Bonnie Russell, an independent legal publicist, still remembers her first day sailing years ago – the day she fell overboard into the San Francisco Bay without a life jacket.
Although she had her wisdom teeth removed the day before, she said she was invited by friends to go sailing on the first day of winter and accepted their offer. She spent the first little while sleeping, but later that afternoon she felt better and decided to pose for some pictures.
While posing, Russell said a sudden wave emerged and slapped the side of the boat, causing her to lose her balance. She quickly tried to grab the boom to hang on, but missed it by inches.
“Going over the stanchion backwards, as I looked at the water I remember thinking, ‘Oh boy – this is going to be cold,’” she said.
After she surfaced, she said she instinctively began swimming toward the boat. However, it was gaining quite a bit of distance from her and she quickly realized she would drown if she kept trying to go after it. Although someone was spotting her, they forgot to throw a life ring to her.
Russell said the wind began to pick up and she saw the sail on the boat coming down as they turned the motor on. All that was on her mind was a story her friend in the Coast Guard told her about snagging a shark in the bay while fishing.
“I focused on floating as high up in the water as possible, and not panicking as I wondered how far into the Bay sharks came,” she said.
Russell said a man that liked her jumped overboard and attempted to rescue her despite the disapproval from the rest of the boaters on board. Because he had been drinking, she refused his offer to save her and swim to Berkeley.
Her rescuer ended up being a friend who was actually on the boat, she said. Once they caught up to her, she tried to climb up the ladder and was pulled on board. The entire rescue effort took about eight minutes.
“Everyone commented how small I looked in the water,” she said. “I was too cold too unzip my parka, and wasn’t talking much as my teeth were chattering at a pretty good clip.”
Russell said the man that jumped in after her made it back onto the boat, but he was in shock and partly hypothermic. Later on the friends discovered a photo that was taken of the man jumping overboard and one of the other men on board shouting “NO!”
Although she said she still sails, Russell offers two basic rules she learned from that day. One, don’t swim after the boat. Two?
“Remember it’s the guy in the boat who will save you, not the guy who jumps in the water,” she said.