Crew member gets caught up in sail takedown, needs rescue

May 15, 1992|By Peter Baker

SAN DIEGO -- At the end of the sixth leg of Race 4 of the America's Cup yesterday, it appeared that the U.S. team had completed a poor gennaker takedown.

This time, however, there was a twist -- 28-year-old grinder Peter Fennelly of Colonia, N.J., was caught up in the confusion of sails and line.

A jib sheet was wrapped around Fennelly's leg. He was trapped at the edge of the deck and in danger of going overboard at a crucial point of the race.

"As we were about to go to the leeward mark my responsibility is to take out the reaching strut, which is short pole, and put it in its bracket," Fennelly said, while describing what the America3 crew calls the Mexican Drop. "I stepped forward to help take down the [gennaker], and there was a loop in the jib sheet, and I got trapped and slammed into the shrouds."

Bowman Jerry Kirby, 36, of Newport, R.I., and pitman Wally Henry, 27, of Port Jefferson, N.Y., came to the rescue.

"No one else knew right away he was in trouble," Kirby said. "They were winching in the sheets and going to break Peter's leg by grinding it through the winch."

Fennelly was powerless to help himself, and most of the crew was concentrating on the most difficult rounding of the race.

"Pete was kind of suspended over the side of the boat, with the jib sheet pulling him out," Henry said. "And I knew that if he went in the water the regatta was going to be tied 2-2."

The problem that faced Henry was where to grab Fennelly, who was hanging by his foot.

"The only thing I could grab was his head," Henry said. "So I got him in a headlock, and there was no way I was going to let go."

In the meantime, the gennaker came down on top of them and bowman Kirby and his knife showed up.

"I thought he might try to take the leg off or cut the jib sheet," Henry said jokingly.

As the boat continued to round the mark, the pressure on Fennelly's leg increased.

Kirby quickly went into the water while holding the handrail, prepared to cut away the sheet and sacrifice the race to save the grinder's foot.

While the frenetic activity continued on one side of the boat, on the other side, tailer Mike Toppa was dutifully winding in the jib.

"When Mike eased the sheet," Kirby said, they were able to get the sheet off Fennelly's foot.

"But he has a size 15," Kirby said, "so it was like getting the rope around a small dinghy."

Fennelly was unharmed by the incident.

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