Rough conditions for Marine Rescue Cottage Point offshore kayak search
Saturday 10th September 2011 began with a Gale warning from the Bureau of Meteorology for waters from Point Danger to Gabo Island and 4m combined sea and swell off Sydney with south to south westerly winds at up to 30 knots. As a result few boaties ventured out in these cold and uncomfortable conditions and most Marine Rescue bases were conducting crew training, maintenance or cleaning tasks.
This changed at about 1400 hours when Pat O’Brien and Andrew Topp, duty radio operators at Marine Rescue Sydney received an urgent call from a yacht offshore. The yacht was travelling from Broken Bay to Sydney in an offshore race and had come upon an upturned kayak with its occupant in the water. The kayak skipper had given a “thumbs up” and indicated that he was not in difficulty (Oh yeh, practising self rescue was he?. L.Ford), however the yacht took the sensible precaution of contacting Marine Rescue to alert them to this incident. The yacht did not have a GPS onboard to provide an accurate position fix but estimated they were 3 nautical miles east of Long Reef, midway between Sydney and Broken Bay. There were further reports in the following 30 minutes from other racing yachts north of Long Reef reporting other kayakers in the big seas heading northwards, although these reports were somewhat confusing and inconsistent.
Concerned for the safety of the kayakers in the rough offshore conditions, CP 20 from Marine Rescue Cottage Point was immediately dispatched to search for them. The journey to Barrenjoey was made at high speed, however the sloppy swell and strong southerly winds offshore made passage southwards a very much slower and bumpier ride. With experienced helmsman André Stegeman on the wheel, CP20 managed to dodge the worst of the large swells and make progress. A keen lookout was maintained by all crew, however the rough conditions and choppy seas made searching for vessels as small as kayaks extremely challenging.
Only one of the kayakers had the foresight to carry a waterproof marine radio and CP20’s radio operator Luke Andrews made contact with him once clear of Palm Beach. It transpired that three experienced paddlers had left Sydney Harbour for a training run to Palm Beach. However the rough conditions had separated them and the two leading kayaks were concerned for their missing friend. With only scant information on their location, CP 20 began searching from Whale Beach southwards. After about 30 minutes crewman Paul Hardy sighted the first kayak about one nautical mile east of Newport Beach. Shortly afterwards, the second kayak was sighted heading northwards. Both skippers were safe and well, however they expressed concern for their companion who was reportedly some distance astern of them. They provided his name and vessel description.
At about this time, the Marine Rescue Sydney radio base received further advice that a kayak and its skipper had been taken onboard a racing yacht bound for Sydney and it was hoped that this was the missing man. This message was relayed from another vessel as the rescue yacht’s marine radio had failed so the identity of the kayaker could not be confirmed.
Until the missing kayaker was positively confirmed as safe, CP 20 continued searching southwards. Rescue vessel PJ 22 from Marine Rescue Port Jackson began searching northwards from Sydney Harbour. MR Broken Bay vessel BB 20 was also on standby to assist in this search. After a further hour of searching, news finally came through that the missing kayaker had called in and confirmed that he was safe and well in Sydney Harbour. Consequently CP 20 called off the search and advised Water Police Marine Area Command and other MR bases, before returning to base.
This search highlighted the vital importance of communications and commonsense when going to sea. Although the kayaks were located inside the two nautical mile distance where marine radios are required to be carried, the risks had been heightened due to the weather conditions and only one of the kayakers carried a radio. But he wasn’t the one who had been picked up so there was no direct confirmation that the third kayaker was safe.
This event had been a relatively complex one involving numerous radio and mobile calls between Marine Rescue Units, radio bases, Water Police Marine Area Command and yachtsmen. It also had a good outcome with all kayakers safe and well despite the concerns for their safety in the rough offshore conditions.
This successful result again demonstrates the effectiveness and combined strength of the single Marine Rescue organisation that can quickly deploy and coordinate numerous assets to respond to boating emergencies.
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