‘A bit of heresy can be helpful when it comes to man overboard’
It’s become a tradition at Yachting
Monthly, once a year, to throw the editor into the sea and fish him out. I'm fine with that, in fact I encourage it, because I always learn a great deal on these man overboard (MOB) recovery exercises. Last month I went overboard in a gale, gusting up to 54 knots (p16) and once again, a lot of what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong.
I knew that in a gale, it’s impossible for a man in the water to breathe if he’s facing upwind, but I didn’t know that it’s almost as difficult facing downwind. Nor had I realised how hard it can be to deploy the sprayhood of an unfamiliar lifejacket, and I was alarmed at how quickly a lifejacket sprayhood fogs up – I had to choose between being able to see or breathe.
I found that an inflated lifejacket can constrict your breathing alarmingly if its crotch strap isn’t done up tight, which is hard to do once you’re in the water. And I was very surprised to learn that a simple technique makes climbing a rope ladder much easier: if you wrap your legs around the vertical ropes before putting your feet on the rungs, it hangs away from the hull and doesn’t crush your toes against it.
The biggest wake-up call for me is that a crash tack doesn’t stop the boat. It’s often taught on sailing courses as a way to calm the boat's motion while the crew sorts out a problem, and like many sailors I’d imagined using it for man overboard: crash tack to windward of the casualty and drift down onto them. It simply doesn’t work, not even on a long-keeled boat. We were using a Twister, which is renowned for its ability to heave to, but the expert crew on board could not make her go any slower than 2½ knots – and they very nearly ran me over.
The point of all this was to investigate some controversial ideas from Noel Dilly. I have great respect for Noel, who survived the 1979 Fastnet and weathered a direct hit by a hurricane on a 28ft yacht, but I was sceptical because his ideas are heresy. Noel wouldn’t want you to take them as Gospel but to consider them critically, to challenge them – please write in if you disagree with him – to make your own plan and, while the water’s warm, to go out there and practice.
My own man overboard strategy was to crash-tack just upwind of the MOB. The boat didn't stop and I was nearly run over
Kieran Flatt, editor email@example.com