Danger in the Bailiwick of Guernsey

This picture-perfect marina scene belies one of the underrated dangers of boating – falling in the water at the dock.

While cruising along the English Channel with two friends, we stopped at a Guernsey Isle (A.K.A. the Bailiwick of Guernsey) marina for a couple of nights. The Beaucette Marina, nestled in an abandoned rock quarry, overlooks the English Channel at high tide. A hole blasted in the sidewall of the quarry lets in the sea and allows boats to enter and leave during the 30-foot tides. It was a perfect setting for exploring the isolated culture of the British-owned Channel Islands off the coast of France.

Late one night, one of my friends decided to go for a walk. We were asleep and did not hear him leave. Sometime later, a neighbor pounded on the hull and woke us up. He was shouting that one of our crew was found thrashing in the water unable to climb back on the pier.

After a hot shower, fresh clothes, and a stiff drink, my shaken friend recounted his story. As he left the boat in the dark, something caused him to stumble and fall off the pier into the water. He struggled for several minutes trying to climb back on the pier – not an easy task for an overweight seventysomething. The cold Channel water began to take its toll and he shouted for his life. A crewmember on a nearby boat heard the shouts and came to his assistance. Luckily, my friend was not in the water long enough to suffer extreme hypothermia or find himself washed out to sea in the strong tidal current.

The midnight saga ended happily with only minor bruises and scrapes from the fall. However, it left me with unsettling thoughts about this underrated danger in a marina as well as over-aged sailors. You don’t have to be out on the ocean in a storm and temporarily unclipped from a harness to find yourself desperately scrambling and unable to get aboard or onshore.

As they used to say weekly on NYPD Blue, “. . . and be careful out there.”

By Ocean Navigator