A PAIR of Sydney anglers on Saturday spent more than 3.5 hours motoring around in front of Narooma bar in their small tinny before making one more attempt to make it back through to safety.
A crowd watched in horror as their small aluminium runabout eventually ran out of puff and was swamped by the massive seas rolling in over the outgoing tide.
Fortunately three local men and experienced commercial fishermen Todd Abbott, Ben McCulloch and Will Fafie were on hand to jump in and drag the two men to shore at the base of Australia Rock.
The boaters were in a bad way, with one failing to inflate his life jacket, and both may have been seconds from drowning.
Frustrations have since surfaced that more was not done by Marine Rescue or other services to rescue or at least talk-in the boaters who apparently had little or no experience dealing with Narooma’s treacherous bar.
But they had no functioning marine radio and turned down assistance from both a game boat and a charter boat that came past and stopped to check on them as they apparently waited for conditions to improve.
The Marine Rescue Narooma unit yesterday morning held a debrief meeting to discuss incident with local and water police in attendance.
An invite was also extended to local Roads and Maritime Service officers.
Narooma police say the 52-year-old man from the western Sydney suburb of Cecil Hills and his friend also in his 50s were treated by paramedics and interviewed by police at the break wall after the incident.
Sergeant Steve Mawson said there was some concern that they were vulnerable to secondary drowning, but the men insisted on driving themselves home that evening.
Why the men even came down from Mollymook where they had been staying remains a mystery as even much larger vessels were caught on Saturday, with one charter boat’s windows smashed on the way out that morning and a game boat having a very rough ride bottoming out on the sandbank on the way in earlier in the afternoon.
Marine Rescue commander John Young said the men’s boat was finally swamped at about 4.30pm.
“Unfortunately the vessel had not logged on with Narooma Marine Rescue or indicated that it was having any difficulty before attempting to cross the bar,” Mr Young said.
“During that day marine rescue had not received any information of any other vessel having difficulty on the bar.”
“Even though our radio operator could see a small vessel circling off the coast it did not indicate any difficulty, which could have been indicated by a number of methods such as by marine radio, showing a vee sheet, hand signals, flare or even activating their EPIRB.”
Mr Young said Marine Rescue was only made aware of how apprehensive the skipper was when the charter boat that stopped to chat with the stricken boat just before 4pm logged off and relayed the conversation.
Another larger vessel, a Narooma based game boat, also stopped to offer assistance earlier at about 2pm, but the men while worried apparently said they were okay.
They had made at least two attempts to cross the bar but their boat and 50hp outboard were nearly swamped and rolled on both occasions.
Apparently when it was suggested they try Bermagui, but they didn’t know how to get there, although reports are that even the Bermagui harbour entrance was very sloppy on the day.
“It was only when a charter boat logged off that Marine Rescue were made aware that a vessel was apprehensive about crossing the bar and launched their rescue vessel, which arrived at the entrance of the bar within 14 minutes of the crew being paged,” Mr Young said.
“However the incident occurred before the arrival of our vessel and on learning of this the rescue vessel returned to base.”
The recovery of the swamped vessel turned into a minor saga of its own as volunteers surf life savers on Sunday morning were informed that 000 call had been received about an upturned boat off Dalmeny.
This turned out to be the same vessel from Saturday, with Marine Rescue dispatching its rescue vessel and Jet-ski to identify the vessel for water police.
Mr Young said attempts to recover the vessel were abandoned when towing seemed to force the hull further underwater endangering their own craft.
The long-liner Fisco II, whose skipper Mr Abbott helped rescue the boaters the day before, located the vessel later on Sunday while heading out to catch bait.
An anchor was placed on the hull and when the Fisco returned on Monday morning, its crew was able to get the smashed boat close to the Dalmeny boat ramp where it was hauled on shore.