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Safe At Sea

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about that part of the sea yachtsmen inhabit, I’m talking about that shallow area, just off the coast which dinghy sailors use as their championship playground and most yachtsmen try to get across as quickly as possible to reach the smoother waters offshore.

I have to admit, it’s an area I have become unfamiliar with, having competed at sea in less than a handful of events in the last 25 years. But recently it was our bumpy racetrack, and on the second day of the championships the wind got up a bit. The first race was great – we were going fast upwind and not being overtaken too much downwind and got our best ever nationals race result. 

For the second race, the wind got up a bit more and the sea state choppier (apparently it was impossible to stand in the large motorboat acting as the Committee Boat). It was looking like another good result (for us) as we started the second beat. Going left paid but, as we prepared to tack onto starboard to go that way, my crew lost his footing. He fell onto me, and I was pushed into the boat and the tiller across. We tacked with us both on the windward side and the inevitable happened. I wasn’t able to climb up and over onto the centreboard and so we turned turtle (mast pointing downwards).

Having had one and a half windy races I was already pretty exhausted and, like I did when I last sailed two-man spinnaker trapeze boats in the 1980s, relied on my heavier, fitter crew. But try as he could, he wasn’t able to get the boat upright and stay upright. Over it went, time and time again. A rescue boat came to our assistance, but it was difficult in that sea state. 

At one stage we had secured a line to our forestay but unfortunately it went round my body on its route to the RIB. The only way to get out of that was to go underwater – not pleasant. Another time those things at the back of the RIB which provide its propulsion but wouldn’t take much notice of a wetsuit-clad leg were what I thought was frighteningly close to me – even when I think about it now, I try to move my legs away.

We drifted back through the finishing line, getting in the way of the finishers, but had fortunately cleared the start line for the next start. Eventually, after what I guess was about 40 minutes, with the help of another RIB holding our mast with the boat on its side, I managed to get the mainsail down, my crew righted the boat and somehow, I managed to get in and hang on the trapeze to allow my crew to board the other side. We had a long, bumpy tow in and were very grateful to our rescuers as well as our fellow sailors who took our boat off us and de-rigged it as we went for a sit down and shower.

It took me several days to recover.

Were we safe at sea? Yes, when we were upright, but the sea bites, particularly when something goes wrong and, to be frank, I wasn’t up to dealing with it. Thank goodness for the volunteers who gave up their bank holiday weekend to keep us safe at sea.