THE yacht Public Nuisance turned public hero when its crew rescued three fishermen whose boat flipped over on the Narooma inlet bar crossing on Wednesday afternoon.
Both vessels approached the Narooma bar at about the same time around 4pm after a day sailing and fishing respectively.
Skipper of the 6.5m Evolution fishing boat Michael Bulakowski said he decided to steer away to allow the yacht to go in through bar first.
At the helm of the Narooma-based yacht was skipper Harvey Michael who got through fine thanks to the small, sturdy oceangoing yacht’s keel that keeps it from broaching.
Once through, his crew consisting of co-owner Gary Morgan and his stepson Chris Wendel glanced back to see the fishing boat get caught in steep waves and slop right at the entrance.
It flipped over and Bulakowski and his crew consisting of long-time fishing partners Theo Slots and Robert Pitzer found themselves trapped under their boat.
“It happened in an instant,” said Bulakowski, who himself has many years of experience on the water, ironically even rescuing another fisherman in a fatal accident at the Narooma bar some years ago
“It can happen to anyone, anywhere - never underestimate the ocean. I’ve seen too many things happen out on the ocean.”
He and his crew, who have more than 20 years of experience on Narooma and Bermagui waters, now all live in Melbourne.
Immediately after sighting the flipped-over fishing boat, yacht skipper Harvey Michael did not hesitate to turn around to try and help.
“I would hope that someone would’ve done the same for me,” he said.
Thankfully the yacht was equipped with oceangoing safety gear including a “heaving line”, a rope that is tossed off the back when anyone goes overboard.
The crew deployed the line and motored toward the fisherman who had all now managed to forcibly swim out from under the boat, no easy task given buoyancy of their lifejackets and who were being rapidly washed out to sea in the strong outgoing tide.
It was this tide combined with the stiff north-easterly breeze that holds up the water on the bar making it particularly treacherous.
There was not much air under the boat and the skipper explained how he had to push himself down under the gunnels on the boat to get out.
They clambered up onto the Public Nuisance that once more made it through the bar taking the men to the Narooma town wharf where they were dropped off and checked out by an Ambulance paramedic crew.
Emergency services personnel on the scene said it was the lifejackets that had saved the men, who were lucky to come out of it unscathed.
At the time of the incident, local emergency services had been activated with volunteer Andrew McCaughtrie from the Narooma Surf Life Saving Club first on the scene just as the yacht was picking up the fishermen.
He was in communication with surf communications headquarters that also activated the Westpac Lifesaver 3 rescue helicopter out of Moruya.
The chopper overflew the area but by then the yacht was already on its way back in and it was determined there was nobody else in the water.
The Marine Rescue Narooma unit’s rescue vessel NA30 meanwhile had crossed the bar and was able to toss a line and secure the overturned vessel, which it towed some distance to the south where it was anchored to be salvaged later.
All six men were reunited at the Apex Park boat ramp later that afternoon were the grateful fisherman gave their thanks to sailors and were able to relive the experience.
Bulakowski explained that he had some pretty interesting experiences on the ocean including surviving four days in a life raft that drifted 120 miles after his Army escort vessel sunk off New Guinea in 1974.
A former resident of Cooma, he has been coming to Narooma to go fishing for more than 20 years, being caught out in Force 6 gales too.
Then there was the time that he was coming into the bar and the fishing boat ahead overturned killing one of its crewmembers and he was able to pick up a survivor.
Today it was yacht skipper Harvey Michael who did the rescuing although both men reckon it could happen to anyone.
Michael said he was able to get in and out by sticking to the south end of the “choke” or entrance avoiding the main channel where the tide really held up the water.
The Public Nuisance itself only three weeks ago had to be towed into Bermagui after it suffered engine problems.
Michael and his crew were able to get in some sailing that day despite the lack of motor but when getting back to the Narooma bar and calling for a tow from the Narooma unit, it was determined that like today the bar was too dangerous.
The crew happily decided to continue on south to Bermagui under sail where they got a quick tow into the harbour from the Bermagui Marine Rescue vessel.
Fortunately, the yacht’s motor held up during Wednesday’s rescue although it again experienced engine or gear box problems just short of its main channel mooring immediately after dropping off the fishermen.
The yacht started going out with the tide before the anchor could be dropped just short of the rockwall with crewman Wendel jumping in to hold it off the rocks.
The Marine Rescue vessel that had now returned from its mission of anchoring the fishing boat was able to tow the yacht to its mooring.
This could very well the last mission at Narooma for the rescue vessel as the new 10m Marine Rescue is scheduled to arrive on Thursday and be floated at the Narooma bridge at 7am on Friday.
The sailors and fishermen meanwhile agreed to catch up later before they went back home to Melbourne, although they vowed to be back as they loved the Narooma area.