Members of the Farr 395 Mosquito have been awarded an Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal for saving the life of a fellow crew member that fell overboard during the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.
While sailing into the Manitou Channel on the afternoon of July 17, 2011, in a strong southwest wind gusting to 40 knots and four to six foot waves, Mosquito was running at high speed under an asymmetrical spinnaker when the boat was knocked over while jibing. Mosquito was knocked over so far that the spreader tips were touching water. Co-skipper Dave Radtke immediately took notice of co-skipper Steve Laughlin in the boat’s wake. Radtke recalled thinking to himself, 'I hope everybody remembers their job.'
Radtke would not be disappointed in his crew. After shouting 'man overboard,' Radtke moved to the stern and deployed the boat’s Lifesling as crewmember Bob King served as spotter, pointing at Laughlin and waving to him to assure him that he was not out of sight. At the helm, Peter Gibbons-Neff brought the boat’s bow into the wind and the crew got to work dousing the spinnaker, which was a demanding job in these conditions. One crewmember suffered a third-degree rope burn on his hand during this process.
By the time the spinnaker was below, crew member Geet Sharma had pushed the MOB (man over board) button on the boat’s chart plotter and Radtke made a mayday call over the boat’s radio.
After the crew checked for lines in the water, the engine (which was running to charge batteries) was put into gear and the boat headed towards Laughlin in the direction King was pointing. Laughlin occasionally dipped out of sight in the trough of a wave, but his bright orange inflated life jacket was a visible target. Mosquito dragged the Lifesling into Laughlin’s hands and he was pulled to the boat, where he climbed up the stern swim ladder. Radtke assured the Coast Guard that all hands were on deck.
After the boat was cleaned up and a dressing was applied to the injured crew member’s hand, the crew hoisted a spinnaker and resumed racing. This accident occurred six hours before the fatal capsize of WingNuts that was the subject of a US Sailing Independent Review Panel's inquiry.
Craig Warner, who nominated Mosquito for the Hanson Rescue Medal, reported that the crew had three valuable takeaways:
1 - Preparation and Practice Are Key: Mosquito’s sailors bring their own safety kits, including their preferred inflatable life jacket/safety harness, tether, and personal strobe light, as well as recharge kits for the inflatables. They practiced man overboard drills periodically during the season and discussed the procedure in detail during a mandatory team meeting before the start of the Chicago-Mackinac Race.
All of this preparation became necessary. 'The incident occurred in a heartbeat. Laughlin went over the side so quickly that he had no time to worry about falling overboard,' said Warner. 'His first recollection of the incident is being under water and seeing the hull of the boat spinning over him from below the surface.'
2 – Inflatable Life Jacket Lesson: A second lesson learned is that a crotch strap is a good thing to have on an inflatable life jacket. Mr. Laughlin was not using one and the life jacket slipped up his torso and over his neck, making his maneuverability and swimming difficult.
3 – Importance of Sail Handling: The boat’s initial trouble occurred because the crew was attempting an inside jibe, with the asymmetrical spinnaker’s clew between the sail and the headstay. This is a demanding, split-second task. 'When sailing a sprit boat downwind in heavy air, you should rig the spinnaker for an outside jibe,' Warner said in his nomination form. 'The kite could have been allowed to ‘flag’ off of the bow until the main had been safely jibed and then trimmed in.'
Dave Radtke - co-owner/skipper
Steve Laughlin - co-owner/skipper
Amelia Radtke - owner's daughter
Because one of the purposes of US Sailing’s Hanson Rescue Medal program is to gather information about what works and what doesn’t in emergencies on the water, these lessons learned are sure to be passed along at US Sailing Safety-at-Sea seminars, detailed in publications and discussed in sailing classes.
The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded by US Sailing’s Safety-at-Sea Committee to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the United States, or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in the U.S. Since December 2009, the Safety-at-Sea Committee of US Sailing has awarded 30 Hanson Rescue Medals for 24 incidents in which 48 lives were saved in the waters of 14 states.
More than 180 Hanson Rescue Medals have been awarded since this program was launched in 1989. Any individual or organization may submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal. For more information, including nomination forms, please visit the rescue medal site
For the most authoritative daylong seminar on safe seamanship, heavy weather tactics, weather forecasting, communications and boat preparation, register for an upcoming US Sailing Safety-at-Sea seminar. Please visit the US Sailing Safety-at-Sea seminar site
for details on these certification opportunities.