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Sailing With Charlie: Man Overboard

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Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

“Man Overboard” is the term screamed at high volume when an unfortunate crew member departs the deck or rigging of a vessel underway and lands in the water at great peril to himself or herself. All crew members, whether in the dead of night in a raging storm, must jump from their warm bunks to act as lookouts and help in the rescue. Now, some genius in the ‘politically correct’ department of some editor’s office has decided that “Crew Overboard” would be less offensive to females and thus should now be used instead. Of course, it’s immaterial really – the object being to retrieve the victim regardless of sex. And it should be clarified that ’man’ is also short for ‘woman.’ So, if a rescued woman berates a ‘heartless crew’ for screaming the politically incorrect term, throw her back in. 

Charlie had a man overboard recently and it was not pretty. The middle-aged gentleman was a novice sailor and he was standing on the deck of the catamaran near the helm station coiling a furling line. It was blowing about 20kts with a boat speed of about seven and a four-foot chop in the middle of the channel. Catamarans can have a very jerky movement sailing across beam seas and in this instance the man lost his balance and took a step backwards where there was a step down, which didn’t help, and into the water he went upside down, still clutching the line.

Nowadays a total crew of two is not uncommon – a couple as man and woman partners for instance. So, if one of the couple goes over the one remaining on board has to be able to do everything to retrieve the victim. In Charlie’s case the lady on board, also a complete novice, was immediately panic stricken. Charlie had his hands full. After screaming the necessary M.O.B. he looked back to see that the man had let go of the line and was hundreds of yards back. He tacked the heavy cat with the help of the engine and left the jib aback. Then – horror of horrors – noticed the line in the water. He quickly pulled it aboard without fouling the prop and then ran to release the swim ladder and aft gate. 

The poor woman was almost comatose but managed to point to her hapless partner who, by this time, was not far away. Charlie maneuvered the yacht to a close haul, jib backed, hove to and put the engines in neutral with the man on the leeward side. It was then that he noticed that the victim had lost his shorts. He managed to get himself back to the stern but somehow it seemed that he was unable to ascend the ladder; it turned out that he was now completely naked and being none too well endowed, too embarrassed. Finally, with loud vocal assistance, Charlie managed to get him aboard – but just then his shorts floated by – and, horror of horrors – he jumped back in to retrieve them.

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Just for a moment Charlie imagined a cat o’ nine tails would come in handy but swallowing back inflammatory thoughts he eventually handed the man a towel, jibed the boat over and continued on a beam reach. “Just another day in paradise,” he thought.

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Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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