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May 21, 2007


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A nasty incident happened here a few years ago - with a normal harness line without the toggle. He got catapulted cos he hit the sand with his fin, went thru the sail and ended up under the sail harness lines twisted....but he was still attached to the harness line on other end of the boom ontop of the sail. He was literally drowning in a foot of water. Fortunately he was very close to beach and we saw what happened. It took about 4 people to manage to free him! If no-one had been at hand he would have drowned. One of those fluke accidents I suppose, but when you sit and think about it maybe it can happen easier than one thinks. Only way out of that one if you were on your own would have been to release harness hook completely and climb out of harness, but with the pressure of the sail pushing down on you even that may have been impossible to do. Just hate to even think about it.

Michael, I not only look for the potential problems, I will often practice what I need to do when a problem arises. Even though the actual circumstances may be different it is good to have gone through the motions, just like a fire drill the more you do it the more prepared you'll be. Things like taking down your rig for self rescue (shallow water), harness bailouts, even swimming some distance with the rig. Doing these things in a controlled environment will prepare one mentally and physically if and when a problem arises.

Wow. Speaking of drowning in shallow water.
Scary. What's the windsurfing take on carrying a knife?

Sea kayakers used to generally carry knives, but the thinking now is the risk presented by adding a sharp object to an already hazardous situation is more than the safety factor added by being able to cut yourself loose.

Don't know about whitewater, more chances for entanglement & entrapment there than in sea kayaking.

Windsurfers don't carry anything, generally speaking. If we are, it is often in a pouch behind the harness (in otherwords, behind our backs)...people will carry an extra bit of line, a whistle, a cell phone, to be used during a breakdown. Carrying a knife at all, much less carrying it where you could easily grab it (an ankle sheath?) would probably add danger to the sailor, not reduce it (though of course it's a sensible question to ask.) The key to this situation is to know how to unentangle yourself: if in doubt, release the harness bar. I like Chris' point about practicing these things periodically. Whenever I sail with my wife I like to talk about what to do if you find yourself in a daze underwater under the sail. By expecting the possibility, panic is less likely to set in.

As it is, it's extremely rare to hear of a drowning in windsurfing.

i did this once too. over the handle bars and under the sail in 4 feet of water. the way i landed had twisted the lines and set the weight of my body on them... so it was difficult to untwist. i wasn't knocked too hard but started to panic as i ran out of air. there was no way the harness was comming off, but what i did do was go for the mast, reaching along the boom. for about 5 minutes afterward i thought, that's it, no more of this foolishness... then i caught another awesome set.

I passed this on to the AMC/Boston windsurfing club. One member replyed that she knows someone that this had happened to. I use a reactor bar but my kids and wife don't. It's time to change that, or get rid of the toggles.

Why not carry a folding rigging knife, like the one I carry pretty much 99% of the time. It opens with a single hand, and can cut through a harness or sail with relative ease. I carry a Boye's DDC rigging knife, with a sheepsfoot blade, which doesn't have a sharp point on the end. http://boyeknives.com/

This is a great topic, especially for newer sailors like myself. I have experienced the dreaded catapult countless times. I sometimes wonder how I never really hurt myself.

Just recently though, I was riding in a shallow area at 15-20 knots when my fin hit some rocks.

I catapulted and ended up in a very weird position. A little frightened, because I was under the sail.

Bottom Line- I am going to make sure to practice unhooking my harness underwater!

Great topic!

Fred, I remember when I was a newbie that after someone described a catapult to me, I said "I hope I never get catapulted." My friend said "then you better not windsurf, because it's going to happen!" Over time they become less frequent, but we're all going to get slammed from time to time, so it is good to practice and have a mental picture of what to do if you get tangled up under the rig.

AdriftatSea, thanks for pointing out a seaworthy knife...the lack of the sharp point is noted! Still I think the prevailing wisdom for windsurfers is that we're more likely to lose the knife than need it...if you've never been catapulted while windsurfing, it's quite an experience...also that keeping your head about you is perhaps the most important thing to have when you find yourself dazed underwater with no clear path back to air.

SaltyDogs, I think removing the toggles is a good idea, as well as reviewing what to do with your family. I've told my wife "you need to be able to handle this yourself. If you fall and you're just fifty feet upwind of me, it could take a minute for me to get there."

last week I fell in with my Dakine seated harness on in cold Wisconsin water. I was very fatiqued also and took a good size gulp of water into my lungs. I became discoriented. Even with years of experience I tried to just pull away and free myself. I had to cognitively think, slow down and manually release and find my way out from under a big 11.6 sail. It felt like forever before I could cough out the water and take a breath. I think this equipment is definitely flawed for newcomers and children. I don't have the answers.

Cont. I don't think having the knife in my situation would of helped me much. After taking in a big gulp of water being stuck under my sail. I was definitely not thinking in terms of steps to go thru to free myself. Everything had to be rudimentary. I felt my energy drain out of me almost instantly after breating in water!!! It took all my energy and determination to finally swim up around my sail while choking on the water.

I'm glad it worked out Jim, and I'm glad you revived this thread. I'm going to repost this item next year to remind people of the potential for this foul up.

I never really thought about ending up on the other side of the sail while still hooked in, but I can see it happening and it's really quite frightening. One good way to avoid it is to use a reactor bar (roller type) I recently switched over from a hook and let me tell you, the improvements are astonishing. I became much more efficient and far less sloppy! You have to, otherwise you'll pop right off the harness line. With more efficiency comes more speed, more confidence, and more fun. It's also easier to get unhooked when you need to, easier to trim the sail, and less wear on lines. I would strongly recommend using a roller not only for safety, but you will become a better sailor all around.

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