Sailing Fatality Studies Shine Light on Tethers

Several post-accident investigations have raised questions about tethers.


The capsize of WingNuts is not the first fatal accident that has put the spotlight on the harness-to-tether connection. Since 1986, several widely publicized fatal sailing accidents have prompted inquiries into the harnesses and safety tethers used by sailors.

• Pride of Baltimore, 1986: Second mate Joseph McGeady cuts several young crewmembers free when the tall ship sinks in a “white squall,” killing four. In the aftermath, crews of traditional sailing vessels are advised to wear tethers with clips at both ends.

• White Lightning, 1999: Crew member Mark Van Selst tries in vain to bring aboard skipper Harvey Schlasky who drowns while being dragged by his tether in the Doublehanded Farallones Race.

• Business Post of Naiad, 1998: Phillip Skeggs dies entangled in lines and at the end of his tether when the IMS racing boat capsized in the lethal 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race in the Tasman Sea. Fellow racer Robert Mathews tries to release his tether clip, but finds it very difficult as he, too, was at the end of his tether.

• Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2009: Sailors Andrew Short and Sally Gordon die when their boat runs aground on Flinders Islet during the Flinders Islet Yacht Race in Australia. Post-race inquiry into the grounding suggested that Gordon, who was somehow yanked from her harness, may have survived if she had been able to release her tether from the boat.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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