Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print

Block failure throws voyager overboard

Jan 1, 2003

To the editor:We had just taken delivery of our new 53-foot Amel Super Maramu 2000 in La Rochelle, France, and were sailing it to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. We had experienced some rough weather and commercial traffic, but things settled down after we rounded Cape Finisterre on the northwest corner of Spain.

Just when I thought we were safe, I encountered a whole different kind of fear. November 15 is a day I will remember for a long time. We were experiencing light winds from abaft the beam, and we decided to try the asymmetrical spinnaker from our old boat. Somehow, as a move to a new home will have it, we misplaced our ATM tacker for our spinnaker, so Tom rigged the spinnaker downhaul with a block. This seemed to work great. However, several hours later, Tom was doing a routine inspection of lines and noticed the pin on the block had somehow worked loose. The downhaul line of the spinnaker was in a precarious position. Tom called me up to the bow of the boat to assist him. Jeff was busy below. I came over by Tom facing the aft part of the boat with my right arm on the downhaul line of the spinnaker. About the time Tom told me to back off, the pin on the block gave way. The spinnaker jettisoned me over the metal lifeline and into the sea (during the day while in light seas we did not wear safety harnesses or life vests).

My memories of the next few moments are sketchy. I remember Tom yelling my name. Then I remember seeing the water below me and tucking my head down as I entered the water, like you do when you dive so you don't do a face slap. The next thing I remember is the water being cold and how hard it was to swim. Only later during my recovery did I realize my foulweather boots and watersoaked sweats were impeding my ability to swim. What I had in my favor was my determination not to panic. By this time, bobbing in the water was the MOM 8 (Man Overboard Module), which my dear husband had deployed. I knew if I could just make it to the MOM, I would be okay. Even though it seemed to take forever to reach the MOM, it did not drift away from me. When I finally reached the inflatable man-overboard pole of the MOM 8, I placed it in a death grip with my arms and legs. As I looked up, Tom and Jeff were successfully turning the boat and coming back for me. About this time, I loosened my death grip on the pole and grabbed the accompanying horseshoe harness.

What I had not seen in my determination to reach the MOM was the difficulty Jeff was having turning the boat around. As the boat began her turn, the spinnaker ballooned despite the broken-down haul fitting, deterring any efforts to turn her about. Jeff released the spinnaker sheets, which, with the turn of the boat, sent the spinnaker amidships, ripping the sail on the mizzenmast. But that was the least of our worries. Despite the mounting obstacles, Tom and Jeff successfully rescued me in a textbook show of seamanship. I incurred two broken or bruised ribs and bruises that covered my wrist and entire upper left leg. These injuries were probably due to my impact with the lifelines. I was unable to stand watch or do much of anything for the next three days. Anything I did hurt.

On reflection, I feel very strongly about the MOM 8. Trying to tread water or swim in three-foot seas with the gravity of my boots and clothing pulling me down was incredibly fatiguing. It would have been very difficult for me to tread water until the boat returned had I not had the MOM 8 to hold on to. Wearing blue sweats in a blue sea was definitely a negative factor. Later, Tom confided that even though he never took his eyes off me, he lost sight of me several times because of the blue sweats. The fact that the MOM 8 is yellow was critical to my being seen. I will not go to sea again without the MOM 8. Three other important lessons I learned were: 1) I should have placed the MOM horseshoe harness around me. This way a line could have been secured to the D rings on the harness to pull me aboard in case fatigue or injury incapacitated me. In my fear, I held onto both harness and beacon pole. 2) Any line thrown to me should have been wrapped around my waist. Instead, I held onto the line with one hand while I continued to clutch the man-overboard pole. 3) Boarding a boat is impossible, even in three-foot seas, without help from crewmembers on deck.


Edit Module