Head over heels

Learn­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence: Peter Stone takes a tum­ble off a quay

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Hav­ing al­ways con­sid­ered one of the riskier parts of sail­ing get­ting to and from my yacht, the idea was re­in­forced a cou­ple of years ago when I helped res­cue four mid­dle-aged gen­tle­men whose dinghy had cap­sized re­turn­ing from a pub in south Devon.

One man was trapped be­tween two yachts, slowly be­ing pushed un­der the wa­ter by the in­creas­ing tide. Thank­fully, the in­ci­dent had a happy out­come and was cov­ered in a yacht­ing mag­a­zine letter from the crew of a nearby yacht, which had been un­able to of­fer any ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance from their el­e­vated po­si­tion on the deck of their boat.

Con­se­quently, when pad­dling back and forth to my own boat, I con­sider the con­di­tions and risks, aim­ing to make best use of the weather and tide for each jour­ney and al­low for any po­ten­tial dan­gers that might arise.

On one par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion, an­chored in Strang­ford Lough in County Down, I had to get Bob – my de­part­ing crew – ashore to catch a bus to the air­port. He had to re­turn back to nor­mal­ity after a week sail­ing from Wales to North­ern Ire­land. I then had a week of sin­gle-handed sail­ing be­fore my next crew joined me in Scot­land.

Hav­ing said good­bye to Bob, I did some shop­ping for per­ish­able foods that I needed for the fol­low­ing week. Head­ing back to the dinghy pon­toon, I took a few pho­to­graphs be­fore climb­ing down the wall lad­der which started just be­low the level of the quay. Luck­ily, there was a rope tied around two bol­lards on the quay, which had proved use­ful as a hand­hold dur­ing the ear­lier as­cent.

How­ever, as I grabbed the rope, the quay started to fall away from me and I re­alised the rope was no longer se­cured to the bol­lards. Time seemed to slow as I re­alised that the lad­der was out of my reach, and I looked down to as­sess where I was go­ing to hit the pon­toon, 10ft be­low. There was an 18in space be­tween the pon­toon and the quay sup­ports, which I de­cided was a bet­ter op­tion to fall into. I twisted my body, turn­ing so my right leg would im­pact the pon­toon rather than my in­firm left one, which tends to break when I fall on it. I reached up to­wards the fixed end of the rope with my left hand, try­ing to pull my­self as high as pos­si­ble, keep­ing the shop­ping aloft while try­ing to an­gle to­wards the gap and make a wa­ter en­try.

Tom Da­ley would not have been im­pressed with the way I hit the wa­ter,

mak­ing a glanc­ing blow on the pon­toon with my right thigh. Still hold­ing on to the rope, I man­aged to limit my im­mer­sion to about 3ft. There was a con­ve­nient cross mem­ber be­tween the quay sup­ports which I used to climb out of the wa­ter and, still hold­ing on to the rope, I swung across to the safety of the pon­toon that only a few sec­onds ear­lier had been such a threat to my well­be­ing.

Like a cat that’s fallen off a roof, I looked around to see if any­one had no­ticed my per­for­mance – but there was no­body around that I needed to re­as­sure of my health. Un­like a cat, though, I did not start clean­ing my­self, my first thought be­ing to climb back up the lad­der and re-se­cure the rope. After a few sec­onds fur­ther thought, I de­cided that would be tempt­ing fate. And so, re­al­is­ing I was ac­tu­ally in a fair bit of shock, I sat down to let my heart rate slow and my head clear while I car­ried out a dam­age as­sess­ment.

The wa­ter had only come up to the lower pock­ets of my jacket, and as I was wear­ing shorts and san­dals, my clothes would rinse out eas­ily. I had sen­si­bly put my mo­bile phone in a waterproof cover so that would be okay, and as my VHF ra­dio was splash­proof, it also looked fine. Luck­ily, the wa­ter had only touched the bot­tom of my life­jacket, so the auto-in­flate had re­mained dry and not ini­ti­ated. The bag of sup­plies looked mainly un­dam­aged, but the cab­bage, look­ing a lit­tle bruised, prompted me to check my thigh.

The cold wa­ter had slightly numbed my leg but as my hand couldn’t feel any cuts and didn’t come away red, I guessed that I hadn’t bro­ken the skin – al­though, from the ten­der­ness,

I was pretty cer­tain my thigh would hurt come the morn­ing.

I de­cided the hang­ing rope wasn’t go­ing to be a hazard and the best thing would be to get back to my boat and make like a cat, rins­ing my­self (and my im­mersed clothes) in the shower. Care­fully un­ty­ing the dinghy, I mo­tored back and stripped off in the cock­pit, see­ing an im­pact mark on the sleeve of my jacket that set off a pain in my left arm. It seemed funny how my mind could ig­nore pain un­til prompted.

Us­ing the mir­a­cle of the mo­bile phone, I took some pic­tures of the dam­age on the back of my leg – I’ll spare you those – which proved I was go­ing to hurt for a few days, but at least there were no wounds that re­quired at­ten­tion. After a shower, I had a hot sweet tea and opted for a snooze to let the adrenalin work its way out of my sys­tem. Two hours later, I awoke feel­ing a whole lot bet­ter but rather fool­ish about mak­ing such an er­ror. At least there was no per­ma­nent dam­age, other than to my pre­vi­ous feel­ing of in­vin­ci­bil­ity.

I had boiled cab­bage that night, oth­er­wise it would have been off the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Shame the bruis­ing on my leg took a lot longer to rem­edy.

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