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What happened?

As I gazed out at the waters off Australia’s Northern Territory coastline, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer power and unpredictability of the sea.

My name is Nigel. I’m a Southampton-born expat and an avid solo sailor, and I recently found myself entangled in a gripping tale of survival that would forever reaffirm the importance of preparation and the resilience of the human spirit.

On a fateful day, after enduring a harrowing night of electrical storms and winds exceeding 40 knots, I continued to sail my beloved Duncanson 34, the “Bison,” across the notorious Arafura Sea. My destination was the Gove Peninsula, just a pit stop on my journey back to Cairns. Little did I know that Mother Nature had a different plan in store for me. Unforgiving swells came crashing, knocking my yacht onto its beam ends, and, in the blink of an eye, I was thrown into the tempestuous waters.

Hanging on for dear life over the side of my vessel, I knew that one wrong move would mean my demise. With my head submerged and the sea’s icy grip threatening to pull me under, I reached for my trusty hook knife and cut the line that tethered me to the boat. I was free, but the challenges had just begun. With a heart pounding and adrenaline surging through my veins, I activated the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1, my beacon of hope attached to my life jacket.

Eight long hours passed, with the vastness of the Arafura Sea stretching endlessly around me. It was during this time that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) received the beacon alert, pinpointing my distress signal nearly 93 kilometers northeast of the remote town of Nhulunbuy. The police in Darwin were alerted, and with unwavering dedication, they coordinated with Nhulunbuy water police to ready a vessel for my rescue. A Challenger SAR aircraft from Cairns, Queensland, soared above, homing in on my 121.5MHz beacon.

In an incredible feat, the AMSA crew deployed a life raft from the aircraft, mere meters from where I bobbed in the water. The radio crackled to life, and relief washed over me as they established contact. It was a first—no solo sailor had ever been rescued by an airborne life raft. Five hours after my initial sighting, the police rescue vessel arrived, carrying three crew members. Exhausted, dehydrated, and nursing two broken ribs from the previous night’s turmoil, I was finally en route to Gove District Hospital.

My yacht, the “Bison,” was later retrieved by friends in Nhulunbuy, but what truly warmed my heart was the safety of my faithful feline companion, Stinky, who had been my steadfast sailing mate for over 15 years.

As I look back on the 4th of January incident, I can’t help but reflect on the significance of being well-prepared and knowing how to use your safety equipment under duress. It became pure instinct, from using my hook knife to adjust my lifejacket for a snug fit, to locating and activating the PLB. The sea, with its capricious temperament, teaches us that there are no second chances. You either set sail prepared or become a statistic.

Words of wisdom

Thank you note to the Ocean Signal team