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Lessons Learned: It Can Happen in an Instant!

Jim and Kathy Matusiak

Solar Flair
35' Wauquiez Pretorien
March 5th, 2016

There’s an ad on TV these days showing several situations where an accident could easily happen, given the risks that were taken. A woman reaches to change a light bulb in a fixture above a stairwell, while balancing on a teetering chair; or a man tightens his skate laces while his wife hands him the helmet he’d left at home. “What were you thinking?” We’ve all no doubt taken unnecessary risks in the name of expediency, or in a thoughtless moment. Or perhaps you were surprised by an outcome that you just didn’t think could happen. Hopefully, the consequences are not life changing.

The Problem:

Kathy and I were in the process of having Solar Flair – our 35 foot Wauquiez Pretorien sailboat – hauled out at the end of May 2015, at the Opequimar yard in Puerto Valarta. We’d planned to have some work done prior to putting her away for the summer. After a crowd-amusing first attempt to bring her into the slipway where the travel lift was patiently waiting – a misjudged approach meant a thrilling 360 degree turn in a busy, narrow, current-swept channel – the smiling Mexican dock-hands grabbed our lines and pulled us alongside the dock. After a few minutes of planning, I was asked to stay on board with one of the hands to work the lines, while the shore crew brought us to the lift and secured the belts under the hull. This went smoothly and the next step was to lift her out of the water and move into the yard. What happened next was simply amazing.

My task, in addition to line handling, was to fend off the concrete wall only a couple of feet away, as the lift raised her and backed slowly away. For this task, I selected a boat hook that I keep handy on the deck. This was working just fine as I placed the plastic tip against the concrete and pushed. I’m not sure I was really accomplishing much in reality, because I weigh about 180 pounds, with not a particularly beefy upper body, but I was pushing hard and doing my best to impress the Admiral, who was watching the process on the dock. Suddenly, the tip of the boat hook slipped sideways and I was lunged forward. In an instant, I found myself dangling over the lifeline at my belt line, teetering on the edge of going over headfirst, and falling along the 10 or 15 feet of barnacle-encrusted wall, into the inky water below. I was literally balanced in a position that I could not extricate myself from. There was nothing for me to grab in any direction to pull myself back and my feet were flailing in the air behind me. I was certain I was going over. Fortunately, the young man on board with me, scrambled from his position forward, grabbed me by my belt and pulled me back to safety. Holy crap that was close! And it happened so fast! Luckily, I only suffered a bruise on my chest where I hit the stanchion; and a bruise on my ego, as I guess I failed to impress the Admiral as planned. It could have had a much unhappier ending had I been pushing a bit harder, or if my rescuer had not been aboard or unaware of my situation in time.

The Solution:

In hindsight, I guess I could have predicted that the tiny plastic tip of the boat hook could slip on the concrete, and perhaps I could have been more careful not to overbalance as I pushed. Or perhaps I should have turned the hook end-for-end and used the larger, butt-end with more friction available for the task. So there might be a lesson to learn from this experience, other than bad things can happen in an instant, so the TV ad suggests: “Have a word with yourself”. In the meantime, at the very least, I thank my Guardian Angel for her vigilance, and I’d advise you to do the same.

Cover image attribution: CC BY SA 3.0 Unported

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  1. Judith says:

    Should have used a bumper!