Macquarie Harbour Dunking
“After reading of Lawrie Gubb falling off his boat in the Whitsundays, and his fortunate rescue (Afloat Oct 2019), I recall my own somewhat similar drama,” writes Johno Gaal.
Having launched my Farr 6000 trailer sailer near Strahan, the northern end of Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, I found myself zooming along at over 7 knots in a strong north wind, enjoying the beginning of a week of natural beauty and solitude. I had recently made jacklines and bought a tether, however I neglected to attach the lines when I rigged my boat. This was to be the first of many mistakes, on that sunny summer afternoon.
As I navigated a course dead down wind, I noticed the jib fouling behind the mainsail. I thought that I should wing it out with the spinnaker pole to spare the sail cloth and give a little more speed. Mistake 2. I didn’t need any more speed and I simply could have furled the jib.
I then realised that I’d forgotten to attach my jacklines and decided there was no point attaching them now as I might fall off while shackling them on. Mistake 3. So, I clamped the jammer onto the cord that runs across my cockpit and over the tiller. This is the closest thing I have to an auto pilot, but it gives me less than a minute to let go of the tiller, before the boat rounds up. I was thinking I could pole out the jib and be back on the tiller in that time. Mistake 4.
Being alone and without being harnessed on, I carefully went forward and stood just rear of the mast, on the windward side as I began attaching the pole to the moving jib, with my back to the boom. Mistake 5.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next!
After trying several times to grab the flogging jib I managed to attach one beak to the eyelet in time to hear a change in the boat. She gave me a one second warning then gybed violently. The boom struck me at the top of my thighs at the back, and while it didn’t hurt, it propelled me seaward.
I knew instantly what had happened. I quickly reached out to try and grab the lifeline, believing that were I to grab it I could save myself. Mistake 6.
Having realised I’d missed the lifeline (being upside down in the water was a pretty good clue), I figured that when I surfaced I could reach up and get hold of a passing stanchion. Mistake 7. My boat had sailed!
Sobered from the intoxicating effect of sailing in a stiff breeze on a beautiful Tassie summer’s afternoon and by the cool reality of the tannin waters of this very large waterway, I believed that if I took one breath and swam my fastest freestyle for a short burst and then shot out my dominant hand, I could grab the ladder, rudder or outboard. Mistake 8.
I watched my boat slowly getting smaller as she effortlessly sailed on without me. Not something anyone should see. The water wasn’t cold, there was about five hours of sunlight left in the day and I wasn’t too far from shore. Had she continued on the original course, she would have sailed some 10nm (beyond my swimming ability). Had she swung to starboard, then I would’ve had to swim 2nm (maybe my limit). However, to my delight, she veered to port and sailed onto a gravelly bank in the shallows, and just waited for me. I didn’t inflate my life jacket as it is easier to swim that way, and I didn’t activate my PLB (Personal Location Beacon) as I was very likely to be fine, but, the 400m swim in whitecaps, fully dressed, did tire me. I lowered the ladder, climbed aboard, turned her about and headed back into the harbour and continued on my way. ‘Relieved’ would be an understatement.
In the wash-up, I sustained a nasty abrasion from the lifeline, a fractured rib as I must have landed on the top of a stanchion, and I lost my spinnaker pole to the deep. All in all, a small price to pay for such an excellent education.
- I remember to rig my jacklines;
- I don’t ‘need’ an extra 1/2 a knot of speed;
- A furled jib is a happy jib;
- I only let go of the tiller for a few seconds, not a minute or two;
- I have fitted a cord to the spinnaker pole so it does not leave the boat, and;
- I can’t wait to get back to Macquarie Harbour, Sarah Island and the Gordon River.