In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week 2012 we will be featuring first-person accounts of those who survived an accident on the water. Today’s story comes from a sailor who fell off his sailboat not once, but twice. We are sharing his story here at Compass in the hopes you will always “wear it!”
Here’s how it happened: I was 16 years old, vacationing with my family on the shores of the Penobscot River in Maine. We rented a cottage on top of a cliff with stairs cut into its side. This was the only way to reach the dock where our 15-foot sailboat was moored. In the river, huge ocean-going ships cruise inland from the sea to far-away places.
I fell asleep with the sound of the wind blowing through the pine trees. In the morning, the wind is still strong. My brothers and I decided to take out our boat. It was fast, with a lot of sail and a smooth flat hull, and I was full of anticipation as we raised the main and roller-reefed the jib. She immediately took off like a rocket. We sailed like the devil for over an hour. Finally, as the wind became stronger, my brothers agreed we should take
We reached the dock and my brothers got off. I stayed in the boat. The sails were whipping furiously as I pointed the bow into the wind. I could hardly hear them as they yelled at me to lower the mainsail. Instead, I cocked the tiller and the wind filled the sails with a jolt as I headed back out to what were by then near-gale force winds.
A strong gust keeled the boat so far over that one of the life jackets lying on the bottom began falling toward the water. I knew my father would let me have it if I lost a life jacket. I grabbed onto it and, having nowhere to stow it on board, quickly put it on and cinched it tight.
I was on a close haul by then, and I knew that to truly test her speed I’d have to ease her out on a far reach. I gently moved the tiller and she leveled out and then took off like a speedboat. The whole front of the hull was out of the water and she was humming – the boat vibrated like an instrument being played by the wind. And then the wind shifted. The next instant, the boom was catapulted my way with a terrific force…and I was in the water.
It was cold. I had no idea it was this cold as I struggled to swim back to the boat. I climbed on and, before I would get situated, the wind capsized the boat and I was in the water again. This time, I noticed something strange. My arms were becoming very heavy and my legs were slow and stiff. I thought, “I’m going to sink.”
And normally I would have, because as a young man who thought he could best any challenge, I never wore my life jacket. But I did that day. And it kept me afloat when my limbs had practically failed.