[Updated] Olivia Constants: A Sailor Taken Too Young

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Sailing Scuttlebutt (Forum Post)

By Garry Hoyt, sailing innovator

Young Olivia Constants tragic death that occurred last week while sailing a Club 420 in Annapolis reveals a need to analyze the unique differences occasioned by small boat downwind capsizes. In the usual upwind capsize the boat tips over to the point that the stabilizing power of crew weight becomes useless – the rig hits the water and skipper and crew literally fall out of the boat – usually on top of the sail. This is generally a slow motion process where all involved can see and feel what is going to happen. In contrast, the small boat downwind capsize to windward (grimly labeled the ‘death roll’) is very sudden, with the rig slamming hard into the water with enough force to often invert or ‘turtle’ the boat. And instead of the crew falling slowly out of the boat and onto the sail – both the sail and the hull crash violently on top of the crew. In this instance the life saving flotation force of the mandatory life jacket abruptly becomes a life threatening force that pins the wearer under the boat and sail, blocking the necessary under water escape. You literally have to dive under the water to get out and your life jacket will perversely prevent that. This situation is exacerbated by any hook up like a trapeze, and all floating or dangling lines of halyards create an immediate threat of entanglement. The dilemma here is how to resolve two conflicting realities. – A life jacket is essential to preserving life when separated from the boat. – A life jacket can become a death jacket when its flotation power prevents the wearer from separating themselves from the overturned boat. I can report from personal experience that it is very difficult to visualize the extreme underwater chaos presented by an upside down fully rigged sailboat with halyards, sheets and loose gear all dangling down in ways to ensnare the unwary. The fact that this situation is mercifully rare is of small comfort if your son or daughter is involved. Nor is the prompt presence of a rescue powerboat a solution in this situation. For a crew trapped under a turtled hull and rig, somebody has to be ready to very quickly dive under to get them out in conditions of low visibility. That somebody also has to be a very good swimmer and free diver – equipped with mask and flippers – and preferably unencumbered by a life jacket. All sailors need to be made aware that when their craft capsizes to windward when sailing downwind, special dangers of entrapment are created because the rig and hull come over on top of you. This calls for quick release life jackets and training that makes all participating sailors aware of how quickly that situation can turn fatal. This is a new burden that all responsible regatta organizers should provide for.

Daily Mail

A 14-year-old girl tragically died at a sailing camp after her boat capsized and she got tangled beneath it.

Olivia Constants was wearing a trapeze harness when she got caught and held under the boat on the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland, on Thursday, investigators said.

The awful accident happened as students practised manoeuvring their sailing boats near the local U.S. Naval Academy.

Sailors use trapeze harnesses to use their body weight to lean out over the water as the wind pushes the boat the other way to stop it from tipping over.

Olivia was on the boat with a friend, who escaped unhurt. Both were wearing life jackets.

The teenager was at a summer camp run by the Severn Sailing Association, travelling downwind in fair conditions when her boat, a 13-foot two-person sailboat, slowly capsized.

She was sailing in a group of seven boats and being watched by three coaches driving motorboats nearby.

The coaches immediately went to Olivia’s aid when her boat went over but despite performing CPR and calling for help on their radios, the girl could not be saved.

Olivia was taken to the seawell at the Naval Academy before being rushed to the Anne Arundel County Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators are now trying to establish just how Olivia could have become tangled in the rigging of the boat. Her young friends, devastated by the loss, have taken to social networking sites to write messages of condolence.

David Hammond wrote on a Facebook group:  ‘Olivia, I will never forget your beautiful smile. All of the Hammonds wish you much happiness in your new home.’

Jordyn Cristaudo added: ‘You have touched so many people. Keep watching down on all of us. Rest in paradise.’

WUSA9 – Annapolis Local

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WUSA) — A 14-year old girl who died in an accident at a youth sailing camp was wearing a trapeze harness when the boat she was on capsized Thursday in the Severn River, investigators say.

Investigators believe 14-year-old Olivia Constants may have become tangled in the trapeze harness rigging and held underwater when the 420 sailboat capsized as students practiced maneuvering the boats in the Severn River near the U.S. Naval Academy at about 3:15 Thursday afternoon.  Weather at the time was sunny and warm.

A trapeze harness is used to allow sailors to use body weight to lean out over the water in order to counterbalance the force of the wind on the boat and prevent it from tipping.

Constants and a companion were both wearing life jackets.  The other sailor was unhurt.

The 420 is a lightweight 13-foot racing-class sailboat that is normally operated by two people.  The sailors were participating in a camp run by the Severn Sailing Association.

The boat was sailing downwind in fair conditions and rolled slowly as it went over, witnesses told investigators.

The 420 that capsized was sailing in a group of seven boats attended by three coaches nearby in motorboats.  The coaches rescued Constants, started CPR and called for help on radios while still on the water, investigators said.

The victim was brought to the seawall at the nearby U.S. Naval Academy. Annapolis paramedics rushed her to the Anne Arundel County Medical Center where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators are trying to determine how Constants may have become tangled in the rigging of the boat.