Tantivy MOB Recovery, Planning and Preparation Were Key

During last Saturday’s Scatchet Head Race, Gina Layton fell overboard during a tack. It could happen to anyone. Luckily, it happened on Stuart Burnell’s Tantivy. Burnell not only has practiced man overboard drills, he’s had real life experience with them. Stuart has taken the time to write this tale up in the hopes that the rest of us can take something from it as well.

Gina looked perfectly dry, warm and not very traumatized at all back at the dock. – KMH

By Stuart Burnell

In the 10+ years I have owned Tantivy, we have had two people go overboard, one in 2014 and now one in 2016. Of the nine crew on Tantivy this weekend, five have fallen overboard from some boat at some point. I slipped and went overboard off a T-bird in 1996.

The point is that in every case we all found ourselves going overboard so fast there was nothing to done except to enjoy the ride. It can, and does, happen.

On this race the wind was in the low teens before we left the dock for this CYC Seattle race. Crew members Paul, Meg and I were discussing which head sail we were going to use and the rest of the crew were busy rigging the boat.

We started without a headsail, hoisted the kite and took off. Jan Anderson took a few very good photos of Tantivy right after the start and you can clearly see we did not have the Lifeslings in place.

After 15 to 30 minutes we gybed to port and crossed Balance and Sachem. Right after that, crew member Suzette noticed the two Lifeslings usually mounted on the stern rail were not in place. She immediately took care of that.

If the Slings had not been in place it would have taken a lot longer to get Gina out of the water.

Everyone had life jackets on.

Steps as executed:

Crew hollers man overboard!

We have a designated spotter, who in this case was Suzette who moved to the back of the boat and deployed a Lifesling.

Trimmers and foredeck stayed at their posts to complete our tack as did the foredeck crew. We dropped the headsail (our #3 does not furl). The trimmers went forward to help secure it.

Tantivy, seen here smoking along downwind, was missing its Lifeslings on the stern rail. Fortunately, the mistake was caught soon after this picture was taken.
Tantivy, seen here smoking along downwind, was missing its Lifeslings on the stern rail. Fortunately, the mistake was caught soon after Jan Anderson took this photo.

Once the jib was secured, the main trimmer and driver maneuvered the boat back to Gina. We did the standard figure eight maneuver and rounded down wind and stopped the 20 feet from her. Paul and Suzette pulled Gina to the stern where we deployed the swim ladder and pulled her to and over the transom.

The system worked well for us. We do have the block and tackle to bring some one over the side rather than the transom. Both man overboard retrievals (2014 and 2016) have been in 20 plus knots of wind and in 3+ foot waves. Over the transom always seems safest for us.

We soon found ourselves aground and unable to get off the bottom by sailing. So, our race ended when we had to use the engine to get back into deep water.


I think getting blown down on to a weather beach could have been avoided. After Gina grabbed the Lifesling, I was more concerned with stopping the boat than positioning the it. We could have possibly pointed the bow away from the beach, which would have allowed a little more time to hoist the jib and get control of the boat once she was completely recovered.

While we have done a number of man overboard practices, we have never tried to get the boat going again without using the engine.

This summer you will see Tantivy doing that as a drill.

Practice Practice Practice

Having done two real live man overboard maneuvers I can say doing the drills is so very important. We trained with Bill Walton before the Vic Maui in 1994, 1996, 2000, and we did it before the Van Isle 360 in 2011 and 2013. In 2013 we had everyone on board drive the boat and run though the various other positions: spotter, driver, main trim and sail handling, plus who went for the block and tackle.

Now we will work on getting the sails back up and racing again. While I feel really bad about having someone fall overboard, I feel very good about how well the crew performed under very stressful conditions. To my knowledge, three of the crew we had on Saturday had never done a man overboard drill.

Links: The Sailing Foundation Lifesling Page, a video of the Lifesling in use.

Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He's married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

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