The Cruising Club of America (CCA) is a collection of 1,400 ocean sailors with extensive offshore seamanship, command experience, and a shared passion for making adventurous use of the seas. Their experiences and expertise make them, collectively, one of the most reliable sources of information on offshore sailing. In partnership with SAIL, the CCA is sharing some of this hard-won know-how in
I’ve been on sailboats and the water all of my life, and the irony of this story is that I’m the safety officer for the CCA’s Narragansett Bay Post. So what happened to me one day in late March is a reminder for anyone who’s confident that they know their way around boats and the water.
Some brief background: I grew up in Annapolis sailing nearly every day with my brothers, and went on to have a career in the sailing industry as a professional captain. Eventually I became general manager of Brewer Cove Haven Marina in Barrington, Rhode Island, for 30 years. I’ve logged more than 200,000 miles at sea, and have spent the last four winters on my Swan 44, Chasseur, in the Caribbean after sailing her south. One would think I would know my way around boats by now.
It was the last day of March 2020, the water was still winter cold, and I was working on Chasseur in a slip at Brewer Cove Haven Marina. The boat still had her winter shrink wrap on. I was by myself and had not told anyone in the yard that I was there.
As I was leaving the boat around 1630, having completed my chores for the day, I gathered my gear and prepared to get off onto the dock. I stepped out the shrink-wrap door, put my right foot on a boarding step, and my knee promptly gave way. My left leg was still on deck but was tangled up in the shrink-wrap zipper that was inside the door. I fell backward with my head in the water between the boat and the dock. Try as I might, I could not pull myself back up onto the boat. My left foot was at deck level. The water was cold!!
I started yelling for help, but there was no one else on the docks who could hear me. I kept thinking to myself that I had sailed around the world twice and was now about to drown in calm water next to my own boat safely tied up in a marina that I had operated for 30 years! What would my obituary say? Adding to the irony, I would likely be discovered the following day, April Fools’ Day of course!
I realized that I was not going to get out of this situation without help and remembered that I had my mobile phone, in a waterproof case, in my pocket. With my last bit of energy, I got the phone out and called the marina office. Help was quickly running down the dock. I must not have been a terrible marina manager, as my former workmates saved my life.
What lessons did I learn from this humiliating experience?
- When on a boat by yourself, be very thoughtful and deliberate in every move you make, even if the boat is tied up safely in a marina.
- If you are by yourself, let someone know where you are and how long you expect to be—file a personal float plan, in other words.
- Always have your phone, in a floating waterproof case, handy where you can get to it quickly and have the appropriate numbers programmed into your favorites folder.
The Cruising Club of America is a collection of passionate, seriously accomplished, ocean sailors making adventurous use of the seas. All members have extensive offshore boat handling, seamanship, and command experience honed over many years. “School of Hard Rocks” stories, published by the CCA Safety and Seamanship Committee, are intended to advance seamanship and help skippers promote a Culture of Safety aboard their vessels.
By Michael Keyworth as told to Brian Guck, Narragansett Bay Post