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Two Successful Crew Overboard Rescues

From The Annapolis Book of Seamanship

Here are accounts of two successful rescue efforts in the stormy 2011 Chicago to Mackinac Race.  Each rescuing crew was awarded an Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal by U.S. Sailing.


“The incident occurred in a heartbeat” said a crewmember of the 39-foot Mosquito after her crew rescued co-skipper Steve Laughlin from Lake Michigan. “Laughlin went over the side so quickly that he had no time to worry about falling overboard; indeed his first recollection of the incident is being under water and seeing the hull of the boat spinning over him from below the surface.”

Mosquito was running at high speed. At the helm, CCA member Peter Gibbons-Neff turned the bow into the wind as the deck crew took in the big sail. Very quickly, the Lifesling was deployed, the MOB button on the boat’s GPS chart plotter was pressed to save the boat’s position, a Mayday call was made over the boat’s radio, and (after a check for lines over the side) the engine put in gear and the boat was heading toward Laughlin, whose bright orange inflated life jacket provided a clear target in the steep waves.

Mosquito dragged the Lifesling into Laughlin’s hands, and he was pulled to the boat, where he climbed up the stern swim ladder.  After the boat was cleaned up and a dressing was applied to the rope burn on the hand of a crew member, Mosquito reset a spinnaker and resumed racing.   


The second rescue occurred later in more extreme conditions. In a violent night squall, the crew of the sloop Sociable (home port Milwaukee, Wis.) heard what sounded like a whistle. “It heightened our sensitivity,” recalled the boat’s captain, Bob Arzbaecher. “We said, ‘Let's keep our eyes open.’” Looking around, the crew soon spotted a small, dim light waving in the air about 10 feet above the water.  Meanwhile navigator Brian Adams went below to call rescue services.

Following the light’s beam, Sociable found four men and two boys clinging to the hull of an upside down 35-foot sloop, WingNuts, some with lights and whistles and all wearing life jackets. Rather than risk tangling in the mess of floating lines surrounding WingNuts, Sociable’s crew decided to make the rescues from a distance. They deployed the Lifesling and, circling WingNuts, dragged it close around the capsized boat until all six sailors were retrieved (two others were missing and later found dead under the hull).

A life jacket, a whistle and a light. My God, how simple can it be? But that’s what it was

Sociable was well prepared for this emergency. “We emphasize that everything on the boat has a place,” Arzbaecher explained. During the crew’s regular safety briefing, they played a game of find-the-gear in which they were asked questions like, “Where are the two fire extinguishers?”  Said Arzbaecher, “When the rescue happened, we were organized and didn’t have to look for items.”  The lessons were clear to Arzbaecher: “A life jacket, a whistle and a light. My God, how simple can it be? But that’s what it was.”