We Floridians take our boats seriously. We consider them almost a God-given right, if not a special requirement of the Florida Constitution. But we also learn early to respect the water over which we glide our craft.
The Gulf of Mexico may be the most placid of the Seven Seas but it’s still an ocean, after all, and must be treated with respect if not also just a touch of fear.
Too many people jump into too many boats without enough knowledge or training and pose a threat to themselves and the rest of us.
One of the things newcomers seem to think is great fun n their first few outings on the Gulf is to jump overboard for a cool swim. This is all well and good but only if you take the right precautions.
Power boaters, for example, can simply throttle back the engines and stop the boat to retrieve someone gone crazy and overboard. It’s easy, then, to jump overboard or strap on a couple of two-by-fours and do a little skiing.
For sailors, the story is a little different. Sailboats tend to do best when they remain in motion. It’s just something about the way they’re designed. Jumpin’ overboard tends to be a little more tricky if the boat is in motion – mainly because once you’re in the water you’re no longer on the boat. Separation between person-in-the-Gulf and the boat can be a problem.
There are good ways to enjoy a quick dip from a moving sailboat.
One way is to dangle a line off the stern, jump in, grab the line and let the boat pull you through the water. This can be done only at the slowest speeds, however.
Another way, if you have a big enough boat, a strong enough mast and an extra halyard or two, is to craft what’s called a Bahama sleigh ride. If the wind is strong enough and the sailboat heeled enough you can strap yourself into a boatswain’s chair, attach it to one of the extra halyards and hang precariously to leeward as the motion of the boat cutting through the waves pick you up and crashes you back down into the water. Great fun!
But it’s not a good idea to simply jump overboard from a moving sailboat.
This happened, however, to one captain on a recent outing. One of the boat’s passengers, a newcomer to the area, decided it would be fun for his four-year-old son to enjoy a dip in the Gulf.
Hanging on to a dangling line was out of the question because that little trick is reserved for people older than four.
The passenger finally persuaded the captain to luff the sails for a bit and allow him to dip his son over the side. Reluctantly, the captain agreed.
The sailboat slowed and to everyone’s surprise – including and especially the four-year-old – the father threw his son overboard and jumped in after him. The child was wearing a life jacket but still he and his father found themselves in the Gulf of Mexico as the sailboat drifted away.
Within no more than 15 seconds the two freshman Gulf swimmers were at least 30 feet from the boat’s transom.
The captain knew he could swing around and come back to get them if head to but that would take time to haul the sails back in, restore steerageway and return to their position. Instead he headed the bow straight into the wind and, finally came to a relatively complete stop. That allowed the father to swim his son back to the boat and climb back aboard.
The lesson learned here is two-fold: don’t jump overboard unless you know what you’re doing and don’t freak out the captain. He might just leave you.