A Water Police vessel at night
A Water Police vessel at night Valerie Horton

Dramatic middle of the night water rescue off Cap Coast

WATER police searching for a yachtsman in such treacherous conditions on Saturday night were about to call off the search when they spotted "a little light" on the horizon.

Yeppoon Water Police Senior Constable Grant Kerlin, who has been in the water police for eight years, said conditions Saturday night were so bad he was almost thrown in the water at one stage.

Yeppoon Coast Guard's Arthur Hunt reported that about 7pm on Saturday AMSA Search and Rescue in Canberra detected a signal from an unregistered distress beacon (EPIRB) that had been activated near Split Island out from Pearl Bay. 

"The Police SAR Co-ordinator for Central Queensland contacted Coast Guard Yeppoon but as the winds at the time were exceeding 35 knots at Rundle Island and around 30 knots at Middle Percy, it was decided that it would be unsafe to send a Coast Guard vessel from Rosslyn Bay," Mr Hunt said.

"Instead it was decided that the Water Police would handle the operation."

Snr Const Kerlin said four water police officers were dispatched with two Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) by road and launched them at 11.30pm from a boat ramp in sheltered water inside Shoalwater Bay.

"By that time a second EPIRB had been activated from a similar location but later signals indicated that the vessel was rapidly drifting north," he said.

"However no communication with the vessel in distress could be established by the police or Coast Guard Thirty Sound."

The RACQ Capricorn Rescue Helicopter Service was called and made a strong attempt to get up there but weather made them turn back shortly after.

Snr Const Kerlin said while it was bad conditions, the water police officers would not have gone out there if they had deemed the conditions too dangerous.

He said the conditions did worsen and they were almost at the point of calling off the search when they spotted "a little light" on the horizon and located the yachtsman and his vessel.

The vessel in distress, a 10m sloop, was located at about 2.30am five nautical miles north, north-west of Townshend Island (near Raynham Island).

Snr Const Kerlin said it was a difficult operation to retrieve the solo yachtsman off the yacht in seas running at 2-3m and winds gusting to 35 knots.

He said the yacht could not be retrieved and is now believed to be still drifting north and people who live on islands in that area and work in that area have been notified about the missing vessel.

Snr Const Kerlin said the exhausted yachtsman was assessed by Queensland Ambulance Service officers at the Yeppoon Water Police station and then taken to Yeppoon Hospital for observation due to head injuries but later released.

The yachtsman advised police that he was travelling from Airlie Beach to Coffs Harbour and was trying to enter Port Clinton when the yacht suffered engine failure and the wind speed quickly increased.

Flotilla Commander Jim Warren reported that weather observations for Middle Percy Islands indicated that the winds were about 5 knots until 7pm and then increased to 30-plus knots in the next 30 minutes.

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