Jonty Pearce shares his experiences of practical man overboard recovery with the Cruising Association

I was glad that the Cruising Association’s ‘Dealing with Disaster’ seminar had not been held a week later; as it was, snow flurries chased us out of London on Monday,  26 February, but we were home long before the ‘Beast from the East’ threatened the end of the week.

Not a time to go sailing, or even to attend to boat maintenance; we’ve chosen to hunker down at home in front of a log fire.

In August 2014,  Carol and I worked with Yachting Monthly on a practical MOB recovery experience (How an 8 stone woman recovers a 20 stone man) for the Expert on Board series.

We narrowed the field of MOB concerns to deal with actually getting a damp Jonty back on the deck; Aurial bobbed at anchor throughout the series of methods we tested to get me back on board.

It soon struck us how significantly theory differed from reality; procedures we thought would be sure-fire successes failed, while simple adaptions could make the world of difference.

I suppose our experiences made us experts in the field, though I do not rate my chances of survival at sea any higher. And even in sheltered water I am reassured that my life insurance premiums are up to date.

Writing about such a matter put our heads above the parapet and created ‘experts’. I’m sure that Brian Duker considered us such when he asked us to do a presentation at his  Cruising Association (CA) seminar, though I’m sure he realises the error of his assumptions now.

Carol and I certainly felt put in our place by the proper yachtsmen and ladies who had actually dealt with disasters rather than just pontificating about them.

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Topics included a sinking due to rudder post failure in the Indian Ocean, dismasting in the Mediterranean, and rudder loss mid Atlantic. All rather more impressive than jumping into a calm Milford Haven anchorage in mid-summer.

Our fellow presenters spoke of real life blue water disasters; the emotional torment of struggling to stem water ingress after a rudder mounting broke up in an Indian Ocean storm can hardly be imagined, let alone when sending the Mayday ended with the trauma of climbing from one’s sinking yacht onto the deck of a rescuing container ship.

A video showing the two craft crashing and grinding together while the shrouds gave way wrung all of our hearts; the only relief was the safe rescue of the crew before the yacht was abandoned to sink beneath the waves.

And how do you react in an orderly way when your mast spontaneously fails and topples over the side? Brian and Sandy successfully transformed their yacht into a motor boat with the aid of an angle grinder, but then took us through the difficulties and delays of renewing their rig while their boat was stranded in a Greek boatyard more used to repairing ferries.

The last presentation of the morning session concerned the impressive and modest seamanship displayed after the rudder broke off after leaving the Cape Verde Islands during a crossing to Barbados. Call for help? Get a tow back? No! Stream a drogue made up from warp, chain, kedge anchor, and fenders. Deploy steering lines from said drogue to the genoa winches, and sail on to St Lucia for repairs. Job done; rum cocktail please.

After our failed attempt to wake the delegates after lunch, Vyv Cox made everyone sit up during his talk ‘Avoiding failure due to fatigue and corrosion’.

His well-illustrated presentation got us all shifting in our seats as we started to worry about dezincification, crevice corrosion, and metal fatigue.

The reality of such potentially calamitous hidden damage progressively undermining our rigging and seacocks made brave sailors apprehensive, and it was reassuring to hear how supportive TopSail Insurance could be before the seminar was wound up.

From a personal point of view, I’m very relieved to think of Aurial’s masts lying on trestles in the boatyard while her standing rigging and roller reefing is replaced; the thought of the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma harrying 14-year old terminals in sub-zero temperatures would not be compatible with untroubled sleep.