all of a sudden…

Paige Brooks reviews the soon to be released book Suddenly Overboard.

“August, 4 miles off Hyannis in a 30′ Schooner

“Ready to try steering for a while?’ he said after a time.
“Sure Grandpa.”
“Come around over here. I’ll stand behind you to guide you.”
Ethan stood and moved across the canting cockpit to join Grandpa at the wheel. When he had it in his grip, Grandpa let go and stepped back. Just then a bigger wave hit the boat and in the sudden lurch Grandpa lost his balance and tilted back, falling, and was pitched backward off the boat.
In horror Ethan let go of the wheel and turned around. Grandpa was in the water some 20 feet back already. “Throw me a cushion!” he shouted.”

This is an excerpt of one of many true stories in Tom Lochhaas’ new book, Suddenly Overboard, which will be published in May 2013. Lochhaas was prompted to collect and document these stories after anecdotally learning of the drowning deaths of several sailors in New England that never made the press. As he looked deeper into USCG accident reports, Lochhaas was shocked to find the underreported statistics of boating and sailing fatalities in the US and abroad. Here are a few from his book:

An average of 700 boating fatalities occur every year and 83% of the sailing related cases are from drowning, according to the US Coast Guard. 89% of the drowned victims weren’t wearing life jackets. At the time of death, only 50% of the sailors were actually sailing, some were docking, motoring around the harbor, at anchor, swimming, etc. In about 40% of the cases, “sailors drowned with the boat still upright and usually nearby after unexpectedly, for a variety of reasons, ending up in the water. “

This book is not just about wearing a PFD, it’s about the off-chance that an experienced sailor or crew goes in the water, either by choice or by accident, and how prepared the remaining crew and MOB are for a swift rescue.

The stories are almost painful, making it difficult to complete in one sitting, but they are compelling enough to pick up the book up again and again. It is not too hard for a sailor to quickly discern in the telling what is going to happen, yet it is the recounting of these varied and mostly tragic stories that the idea cements of how easy it is to fall off the boat and perish, particularly in cold water.

Lachhaas not only documents the racing accidents that happened in the past few years, in the Fastnet, off of San Francisco, in Annapolis, in Lake Michigan, but also tells stories that do not get press, and there it is revealed how easy it is to become suddenly overboard. The biggest lesson here is don’t fall off, and if you do, are you and your crew prepared to rescue you. Read this, but if your parents don’t sail, don’t let them touch it (unless you’ve got safety gear on your Christmas list).