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Overboard treading water for 28 hours - personal story a year later

by Arthi Sanpath, IOL/Sail-World Cruising on 11 May 2014
Barrenjoey - the Australian boat which rescued Brett Archibald who had been in the water for 28 hours SW
What would it be like to be lost overboard from your sailing boat? Just over a year ago, we published a story of South African Brett Archibald, the surfer who fell ill, then fell overboard from his yacht in Indonesian waters, survived over 28 hours and was rescued by an Australian sailing boat which had joined the search (See Sail-World story). Now Arthi Sanpath of IOL has interviewed him a year later and found that the experience has changed his life dramatically.

Trying to stay alive in the ocean, Archibald, 50, had to fend off seagulls vying for his eyeballs, sharks circling him, fish that were eating his skin, severe sunburn and dehydration.

'One year and two weeks later I still recall every single second of those 28.5 hours. The thing that stands out the most is still the fact that I am alive,' said Archibald, who now lives in Cape Town.

He was finally rescued by Australian Tony 'Doris' Eltherington, skipper of the yacht Barrenjoey, who spotted him in the choppy waters.

The fact that he survived until his rescue, meant there was a higher purpose for him, said Archibald.

Apart from his business interests, he founded the Brett Archibald Foundation, which feeds and supports children at the Christel House South Africa in Cape Town, and supports the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and the Llandudno Surf Lifesaving. His foundation and public speaking aim at telling people to believe in the impossible, to never give up and always to know that there is a higher being watching over you.

'The disappearance of the Malaysian Airline with approximately 270 people on board some eight weeks ago brought home to me how fragile life is,' said Archibald, who said his life had turned 180º since his return from Indonesia last year.

'My life has changed completely. I am no braver, no cleverer and no wiser. However, I am focused on what is more important to me than anything, and that is my family. My beautiful and amazing wife Anita, my fairy, ethereal, divine daughter Zara and my quirky, interesting and amazingly humorous son Jamie,' he said.

He did, however, have to go for counselling.

'I am very fortunate that I have been working with a life coach who has been a highly qualified psychologist since 1998, who I immediately went to see on my return from this horrific ordeal.

'By working with her and analysing my emotions, the disbelief that I am still alive, and facing each challenge every day, I do believe that I have reached a place where I can actually truly cope with the trauma that I underwent during that horrific ordeal.'

Many people have asked how he managed not to give up hope, and Archibald said the reason was his family.

'My most strong memories were of my beautiful and amazing wife who throughout the ordeal I heard shouting in my head, ‘Brettman, swim you bugger, swim. You are not leaving me a widow with two young children’,' he said.

He often reflects on why he was saved.

'When I came round in the ocean at 2.30am and saw my boat sailing into the distance, I knew I was dead.

'It took a while to calm down and start planning and making my choices. I only had two choices, one was to live, and the other to die. I chose to live.

'I knew my mates would come to find me as soon as they realised I was missing, and they did just that.

'After 12 hours of swimming, I saw my boat return and get to within 150 metres of me, only for them not to see me, but agonisingly, for me to watch them stare at me but not see me and after 15 minutes, sail away. That moment was worse than when I came round and found myself in the ocean some 12 hours prior to that.

'I had very little hope at that time, my only question was, how would I die?'

Archibald has been to Australia to meet up with his rescuers, and will be meeting with them again next month.

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