In the 21 years since the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” awards were first introduced, we have always dutifully waited until the end of the month before allocating the plaudits, even when it has been clear for days or even weeks where the honours were going to be placed.
But special situations deserve special treatment, and 17–year-old Cork Harbour sailor Johnny Durcan’s heartfelt thanks to fellow 29er sailors Simon Hoffman of Australia and Santiago Alegre of Spain for saving his life in the recent Worlds at Los Angeles has served as a very timely reminder of the dangers of our sport at its most intense and competitive levels.
So now is the time to honour what they did. And what they did was so special that we’ll regard it as a privilege to re–state it all when the end of the month duly arrives in a fortnight’s time.
Even though capsizes are part and parcel of dinghy racing, in a complex trapeze skiff like the 29er, an ordinary capsize can sometimes escalate into a rapidly deteriorating situation in which sailors are trapped in ropes, lines and sails, with the very lifejackets which are supposed to help them actually jamming them in situations where drowning becomes all too possible.
This is what happened with Johnny Durcan. But in the hectic rush of the fleet, other competitors scarcely noticed that this was something much worse than an ordinary capsize. Yet Simon Hoffman, who had recently received intensive first-aid training as part of his bid to become a fully-fledged sailing coach, sensed that this was a disaster-in-the-making. He simply abandoned his own boat, tore off his lifejacket, and dived underneath the capsized boat to save Durcan in what was now a full-scale emergency.
He was soon joined by Santiago Alegre, and between them they released Durcan and dragged him up through a mesh of ropes and sails to the surface. He had been immersed for maybe three minutes, and was in a very bad way. But he revived after CPR by Hoffman and Alegre, and fully recovered in hospital, as Afloat.ie reported on August 6th and also in our enews edition last Monday.
Just a few seconds more, or with less decisive action by Hoffman and Alegre, and this would not have been a story with a happy ending. We can all only hope that, faced with such a situation, our own instincts of humanity would guide us in the right way too. Yet that is something for which most of the rest of us can only hope. But Simon Hoffman and Santiago Alegre have shown us what true instincts of humanity can achieve, and they deserve heartfelt gratitude from the entire world of sailing.