Monday, October 14, 2013

Swimming at Anchor: You're Not Always Safe in the Water

And, no, I am not talking about sharks here.  Bad things seem to be happening to folks around us which, I must admit, is slightly unnerving.  First, there was the attack on the cruisers in the anchorage next to us, then our very good friends had their dinghy stolen (miraculously it was recovered), and - to add insult to injury (or visa versa) - one of those same friends was a potentially deadly accident while swimming in a popular anchorage.

Most boat folks love the water.  The two sort of go hand in hand.  Our friend, Mario, is no exception and everywhere he and his beautiful partner, Karine, sail they take to the water to either spearfish, swim or snorkel.  They also happen to be supremely awesome and kind people so when mutual friends of ours anchored nearby, Mario offered to dive their anchor for them (a good habit to get into each time you drop the hook to make sure your anchor is properly set and dug in, we do this every time we anchor).  As he was swimming over to the boat, another cruiser's dinghy came zooming through the anchorage at top speed, oblivious to the fact that Mario was in the water.  Our friend, Eugene, who was on the bow of boat who's anchor was being checked screamed at the dinghy to tell them there was a swimmer in the water - but it was too late.  They never saw Mario and ran over him with their boat.  Luckily, Mario was able to dive down far enough to ensure the hit was not lethal (this sort of accident can absolutely be deadly) but he still suffered lacerations on his back from the propeller, and recieved several severe bruises on his head and shoulder as a result.  It is truly a miracle it was not worse and we are so happy he will be fine.

There are two very important lessons to take away from this near tragedy:
  1. Be a cautious and watchful dinghy driver at ALL times:  but especially when you are driving through an anchorage.  When you are motoring through a crowded anchorage, do not go at top speed and be very mindful that there might be swimmers in the water.  Proceed with caution and keep a watchful eye.  Same goes for driving your big boat (though they rarely hit the speeds that dinghies do).
  2. As a swimmer, do NOT assume you can be seen.  If you are swimming in a busy/crowded anchorage do not assume other boaters can see you, it is surprisingly difficult to see a lone swimmer or snorkeler in the water, especially during certain light.  Take precaution and use some sort of personal safety buoy (no affiliation) to alert dinghies and local boats to your whereabouts.  You do not need to buy anything fancy, a simple white milk jug or an old (brightly colored) life jacket attached to a tether could do the trick as well.
The swim buoy Mario and Karine will tow from now on to help ensure they are seen in the water.
Big thanks to Mario and Karine of The Good Life for letting us share their story in the hopes of helping others.

Photos courtesy of Mario and Karine of The Good Life catamaran.

8 comments: said...

... ouch ... said...

.. did the guy come back? .. or stop?

Nikki @ Sailrite DIY Advice Blog said...

When it rains, it pours, huh? Glad to hear everyone is okay!

boatbaby said...

Oh my heart aches for your friend. So scary to think about, especially with kids who are even harder to see. Thank you for sharing this!

Ourjourneytothesea said...

As a speara I can tell you that boats do not pay attention, even when there are dive flags indicating divers in the water. I have seen boats come past way too close and fast for my liking. When diving I'm always conscious of the sound of boats (even when they are ages away I hear them and look up out of the water).

There is also reason to the boat rules and not travelling at more than 6 knots (which is still fast for a swimmer in the water) near anchored boats or the shore. This also applies to dinghies.

When we anchor and want to swim to shore we usually have someone driving the dinghy next to us as a matter of safety.

The dinghy in your case should have been more careful around a boat that was obviously anchoring anyway.

I bet the driver feels terrible.

I'm glad this unfortunate incident was not fatal, but am sorry for your friend who got hurt. I hope his wounds heal well and quickly.

Surely the driver of the dinghy has learned his lesson.

Robin Kiefer said...

Glad to hear your friend is ok and thanks for the link to our open water swim safety buoy.

I use it to alert jet skis & other boats to my whereabouts during my swims in Lake Michigan and other inland lakes.

Best of luck.

Jen & John said...

A more accurate account of the near fatality would have been obtained from checking with everyone involved.
1 The dinghy was not zooming through the anchorage at full speed. It was on a plane but nowhere near full speed.
2 Mario was anchored approximately 200 feet from his friend’s boat on the outside southern edge of the St George anchorage.
3 His friend was still in the process of anchoring.
4 Mario said he impulsively snorkeled towards his friend’s boat.
5 Mario said he normally snorkeled with a red float, but as he headed off impulsively he did not think to take it.
6 Mario was under the water, on his own, at about a distance of 100 feet from his own boat.
7 The person driving the dingy saw him as he surfaced, threw the engine into neutral and swerved to try to avoid Mario.
8 Mario never dove under the water he went under the dinghy. It was the momentum of the dingy that hit his head and shoulder. The propeller blades grazed his back.
9 The people in the dingy grabbed Mario and with the help of his friend Eugene, who dove into the water, dragged/towed Mario in the water all the way back to his boat.
10 The people in the dingy then took Mario and Karine to seek medical attention. Paid for their taxi fare and checked on them later in the afternoon.
11 Two weeks later Kaine told us that Mario himself nearly hit a Grenadian snorkeler when driving his own dingy in the same anchorage.
This nasty near accident has been a lesson to everyone involved, as everyone was very shaken up.

Windtraveler said...

Hi Jen and John -

I am only telling what I was told by Karine. Sorry if this was you or someone you know who hit Mario, but I have no idea who it was so checking with them to get the "facts" was not really something I was interested in. I wasn't incriminating anyone or trying to build a legal case, I simply used it as an opportunity to tell the (very important and relevant) cautionary tale that it's important for BOTH divers and swimmers to be vigilant in the water. And I don't think this counts as a "near accident". It was an ACTUAL accident.

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