A seasoned sailor did almost everything right, but still found himself separated from his boat and fading fast.
No one could ever accuse Patrick Seidel of being an inexperienced skipper, but there’s more to boating than skill. Seidel, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and retired submarine commander, had just finished a race aboard .45, his Capri 22 sailboat and was on his way back to the marina near Baltimore, Maryland, when he suddenly found himself in the water.
As he moved his outboard across the deck, the pelican hook on the lifeline opened, and Seidel fell overboard. Initially clinging to the tiller extension, Seidel injured his shoulder, could not hold on, and consequently separated from his boat. There was one other crewmember on .45, a novice, who was unable to get the sails down and turn the boat to get Seidel out of the water.
The incident occurred in late October 2016; the seas were about 2 feet, there was 10 to 15 knots of breeze, and sea temperatures were in the upper 50s to low 60s.
“I was in the water for about 20 to 25 minutes when I realized I was losing strength and if I didn’t do something aggressive I would likely drown,” Seidel explained. Stripping down to his underwear, Seidel was able to swim the 500 yards to a navigational buoy and hang on. The crew of Incommunicado, another boat returning from the same race, realized that something was wrong when they spotted .45’s flogging sails. Thankfully they managed to drag the now hypothermic Seidel aboard their boat before wrapping him in blankets and getting him to shore.
This incident highlights that things can go wrong in an instant. BoatUS recommends that all crew wear lifejackets, know how to call for help on the VHF, and understand what to do in the event of an emergency. Thankfully, due to skill and quick thinking by Incommunicado’s crew, Seidel lived to tell the tale but had he not been spotted by another boat or the weather had been poor, he might not have been so lucky.