Solo safety and swimming with sharks

Out on the West Coast, around the shark-laden waters of Farallon Islands, fisherman Jim Colomy was aboard his 31-foot F/V Destiny, steaming ahead at 16 knots when his seat post broke. As a solo fisherman, he had a close call and almost went over the rail.

Learning from that experience, Colomy fixed his seat post, raised the rail and added a permanent boarding ladder.

“It was close enough for me to realize I needed a little more safety,” he said. “My main goal was to have something to shut the boat off if I fell over the side.”

Colomy now uses an Alert2 man-overboard alert transmitter by Emerald Marine (featured in the NF March 2017 issue) to shut off his engine and signal a piercing alert if he goes overboard.

After hearing about Colomy’s story early in the morning, the topic of falling overboard was on my mind during this week’s solar eclipse (which for the record, was pretty much a dud out in Long Island Sound, since the overcast sky prevented even the slightest chance of viewing the moon’s passing shadow).

Although I thought it would get pretty dark, nothing much happened, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer or the water calmer. Yet the flat calm had an eerie cast about it, and I happened to make a passing comment to the marine biologist we were ferrying aboard that it’s the type of sheen you see just before sharks come out to feed. The pundits on the news talked up a big game that birds and mammals would settle down for the night during the eclipse, but I didn’t hear one mention of marine life. Would the nighttime creatures wake up to feed during the day?

As we made our way to the area where we had to take water samples, I was talking to a crewmate who mentioned years ago on a big dredge boat that the wooden quarter-deck rail he was sitting on broke unexpectedly and he fell into the water, holding onto the crush rail with all his might to prevent from getting sucked into the spinning four-blade wheel.

The idea stuck in my head as we took water samples off the boat. Having to do this a few dozen times, I was wondering if I might be pushing my luck, leaning overboard to fill the bottles, with not a 40-inch wheel outback but a 300-hp outboard. We take regular water samples using a dipstick, which is a metal rod that fits the sample bottles nicely. But these, being special government bottles, were a different size. Since the biologists were running late and we had to catch the tide, we were urged to just “do it quick.”

While we were lucky this time, I know that that’s exactly when things go bad on the water. In our fabrication shop, we could have quickly made a new dipstick for the bottles faster than it took the moon’s shadow to pass over the sun.

About the author

Jean Paul Vellotti

Jean Paul Vellotti is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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