The miraculous rescue of Queensland sailor Glenn Ey off Wollongong earlier this month was a stark reminder of the power of Mother Nature.
The experienced yachtsman was caught in a fierce storm that rolled his 11-metre yacht, snapping the mast in three places.
For two days he battled to make landfall but, after running out of fuel, he finally set off his emergency beacon.
His stricken vessel was spotted by a diverted Air Canada plane almost 270 nautical miles off the Illawarra coast and the Police Rescue vessel Nemesis went to his aid. It’s a timely reminder to everyone taking to the high seas: Weather can change, equipment can fail and the wide ocean can turn from friend to foe in the roll of a wave.
It’s best to invoke the Boy Scouts’ motto and be prepared. Most importantly, let someone know where you are heading and when you expect to arrive, and check your safety equipment, including life jackets, flares and an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).
Do this and you’ll make the work of Marine Rescue NSW so much easier. This is an amazing community organisation run by volunteers who monitor our coastline up to 30 nautical miles out to sea 24 hours a day.
During their 10-hour shifts, the volunteers log all boats arriving and departing, provide weather reports and wind warnings and alert crews if a boat is in distress.
We had our own encounter with the good folk from Marine Rescue on a sparkling day in October a few years ago.
We had decided to launch our 14-foot catamaran on its maiden voyage – maiden for us, the boat was 10 years old – after giving it an extensive overhaul.
The cat was looking pretty sharp and we were excited about our first excursion on the water.
We wheeled down to the boat ramp, rigged up and set sail on the beautiful Shoalhaven River.
We poked our nose outside Crookhaven Heads and the calm sea beyond beckoned.
The boat was humming along when suddenly a gust of wind snatched at the sail, three stays snapped and the mast came tumbling down.
We had replaced and checked everything on the boat except the stainless steel wire stays wrapped in plastic, assuming they were sound. In fact, they had rusted in a couple of spots, which was enough to end our sailing adventure.
But, lo and behold, Marine Rescue Shoalhaven had observed our predicament from their eyrie in the pilot house and in minutes a boat pulled up beside us and offered to tow us back home.
Marine Rescue Shoalhaven unit commander Terry Watson says that, between October and April, the unit averages about one rescue a day, with the number climbing to four or five a day at weekends.
During 2010-11, NSW volunteers handled 60per cent of all reportable marine rescues (emergencies involving loss of life or serious injury and property damage), which involved more than 2700 people.
At 270 nautical miles offshore, the rescue of Glenn Ey was outside the ambit of Marine Rescue NSW but the group works in tandem with the Water Police and other emergency services.
In fact, just days after rescuing Glenn, the Nemesis arrived in our seaside village to join Marine Rescue NSW in the annual Search and Rescue Exercise.
We all hope we won’t need to use their services, but it’s good to know they are there – just in case.