It started out as a perfect autumn Saturday morning. I had just had taken possession of a new boat trailer for my 4.2m Stessco, dropped it onto the sand and was preparing for a messy trailer maintenance job. This involves marine greasing every nut, bolt, winch and jockey wheel, before applying a coat of anti-corrosion Tectyl to the rest of the C channel trailer, to maximise its life span. Then the first phone call came through of a capsized vessel in Cowaramup Bay. I was at the ramp in minutes to see an upturned vessel, person on the hull, arms waving frantically and another vessel alongside lending assistance. The first of many centre reef sets broke ominously only metres from the vessel. A Marine Rescue Group conferlink call mobilised a crew to attend as soon as possible. A public PWC was about to launch, so I gave them a handheld VHF marine radio and tasked them to see if they could attach a tow rope to the upturned vessel. The other public vessel returned to the ramp with an adult female suffering a head injury and young child, both clearly in distress. I called 000 to activate an ambulance. Over the next hour or so, the assistance of the boating public and marine rescue crew were outstanding. The boat ramp was closed, casualties to be monitored, warmed and reassured, water and food delivered to the ramp, capsized vessel towed safely to shore by the public PWC, then uprighted using my truck winch and assorted vessel debris to be collected. Huge thanks to all those who assisted. As further details came to light, it was clear that a tragedy had been averted as the child was initially caught under the hull, in a sleeping bag, in the capsize.
With everybody safe and casualties transported to hospital, Kim, Chris and I were about to debrief when the next call came through of a 7m vessel broken down off Gnarabup. With more sets rolling through Gracetown, a quick check of the Cape Naturaliste wave buoy revealed a swell increase from 1.5m to 2.6m, but significantly the swell direction was from the west, meaning it was rolling straight into all the bays, looking more like 3-4m swell from the south-west. Whilst surfers love these swells, boaties beware as it can completely change the day. The next three to four hours saw some carnage at Gnarabup boat ramp as vessels struggled to retrieve in the conditions. It is well worth organising someone to drive your boat trailer to Gracetown and retrieve from there in such conditions. This time we deployed the 7.5m NAIAD for the job and quickly ascertained that the skipper had been initially radioing for assistance on VHF Channel 16, however no other vessels responded. Channel 80 is the absolute go-to channel in this area, as you will hit the repeater and pick up ACRM Base, every day of the year, from 7am-10pm. Every skipper should have Ch80 written in permanent pen on their windscreen to remind them of this critical safety feature. The 7m vessel was safely towed to shore and then, as our clean up was finished at Gracetown, a third call came through from a marine rescue member requesting assistance with a vessel retrieval at Gnarabup. Advice was provided over the phone, emphasising the Gracetown option, however this vessel was eventually retrieved after some difficulty. Those watching from the White Elephant Café would have been holding their breath as each vessel returned to shore that day!