Boating NZ : FREE TO READ March 2014
normal in a weird way. I was thinking: Is this for real? I heard him again over the sea and the stereo, which was loud, so I ran down to the saloon and slammed shut the computer. I ran back to the helm, all the while snapping back to see him in the same spot. It felt like a pirouette; as I had learned in ballet at seven years old, you keep focused on that spot. I managed to let the ropes loose and the mainsail slithered down – almost a perfect 10, not bad for my first attempt. I let the jib go and it flapped violently. I tried to reel it in but it was too difficult. I heard Stephen yell again: “Leave that. Turn on the motors.” I had already turned them on but the boat took ages to gather speed and turn. Then I turned back to see him and had lost sight of him: “Where are you?” A few seconds later I saw his head rise over the chop. “What are you doing to me?” STEPHEN I was hugely relieved to see the boat round up, but it led to my second, potentially-fatal mistake. I knew that if Victoria could not drop the mainsail or start the motors then this could be the closest I would get to the boat. So the macho in me decided: I can swim that. My life depends on it. I set off in a mechanical, purposeful stroke in the 1.5-metre Colville chop. After about 10 strokes and two mouthfuls of water, my green health bar was sliding rapidly into yellow and the boat was drifting faster than I could swim. Then my heart reported in: “I may have a marathon to endure here and you don’t begin a marathon with a 200-metre sprint.” I stopped swimming and focused on conserving energy. I felt buoyant, a 75 percent-liquid being floating in the sea. I could see Victoria scurrying from side to side. Every few seconds her head snapped around and she looked right at me. After a minute or so the mainsail shook down the track into the stack pack. I knew it would be too hard for Victoria to roll up the jib but its flapping wouldn’t inhibit her. It would just be a mighty big distraction. VICTORIA I threw over the horseshoe safety buoy, thinking: what else can I do? I was concentrating on not losing sight of Stephen and intensely aware of what a huge boat this was. After bouncing crazily through the turn with the front sail whipping the air, I began powering towards Stephen. A minute or two later I was pulling up right alongside him. STEPHEN My admiration soared for Victoria as I saw the boat bucking into the sea under power. Soon I was looking between the hulls from the bow as my boat came slicing towards me. When she was perhaps 30 metres away I raised both palms to signal Victoria to put the motors into neutral. With the helmstation on port, Victoria brought the port hull right alongside me, to windward. Victoria had thrown a horseshoe float over but she hadn’t seen it snag half-way down the hull. It was in perfect reach as I smoothed my hands down the hull and hooked an arm around the horseshoe which swung me around onto the transom steps. I lowered the boarding ladder and gripped the stainless handhold. VICTORIA He caught the ladder and moved onto the steps where he stayed resting. I yelled: “Get your f**#@n arse on this boat!” You’d think I wouldn’t have to say it twice, but I did. He climbed up and we just stood there and hugged. People have asked if I rang Coastguard. It never came into it. That was definitely the first thing to do if I had lost sight of him but at that moment I was in the best position to save him. I didn’t want to waste one second not trying to back to him. STEPHEN I wasn’t scared of dying because I wasn’t drowning; I was swimming. Odds would have been on me drowning but I have a theory – never bet on the negative because if you win, you lose. We spent New Year’s Eve in Smokehouse bay and recounted the adventure to fellow yachties as other overboard stories emerged, some with finite endings. Then, in laconic Kiwi humour, one old salt quipped with a nod towards Victoria: “Must be your girlfriend. Your wife wouldn’t come back to getcha.” Victoria, after single-handedly rescuing her manoverboard skipper: "It felt like a pirouette; as I had learned in ballet at seven years old, you keep focused on that spot." Lessons learned 1. Small things lead to big catastrophes. The small tear in the trampoline had occurred a week before. We had the new trampoline onboard, ready to replace it as soon as we could beach the boat in favourable weather. Funnily enough, we did it the next day on the anchor. 2. I had gone up the narrow foredeck walkway crouched low on my hands and knees for safety. Had I been standing I would have had better leverage to balance with, thrust to leap and grab something as well as presenting a starfish profile. I realise this goes against accepted protocol – but reality often does. 3. Trailing a rope, which most people suggest, is impractical. Anyone trying to hold it much above 4 knots would quickly tire and then be at greater risk of drowning. An under-bridgedeck jack line is sensible and works for slow speeds or if the boat turns turtle. 4. It is essential that all crew know the basics of starting the motors, using the radio and throwing flotsam, eg bean bags, over to mark an area or aid flotation. Give a 30-second briefing before departure. 5. Keeping calm is key to survival. Planning is good but accidents don’t follow plans. 6. Lifejackets – a life jacket on the MOB certainly takes the time pressure off the rescuer. However, we do not need bureaucrats navigating in-trays to keep us safe at sea. The bottom line is: Don’t fall overboard. Finally, mostly this was an incredible achievement by one novice crew woman. 34 Boating New Zealand March 2014 Feature_man overboard_March14.indd 34 18/02/2014 6:08:07 p.m.
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