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Mystery surrounds tragic loss of solo sailor in Bass Strait

by Sail-World Cruising on 5 Jun 2013
Aspro II location when she hit rocks and sank .. .
Mystery surrounds the tragic loss by drowning of a long time and very experienced solo sailor who has been in a constant circumnavigation of Australia for the last 30 years.

Donald Marshall of Queensland seemed unworried to radio operators at Tamar Coastal Patrol after his yacht Aspro II hit rocks when he made a navigational mistake in Bass Strait this week, west of Flinders Island.

He had told them that he was on the eastern side. He also told them that if he could not stem the water entry into the boat that he would step off onto the rocks where his yacht was lodged. He did not intend to leave the boat, but advised that he would set off an EPIRB if he was forced to.

His body was found floating 2km off the island about 1pm yesterday, some ten hours after his last call. It was first sighted by the Tasmanian Police Westpac rescue helicopter.

Tasmanian Police Inspector John King said the veteran sailor's last port of call was believed to have been Stanley.

Insp King said Mr Marshall's yacht had been within metres of shore when it began taking on water but an inflatable tender had not been deployed.

Police are uncertain why he had left the vessel or whether it had been an accident.

'When police first arrived the vessel was only partly submerged. So at some stage Mr Marshall has left the vessel, deliberately or by accident we are unsure,' Insp King said.

He said Mr Marshall had told Tamar Coastal Patrol he would stay with the boat and if he were to leave he would reactivate his radio beacon.

Tamar Coastal Patrol co-ordinator Bryn Warrick said he had spoken to the sailor on and off for a couple of hours after getting a mayday call about 1am. 'I was talking to him on the radio and he would go back up on deck and then come down to talk on the radio,' Mr Warrick said. 'We were talking until about 3am.'

'What he said was that if too much water came in as the tide came in, he would try to go to the rocks,' he said.

The yacht's radio beacon was activated at 1.27am and detected by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Insp King said, 'Mr Marshall believed he was on the eastern side of the Furneaux group when in fact he was on the western side.'

A retired painter and decorator, Mr Marshall, originally from New Zealand, had been sailing the Australian coastline since 1983. 'I love the sea and feel comfortable in my little home,' he told a Geraldton newspaper some time ago.

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