Two overboard yachties swim to shore in separate incidents

Ciao, safe and sound after being retrieved successfully
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Two overboard incidents in the past week - one in the northland of New Zealand and the other off the coast of Western Australia - offer lessons for all sailors. The incidents were similar in that both sailors swam to shore after falling overboard.

Off the coast of Bunbury in Western Australia, Geoff Hunter, 62, had 'no choice but to swim' for up to three chilling hours after an unclipped safety harness landed him in the drink. He had made the mistake of unclipping his tether from one strong point before clipping onto the next, but he did have his life jacket on.

Mr Hunter suffered hypothermia while swimming to the Bunbury Sea Rescue building after the solo sailor fell from his 8m yacht, Ciao.

His daughter Jasmine says after he fell the boat sailed off without her father, an experienced sailor, so he had no choice but to swim to shore.

'He was going to take down the sails because he was almost at the point where he could motor into the Bunbury port,' she told ABC radio.

'He unclipped his safety harness just to clip it onto a different spot ... I’m not sure whether the swell knocked him off or whether he got hit off by the boom or whatever.'

Mr Hunter was taken to Bunbury Regional Hospital while volunteers from Bunbury Sea Rescue retrieved the yacht.


In the other incident, a Northland boatie is lucky to be alive after, not wearing a life jacket at all while on watch, he fell off the boat while taking a pee off the back of the boat while the rest of the crew slept.

A large wave swept 36-year-old Todd Vercoe overboard 1 kilometre north of Rimariki Island. He swam to the rocky reef and then onto the mainland at Kaituna Bay.

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Mr Vercoe's mates were not even aware of the trouble he was in as they slept below deck.

'I thought time was up. I was five or six miles out and thought, 'Do I float around and wait to get hypothermia and die, or go for it?'

A strong swimmer from his surfing days, Mr Vercoe struck out for land. But he was battling rough weather and weighed down by heavy clothing he thought might keep him warm.

'Because the polar fleece was slowing me down I couldn't really do freestyle, so I just ended up doing breaststroke and was only making a knot and it seemed like forever.'

And his slow progress was not his only concern.

'I was a bit worried about big biteys. I was a bit wary because it's quite a shark renowned place.'

Exhausted and suffering from mild hypothermia, Mr Vercoe somehow reached Rimiriki Island. But knowing how slim his chances were of being seen at nightfall, Mr Vercoe made a last attempt to get to the mainland.

'It was the will to survive; I just kept going.'

And he did. But it was one last effort that secured his rescue. Mr Vercoe drew a large SOS sign in the sand, which was spotted by helicopter rescue staff just as they were about to head back for night vision gear.

'We came across to the beach to land and we literally just saw him there, waving frantically with the SOS written out in the sand,' Dean Voelkerling of Northland Emergency Services Trust told 3 News.

Click Here to see video of Mr Vercoe telling his story for 3News, (preceded by a commercial)

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