Rough weather conditions and big Gulf Stream waves led to man overboard incidents on three of the early finishers in the Newport to Bermuda Race.
All of the incidents occurred when damaged sails or rigging were being changed. And all of the sailors were rescued in less than five minutes, crews attributing the swift recoveries to safety drills practised before the race.
On the maxi Morning Glory, two crew were catapulted overboard early on Saturday morning when a cunningham strap snapped as New Zealanders Joey Allen and Richard Meachan were making a headsail change on the foredeck. According to fellow crewman Erik von Krause "they both shot 15 feet in the air and landed in the water."
Hasso Plattner, Morning Glory's German owner - a Bermuda resident - saw it all from the stern and immediately hit the emergency button to launch the Man Overboard Module (MOM) and the two New Zealanders caught the inflatable marker within a couple of minutes.
"We had them both back onboard within five minutes," said von Krause. But that was not an end to the problems for Morning Glory's crew. As dusk was approaching on Saturday, the main halyard snapped and with darkness quickly descending, they had no option but to set a storm trysail and wait until daylight the following morning to climb the mast and reeve through a new halyard.
Even then her crew were unable to set full sail, and sailed the rest of the race with a heavily reefed mainsail.
"That lost us a lot of miles," said von Krause, one of three navigators onboard. "On Saturday we were leading the race with Boomerang and Pyewacket in sight. By the time they finished on Sunday night we had lost four and a half hours."
A third problem was the amount of water that found its way below during the big dipper ride through the Gulf Stream. "First the engine broke down when water got into the fuel. Then the electrics failed so that we had no sailing instruments or radio to communicate to the Race Committee that we had experienced a man-overboard incident," added von Krause. "We eventually got some power back and were able to get the message out on our SSB radio late on Sunday."
The crew eventually finished the race fifth on elapsed time. Meanwhile, on Boomerang a man-overboard incident also coincided with a sail change early on Saturday morning. According to second navigator Steve Hayles, Richard Boyd from Madison, Connecticut, was running back with the new jib sheet when he lost his balance and slipped over the rail.
"It was all very quick. We had him back onboard within two minutes," confirmed Hayles. "It was a manoeuvre the crew had all practised together in Newport before the start and it all went very smoothly."
Less smooth was the problem with Boomerang's headboard which cost them eight hours of repair time. "We first noticed that the headboard was pulling out of the mast track and had to replace the mainsail with the much smaller tri-sail while repairs were made," said Hayles. "It was a tough job because the sail is too thick to sew. "The guys had to drill holes through the cloth and sew it up by hand. They did a great job, but it was during this time that Pyewacket caught us and built up a 23-minute lead."
On Bright Star on Saturday afternoon, six On Bright Star on Saturday afternoon, hours into the south flowing Gulf Stream current, Richard Breeden's yacht also suffered a man-overboard incident.
According to Billy Walker, from Duxbury, Massachusetts, the crew were struggling to make repairs to their mainsail at the time Chris Williams, from East Haven, Connecticut, who was off watch, came on deck to lend a hand. Just then the bows hit a big wave and he was sent flying.
As the man-overboard call went up, Bill Jenkins, who was on the helm, released the safety equipment over the stern and as one crewman kept his sights on Williams' head, he threw the boat round 180 degrees in a 'Quick-Stop' manoeuvre.
"It's something we've all practised and everyone knew their role. Chris was wearing a PFD (personal flotation device) and the crew reacted perfectly. "It helped that the mainsail was down and only the jib was set. We had the boat turned round within two boat lengths. As we came back alongside him, Chris had his boots in his hand and had to decide whether he wanted to save his boots or himself!" said Walker. Williams took no time to choose and grabbing a rope with both hands was safely back onboard within a few minutes of falling overboard.
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