By: Jack Davies
Part 1 (from Tiller dated January 2018)
SUBJECT: Boating Accident Report
OWNER: Jack F. Davies (63 years old), Resident of Sacramento County
DATE/TIME/LOCATION OF ACCIDENT: Friday, 12 Jan 18, 17:30, Lucas Point, Pacific Grove, CA
WITNESSES: Unknown, see videos/photos posted on Pacific Grove Police Dept. Facebook
DESCRIPTION: I recently had some engine work done and motor-sailed my boat (Ericson 35, ‘Ean na Mara’) from my mooring in Monterey Harbor to Pt. Piños, approximately 3-miles distance. I started and stopped the engine twice before the incident occurred. The engine ran fine and I manually shut it off after rounding the Pt. Piños buoy to sail home with 45-minutes of daylight remaining. I was on a close-reach (see photo) then tacked to head away from shore, but I kept stalling out against the strong swell. I needed additional power and tried to start the engine several times, but it would not start. I called Monterey Boatworks to ask how to jump start the engine, but they were closed at 17:00. I considered my options and thought I could make it past the rocky shore. However, there was a line of high rolling waves extending out from shore. As I crossed the line, the boat began “surfing” over the waves. One wave curled and broke above me, washing me overboard and breaking my tether safety line. I was submerged for 15-30 seconds until I came to the surface and manually activated my life vest. The waves kept pushing me closer to shore. I tried to grab a rock and told a shirtless bystander “throw me a rope but don’t jump in.” The rip current pulled me back out to open water where a Fire Dept. boat was waiting to rescue me. I had been in the water approximately 15-30 minutes and was hypothermic but still conscious. I called my wife from the Fire Dept. boat at about 18:00. They transferred me to an ambulance at the Coast Guard jetty and rushed me to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. CHOMP warmed me up and took full-body x-rays. I have a fractured humerus (right arm) near the shoulder, several bruises on the upper body, and abrasions on my legs. I also had diarrhea from swallowing salt water but no respiratory problem. They gave me some pain medication and discharged me about midnight. I stayed at a friend’s hotel and their security patrolman gave me a ride to retrieve my van in the parking lot at Monterey Harbor. Next day, I went to the Harbormaster’s Office to meet with USCG Incident Management Team (for environmental issues) and the NOAA Emergency Response Coordinator (for cleanup in the National Marine Sanctuary). I hired Monterey Bay Diving to begin cleaning up the beach at low tide. They retrieved the fuel tank, waste holding tank, mast, sails, and boat debris. Next week they will attempt to locate and salvage the remaining hull, engine, batteries, and 5,000 pound keel when the water is calm enough to use a sonar device and/or divers.
- I was sailing by myself without auto pilot and could not leave the helm to drop or reef the sail, deploy the anchor, or even make an emergency call on the radio. I was tied off as usual, but have never tested the restraint system. Fortunately, the jack-line snapped (with enough force to break my upper arm on the lifeline when I was thrown overboard) or else I would have been dragged along with the boat until I could release the harness to my life vest.
- I have checked (but not changed) the CO2 cartridge in my inflatable life vest in the last few years. I was able to activate the manual life-vest after a few minutes but an automatic life-vest would have been a better choice in case I was dazed or knocked out.
- I went sailing at 3PM but it starts getting dark about 5PM now which didn’t leave much time to waste and it forced me to make a quick action plan. I always tell my wife what time I will be back (float plan) but I did not have any running lights mounted for night sailing and did not consider the option of spending the night offshore waiting for conditions to change.
- My diesel engine was recently repaired but the starter switch was not replaced which was my biggest problem; therefore the mechanical power system should have been considered unreliable. I am not mechanically inclined and waited too long to call the boatyard for advice to jump-start the engine.
- I should have informed the USCG or Harbormaster when I realized that I was at risk rather than waiting until I was in danger. I never considered calling “Mayday” but could have requested vessel assistance from a passing whale watching boat. I called them on the radio to chat, but did not tell them I was in distress at the time.
