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Man Overboard!

Posted by Tom Benedict on 19/06/2012

Work has been utter hell. Twelve-plus hour days are getting to be common, and six and seven day work weeks are becoming the new norm. We’re all ready for things to get back to normal. And we’re all making the most of the time off we do get. I missed a holiday last Monday, and I was at the summit from 7am to about 9pm Saturday. Sunday was my one day off. So I made the most of it.


We took Smilodon, our rebuilt Pacific Catamaran, out for the morning. Winds were light, but enough to make for good sailing. Because of work I haven’t had a chance to do any work on the mainsail battens, but otherwise the boat is really starting to shape up. I wanted to see how far we could go in a reasonable amount of time, but back in the back of my mind what I really wanted to do was some man-overboard (MOB) drills.

I believe in MOB drills the same way I believe every new driver should skid their car, just to know what it feels like. Think of it this way: If you spend a couple of hours skidding your car intentionally and learning how not to panic and how to get your car back under control, when it happens on the road your chances of survival are considerably higher. The same is true of MOB drills: If the first time you do a MOB drill is when someone actually falls off the boat, your chances of knowing what to do are slim. But if you practice it regularly, it’s almost a non-event.

There’s another benefit to MOB drills: If the people you sail with know with certainty that you can turn around and pick them up in under two minutes, they’re a lot less likely to panic if they wind up going overboard.

Besides, MOB drills are fun!

I wasn’t quite sure we were all ready for MOB drills, but I at least wanted to try with an inanimate object. So I brought along an empty milk jug. Fill it halfway with water, and it makes a pretty good simulated MOB. But before I could even think about pulling it out, my son pointed to starboard and said, “Is that trash?” I looked where he was pointing, and saw a bait bucket floating on the water. MOB DRILL!

I had to tack twice to reach the bait bucket, but we got it on the first pass. Once everyone saw how smoothly that went, it was like a dam breaking. First Rydra and our son went over the side. Rydra grabbed a camera, and took pictures as we sped off into the distance:


And as we came back around to “rescue” them:


After my daughters and I came around and “saved” them, they went in the drink for their own turn at sea.  By the end of the day we’d run two live MOB drills, and one more dry run when Rydra’s hat fell off. I only missed my first approach once, when my two daughters were in the water. I made my turn too soon, and didn’t have the sea room to finish the tack and come back for them. But the second pass went like clockwork.

The P-Cat is significantly heavier than the Prindle 16 Rydra and I used to sail. The P-16 could literally turn on a dime, but the P-Cat needs a little more room. It also has a lot more momentum because of the added weight, so it won’t stop as quickly as the P-16. Still, once I got the hang of it, I found it to be just as maneuverable

We sailed as far south as Puako. By the time we turned back, the wind had dropped to a gentle breeze. We were cutting across the swell, which made for a slow roller-coaster of a ride. But the water was smooth and the reefs, only thirty feet below us, were gorgeous. I had to skipper the boat, but the kids knew just how to enjoy the view.


The experience of the MOB drills helped when it came time to sail back into the harbor. I didn’t mess around with dropping the main early and sailing back under jib alone. We came in under full sail, made our turn into the wind, and Rydra and the girls jumped into the water while my son and I furled the jib and dropped the main. Less than a minute after we’d cleared the harbor wall, we were nose to wind with no sail set. Perfect!

There’s still one big step left before I’m 100% confident in boat and crew: I need to fall overboard, and they have to come back and get me. Until that happens, I’m leery about doing anything that puts me in a position where I might go in.

To date I have only unintentionally gone overboard on a boat twice. The first time was when I was struck by the boom during an unintentional jibe on our P-16. The second was when I was hiked out on a wire, and my trapeze line failed. Dodging the boom became second nature after a while, and the boom on the P-Cat is more than a foot higher than the Prindle 16. But equipment failure can and does happen. That trapeze wire worries me. At the moment I’m the only one with a trapeze harness. But until my crew can come around and rescue me from the water, I have no business hiking out on a wire. If the wire breaks or a knot fails, I’m in the water with no assurance anyone will come back to get me.

So, of course, this is top of the list for the next time we head out. Someone else will skipper the boat, and I get to be the man overboard. It also means I get to play around with cameras! So next time I hope to come back with more pictures of our P-Cat, the beautiful waters of Hawaii, and anything else we encounter along the way.

– Tom

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