Lessons From A Man Overboard - Mike Mead

October 28th, 2022

Hi, New Weta owner here so I had been holding on to this story due to embarrassment I guess. I've just written the communications tips for a Coastguard win a PLB competition so thought I may as well bite the bullet and hopefully help some other sailors in future.

I've been power boating and windsurfing all my life and my son learnt to sail and race in Optis before deciding racing was not really for him and the Opti was a bit boring for fun sailing.

We restored an old Paper Tiger and had some fun sailing for a few years but it was heavy and fragile and increasingly stressed by sailing 2 up - now with a fast growing teen. So we purchased a Weta last year.

Third time out and we had a nice solid 10 knots rising to around 17 over the day. Starting to get used new levels of speed and maneuverability.

We decided we would try sitting on the amas. My son was on the tiller and we were now bearing away whooping and yelling when my son's foot slipped out of the hiking strap. His foot slipped out and he went over the side pulling the tiller with him. I was looking forward heard a splash and was completely caught out by the g-force of an unintended gybe. 

In I went too with a hand on the stay but hadn't noticed I had no gloves on and I couldn't hang on there so went to grab the boat with my other hand. Not being familiar with the Weta yet, instead of grabbing a tramp handle I grabbed the upright ama tube. Too wide and slippery for a wet hand and that was it - two men overboard.

The jib was still cleated so the weta kept going in a teasing arc slowing down to about 3 knots. We tried to swim on an intercept course, but it straightened off and sailed slowly away down the river before it decided to miss two small beaches and park itself on the rocks.
So many lessons learnt from this day.

We were in the middle of the Tamaki river probably 800m from shore well over our depth and after high tide. We would have been able to swim to shore as it happens. But at the time I was not sure if we could swim against tide to the nearest beach and aware of hypothermia in spring if we did had to go the other way. So I called Coastguard on *500.

I had read forums about bad experiences with the weta harness too so had not tried that yet. We use it all the time now.
Given the location, I thought the cell phone in a dry pouch was all I needed to take out and I left the VHF in the car.

Problems encountered trying to use a phone when in the water:

Poor reception. At water level/hard to hear at arms length through the dry bag. Connection dropped a few times. Surprising how much better connection was when I handed phone to a kayaker who came to assist.
Many boats passed by less than 1km away which could have been listening to VHF CH16.

Mobile data was not on - easily fixed, but then web browser did not have access to GPS so I could not respond to coastguards text which automatically opens a webpage and returns GPS location. It took a few minutes when bobbing around in the water to work out that was the problem.

As we were a small craft sailing outside of the normal traffic route we were very hard to spot in the water a the not in the immediate search area. It was really hard to communicate an accurate location. A PLB would be by far the best option in this situation. I’d been thinking of getting one for a few years. I bought one straight after our rescue.

Additional tip. The home button on some Iphones doesn’t work well (or at all) through some dry bags. Turn on Assistive Touch to get a virtual home button which floats around the screen.

Now the only issue is working out which safety gear is best on person versus attached to the boat on any given day.
We hope to meet more Weta sailors this season. We've been a little rattled and taking it easy so haven't felt up to giving racing a go as yet. Still loving our Weta.

We are keen on adventure/destination sails and I have a number plotted out on Navionics out of East Auckland. It would be great to connect with like minded Weta sailors for these. I'll post on the Weta Whatsapp when the weather looks right.

The first trip will be either from Bucklands Beach around Motukorea (Browns Is) or to St Helliers for an ice cream. Then Motuihe, Waiheke from Maraetai, and along the Kayak route from Kawakawa Bay around to the regional parks. Kind Regards, Mike.

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