■ A handheld VHF equipped with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) would have meant
I didn’t have to rely on my mast-mounted VHF antennae and that I could reach the
Coast Guard with the push of one button. As I often sailed offshore and alone, a PLB
would have been a very good investment too, especially if it had been attached to
■ Four years earlier, I’d had all the standing and running rigging replaced professionally by a very reputable firm. My dismasting was caused by a cast aluminum bow
fitting to which the forestay attached that failed due to metal fatigue. The bow fitting
had looked substantial but was hard to inspect, as it was built into the hull. After
30-plus years, it would have been prudent to replace it with a fabricated stainless-steel fitting when I rerigged.
■ When the headstay broke, I released the mainsheet and headsail. If I had turned the
boat quickly off the wind, with very little mainsheet tension, I might have been able
to unload the forestay by going downwind, secured the mast with a halyard, and prevented the dismasting.
■ If I had had rigging cutters instead of the hardware-store ones, I could have
removed the rigging faster and with less risk to me and the boat.
■ I should have had the motor checked out at a marina in the Keys before leaving or
turned back when the motor began overheating.
■ I always wear a West Marine combo harness and life jacket when sailing alone, and
I have a good system to keep one tethered to the boat at all time, via jacklines, using
two short tethers.
■ I didn’t panic, but (somewhat) calmly assessed my options and made decisions that
prevented me from getting into a worse situation.
By mid-afternoon, a stronger cellphone
signal let me call TowBoatU.S. By 1800,
I was hooked up and heading to shore.
Luckily, I have an unlimited towing policy, so at least I didn’t have to worry about
that. Back at the TowBoatU.S. base in
Marco Island, the crew fed me and kindly
allowed me to spend the night at the
operation’s house, then arranged a tow the
next day up to Fort Myers Beach.
Although it was distressing to have
Destiny basically destroyed, I was grateful
for a safe conclusion to a story that could
have ended a lot worse.
Tom Clarkson has cruised and raced
sailboats since he was 12. He lives in Key
and has sailed
Florida and the
Bahamas. He’s also
sailed in Hawaii,
California, on the
Great Lakes, and
in the Gulf
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