Survivor Club

Rescue Map

Not sure why I brought it

Name Golden
Product Name ResQLink+™ PLB
Date of Rescue 02/22/2016
Saved By Pitstop Hill Mentawais
Beacon Purchased From Whitworths Marine & Leisure
Lives Saved 13 people

I’m really not sure why I brought it. As I was preparing for my trip to the Mantawais on Feb 13th, I was getting the froth on. In the garage I grabbed my boards and my drybag – dry rucksack really. It looked pretty empty, so I put in my mask and snorkel for the days when it may have been a little smaller. Sitting beside it was my EPIRB, on top of my surf ski. I usually take it out if going for long paddles in Geographe bay, but take it out of the surf ski hull to limit humidity. I decided to pop it in the bag, thinking it’s small and light and who knows!

Pitstop Hill is in the Mentawais, and the usual route is from Perth to KL, overnight in KL with a morning flight to Padang on Sumatra and then boat over the Mentawai strait to “the Hill”. This went well and Pitstop Hill was awesome as usual, same as the last 3 times, some fun waves and fun time on the hill. After 9 days came the heart-sink - packing up the boards and preparing to leave in the morning.

After a rushed breakfast in the morning, the boat set off from the hill at 06:50. The boat was a new boat for the trip, having done only a couple trips across the Mentawai strait before. The trip to the hill from Padang had been good in it– just over 3 hrs for the 80NM trip. On board were 4 Indonesian crew and 9 surfers including me – 4 from WA, 2 from Sweden and 3 from the eastern states.

During the first part of the trip the boat was fine and all was normal. The weather was OK, but getting hot fast and very humid, with occasional rain showers. About 30km out however there was an issue and the engines died. Luckily, they started again, but about 5km they died again. Some of the guys were getting a little jittery, we all had flights to catch from Padang, and one of the guys had cut it a bit fine with transfer times. The engine however restarted but shortly after that failed – this time for good, about 35NM from land.

The Indonesian crew spent a while tinkering with the engines. At this time the boat GPS and radio were still active, but soon failed also. It was clear it was an electrical problem, and it was also clear the crew had no idea of how to fix it. One of the surfers had a look too, but the cause wasn’t obvious. At the time we were about 1hr 15 mins into the journey, just under half way across, and land was not initially visible between rain showers.

The provisions we had on board were a few 1 litre bottles of water and a packet of lemon flavoured rice crackers. Emergency equipment consisted of the boat radio and a few life jackets. There was no EPIRB on board, no satellite phone, flares or other. The radio was getting no response, and as line-of-sight was its range limit, I doubted that it would. There were few charter boats around this early in the season, probably none in the Strait, and we hadn’t even seen a canoe since leaving the hill. To improve radio range we disconnected the radio antenna from the side of the boat and re-positioned it higher on the roof duct taped to a gaff on board as the cable was long enough to reach up. Unfortunately there was still no reception on that or on the mobile phones we had.

During this, I noted that our rate of drift was massive. This made sitting on the boat unpleasant, if a squall came along more unstable, and if we needed to be searched for, the search area would be a lot wider. I got a big red Esky and tied a rope to it and threw it over tied to the anchor rope. This slowed our drift rate and brought us head to wind, making it more comfortable. I then remembered my EPIRB I had in the drybag, and grabbed it. I set it off and we all waited. As it was registered in Australia and I hadn’t used it before I had no idea if it would work or not. I did know that if it did, my partner would be contacted, who may not answer her phone as she was at a conference.

During our waiting it was clear that 1. There was not a lot of drinkable water 2. It was getting fairly hot 3. It was likely that no one knew there was a problem. The first time someone would have realised something was wrong is when we didn’t turn up on time in Padang. This wasn’t that unusual though, as occasionally there are sea factors that make going more slowly advisable. Also, if we didn’t make it back, anyone searching wouldn’t have a clue where in the Strait to search – we had already drifted 15km from our intended route. There was no way we would be found that day, and a search wouldn’t have been mounted yet, and possibly not the next day either, as we were mid-strait and would have drifted over 50-80km northwards. We decided if we were going to eat anyone to survive, it would be one of the Swedes – he had head-butted the reef the day before and had sustained a nasty gash to his forehead that I had sutured up, so was already damaged.

Back in Australia, My partner had received an urgent text message to contact a number in Canberra. She called, and the joint rescue coordination centre verified that an EPIRB signal was detected. She verified that I was travelling in those waters, but unfortunately didn’t have any contact details. Canberra then contacted the Indonesian rescue centre, but in Indo time, their response was not overly enthusiastic. My partner then got contact email address for Paul Clarke, Owner and operator of Pitstop Hill, from one of the other surfer’s wives. As usual, Paul was on the ball, and rapidly organised a rescue boat to pick us up with additional food and water.

The EPIRB had also been transmitting our GPS co-ordinates, and after about five and a half hours of drifting one of the guys spotted a boat coming directly towards us. We waved and sounded the boats horn but it was clear they were coming for us. When they got to us everyone was pretty stoked, and when they said Australia had called them, we knew it was the EPIRB.

We got on the rescue boat, transferred the gear and in a couple of hours were back in Padang, on dry land and safe. We all missed our flight and some had to overnight in Padang, but at least there was Gin and Tonic there.

Looking back on the situation, had it not been for the EPIRB we would have been in real trouble, and it was only luck that I had thought my bag looked a little empty and popped it in. Many surf trips e.g. G-land in Java have boat trips over long distances to get there, and many of the local boats have very little safety gear. In future, this little number is going everywhere I’m going – it’s a lifesaver!!

Thanks so much, no words can express