September 2009 Issue
Practical Sailor Tests Lightweight Tether Aimed at Racing Sailors
Spinlock cutter and harnesses rethink the snap-hook.
There’s a reason why we recommend safety tethers—the umbilical cords that connect the jacklines on our boats to the harnesses on our bodies—be 6 feet long or shorter. Getting dragged behind a boat, even at the sedate speed of 4 knots, can easily drown a person. Unless someone is on hand to haul you on board, survival relies on a superhuman burst of adrenaline. Though rare, there have been some highly publicized deaths involving harnesses. The story of Harvey Shalsky, a sailor in the 1999 Double-handed Farallones Race, is familiar to most racers. Shalsky, racing with longtime partner Mark Van Selst, drowned while tethered to his J/29 White Lightning. Van Selst was unable to slow the boat or haul his partner in, and eventually cut loose Shalsky (who was by then unconscious) so that following boats could recover him. The hazards associated with a tether that cannot be easily released under load prompted the International Sailing Federation (ISAF, the council responsible for regulating offshore sailing races) to recommend this feature in tether designs. It is not a requirement, only a recommendation, and ISAF does not stipulate what method should be used for the release.
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