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Sailors Shipwreck after Running for Cover

by Erin Tennant, ninemsn/Sail-World Cruising on 14 Oct 2008
Shows intended route and the diversion to Beqa Reef .. .
The story here of three sailors, two Australians and a New Zealander, who made a decision to seek cover through a pass to avoid rough weather after their engine failed, show just how close disaster can be if you don't make the right decisions. While it might be counterintuitive, staying 'out there' when the seas are high can often be much safer than seeking cover:

Three shipwrecked sailors who spent a night in shark-infested waters and heavy swells in the South Pacific found shelter on a remote tropical island … named after none other than Robinson Crusoe.

The real-life castaways — a man and woman from Australia and another woman from New Zealand ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-40s — flew to Brisbane in Australia after an amazing rescue story fit for the pages of Defoe's famous novel.

Trouble began for captain Cameron Scagle and crew mates Elizabeth Schoch and Alison Timms while sailing their 10m ketch Timella through rough seas in the Fiji Islands late on Sunday.

The three friends left Suva in the morning and were heading south to Kandavu Island in rough winds when the yacht experienced engine problems and boiling water burst from the radiator, scolding Mr Scagle on the face and legs.

'We decided we weren't going to make it to port,' he told local television station ninemsn.

He turned the boat west with the 70km/h wind and headed for a nearby cove, on the south-western coast off Viti Levu island.

But this meant steering late at night through a treacherous passage between two islands.

Shortly before midnight on Sunday the yacht struck a reef and began to sink amid five-metre swells.

'The boat was thrashing up hard against the reef,' Mr Scagle said.

As the deck slipped below the water line, the three friends decided they couldn't stay aboard any longer.

The yacht's inflatable dinghy was big enough for only two people, so Ms Schoch and Ms Timms climbed in as Mr Scagle clinged to the side.

'That's when we started talking about sharks,' he said.

They didn't know the Beqa Island reef where they were stranded is world famous for man-eating sharks, with diving enthusiasts drawn to what is commonly advertised as the 'bad shark dive' — and it wasn't long before all three were treading water in their life jackets.

'The dinghy was still tied to the boat [and] the sea was so vicious, it dragged us back towards the boat as the mast came smashing down and punctured the dinghy,' Mr Scagle said

The trio were now clinging to a deflating dinghy whose emergency supplies — first aid, food and fresh water — had already been flung overboard by the rough swells.

The reef underneath them cut their feet as they bobbed among the huge seas and the effects of severe cold set in, with Ms Timms showing signs of hypothermia.

'Ali was on her way out — we were trying to keep her warm,' Mr Scagle said.

'All we had left was each other.'

The Fijian navy was unable to launch a rescue ship so Mr Scagle's mayday call was eventually relayed to a cruising catamaran captained by an American on holiday with his wife and two children.

Maurice Conti sailed for two hours to reach Beqa reef and pull the shipwrecked sailors aboard at around 6.30am on Monday.

'His exact words were: My name is Maurice, I'm your rescue this morning,' Mr Scagle said.

'It was a teary moment.

'Funnily enough, as we were getting rescued there was a dolphin swimming around the catamaran — I'm not sure if she was looking after us [from sharks] or not.'

Mr Conti, an experienced rescue diver, administered first aid and sailed to the stranded crew to nearby Robinson Crusoe Island — a 28-acre tropical island with traditional thatched bure accommodation that is a popular day cruise destination.

Paul McCulloch, the island's owner, said the shipwrecked sailors arrived on the island with only the clothes on their backs and their passports and other paper documents in a sealed plastic bag.

'They were totally shellshocked,' he said.

'We gave them a cold beer, a feed and some lodgings.'

Mr McCulloch said the New Zealand High Commission in Suva and the New Zealand Search and Rescue were 'integral' to the rescue effort, and that the commission is recommending Mr Conti for a bravery award.

It was the Ancient Mariner (or one of them) who said, 'The most dangerous thing in the ocean is - LAND!'

To read more news on Nine MSN click here

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