- I motor-sailed at 5.5 knots on the way out which generated ‘apparent wind’ giving me a false impression of the wind strength and direction. After I shut off the engine I realized that I was sailing into a light head wind and did not have much leeway between the leeward shoreline. I didn’t have enough wind power to tack away from shore into the strong swell either.
- I was over-confident of my ability to sail solo in “normal conditions” and ‘heave to’ in case of emergency; however, drifting in strong waves wouldn’t have been a good choice. Fortunately, I have been sober for 4-months since I stopped drinking, so I was clear minded to make the best decisions in the situation. I also have a sign on-board that said, “If GOD brings you to it, He’ll see you through it.”
- I am fully insured for the value of the boat and contents, with coverage for beach clean-up and salvage of oily components such as the fuel tank and engine block.
- Finally, I have lots of friends in Monterey who are willing to help a fellow sailor. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in the emergency response: the bystanders who called ‘911’, the paratrooper who got scraped up trying to rescue me from the rocks, the Monterey Fire Dept. and US Coast Guard who fished me out of the water at night in rough conditions, the medics and ambulance service who gave me a ‘Code 3’ ride (with lights and siren), CHOMP emergency room personnel who listened to my corny jokes, the staff of Hotel Abrego who accommodated me (without credit cards and wearing hospital scrubs), and the security guard ‘Angel’ who gave me a ride in the middle of the night to retrieve my van and clothes.
Part 2: The Aftermath
It has been one year since my Ericson 35’ sloop S/V Ean na Mara sank on the rocks at Pt. Pinos. I was washed overboard, broke my arm, almost drowned, developed hypothermia, was swept into the rocks and saved by a rip current that pulled me out to a waiting rescue boat. I published the accident report in The Tiller, January 2018. However, my insurance company asked me not to discuss details of the settlement with NOAA on behalf of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary is responsible to protect the marine environment.
The morning after my accident, I went to the Harbor Office to meet officials from the US Coast Guard who were primarily concerned with pollution prevention and cleanup. Fortunately, the fuel tank had beached itself at high tide so it was easily recoverable although empty of approx. 5 gallons of diesel. NOAA was also concerned about oil in the engine block, transmission fluid, and a lead keel that will affect the marine environment.
I contracted Monterey Bay Diving to begin cleaning up the beach immediately. They tried to locate the sunken vessel but the tremendous waves that destroyed the boat also carried away the 5,000 pound lead keel that was encapsulated with the hull of the boat. We began formulating a search and salvage plan that included the use of a drone, sonar scanner, and dive team at my insurance company’s expense.
NOAA seemed very supportive and encouraged us to keep searching for the vessel. They also launched a dive team to survey damage to the reef where I hit my 5’ keel in 20’ of water (due to wave undulation). The assessment for damage to natural resources and potential adverse affects from the sunken vessel could have equaled the cost of salvage (ranging from $20,000-200,000 depending on sea conditions if/when the vessel is located).
After a year of contact between NOAA and my insurance company, the case is now closed with no penalties or settlement amount. They thanked us for orchestrating (and financing) a strong, rapid, and continuing response. We are still finding flotsam washing up along the shore but none of the recreational divers have located the sunken hull yet.
I want to use my experience to teach others about boating and water safety by becoming a certified instructor for the new boat license requirement. My personal advice to boaters may seem obvious, but it could save your life:
- Be properly trained and always wear an (automatic inflatable) life jacket;
- Don’t sail alone unless necessary and only if your boat is rigged for solo with auto-pilot;
- Know your boat/engine/battery condition, reliability (and liability) at all times;
- Know the weather/wind/wave conditions and forecast even though everything seems “normal;”
- Know the tide schedule and avoid shallow water especially where white water breaks;
- Keep your EPIRB handy and call “PON PON” on VHF for emergency assistance BEFORE you need it;
- Make a float plan and have fun but be prepared for anything and stay mindful at all times!