keep my head up. Even so, I swallowed a lot of water. Wear a life jacket.
  • No matter what you think it will be like when you are in the water, the truth is that you are totally helpless and are completely dependent upon your boat or the other boats in the fleet to get to you. You cannot swim or otherwise help the process other than to keep your head above water, stay calm, save your strength, and wait. It feels like forever waiting for the MOB process to get moving.
  • Without a line to throw to me, the first two passes by rescue boats that were very close to me felt like they were a mile away, and they ended up just wasting time. Have a throw bag (or at least a long line) handy on deck. Even with somewhere near 100 years of sailing between the three of us, we never considered having a line ready on deck to throw to someone who we would be rescuing. Friday had to go below to get an extra sheet to throw to me. Seconds matter. A throw bag can be tucked away somewhere handy and not underfoot. We always do it offshore, why not inshore for evening races. Duh. Do it.
  •  Learn to maneuver your boat, with or without headsail, so that you can approach from windward very slowly. Passing by the person in the water happens quickly even at a slow speed and each pass takes time and leaves the person in the water that much more susceptible to problems from cold water, waves and other boats. Coming in from windward, at least in this case, created a slick and protected me from the waves. Both skippers did an excellent job maneuvering their boats even though the other passed to leeward of me. He was going very slow and got very close. However, the breeze pushed him away from me and without a line to throw, I could only watch him drift away.
  • Have some method to get back on the boat. From the water level, even the short topside of the Cal 20 looks like the side of a barn. I grabbed the line Friday threw me, got pulled alongside, reached up and grabbed the mainsheet turning block on the gunnel and then, with Friday holding the shoulders of my life jacket, we began figuring out how to get me aboard. In the words of “Captain Obvious”, it’s a bit late for that. Also, without a life jacket on, I don’t know how Friday would have held on to me. Just saying.
  • I finally got pulled around to the back of the boat and climbed on to the outboard motor mount, which beat me up pretty good. Without the motor mount as a seat and stepping stone to get pulled/climb aboard, I know I could not have pulled myself aboard, and Friday and Momero would have had a tough time pulling my behind out of the water from the side of the boat. We’re going to have some kind of stowable ladder before the next race.
  • Friday never took his eyes off me. In the water, whenever I looked over at the boat, he was eyeballing me. It helped me stay calm, and it made sure Momero knew where I was at all times as he maneuvered the boat.
  • Think about all this in advance, prepare, and practice. It is no time to learn about what to do, or what you have at your disposal to solve the problem when someone is already in the water. It’s too late. Seconds matter. Think ahead. This is where all of our years of sailing and doing MOB drills and attending Safety at Sea seminars and, well, having talked about it and practiced before paid off. Newbies take note. Old salts, you don’t get a pass just cuz your beard is grey.

WEAR A LIFE JACKET. Even though I was wet and cold and took a bunch of good-natured ribbing from fleet members after the race and did a lot of self-deprecating jokes about it all at the watering hole with a cocktail in my hand, walking into my house and seeing my lovely wife of 37 years was sobering when I thought of the alternative. This shit is no joke.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *