YACHTSMAN Jim Milski and wife Kent were a little late starting the annual Port 2 Port rally to Bundaberg this year – they were too busy searching for 12 people on board a vessel that capsized off Vanuatu.
The Milskis, on their catamaran Sea Level, had just arrived at the Vanuatan island of Tanna last week when they were asked to join the search for survivors of the capsize.
Mr Milski said they were told the vessel had left the southern tip of Aniwa Island the previous morning and capsized soon after.
Another three yachts joined the search, as well as a cruise ship, a local military vessel and a plane.
Mr Milski, from Colorado, USA, said they took seven locals on board to help with the search, and were told local fishermen had picked up the captain of the overturned vessel east of where the incident happened.
“That was our first clue that we might be searching in the wrong area,” Mr Milski said.
“This is when a quite extraordinary event took place.”
Mr Milski said a local elder by the name of Charlie began chanting and threw something into the water.
“In a few moments he came back to me and said, ‘I have seen them floating in the current’,” Mr Milski said.
Charlie pointed in a north-easterly direction, and after about an hour pointed to a more easterly direction.
They soon spotted the overturned vessel with a man who could not swim clinging to it.
Mr Milski said the Vanuatan military vessel rushed back to the new search area and found two more survivors. Despite difficult conditions, they were eventually able to pick up the two men and took them back to Vanuatu for medical treatment.
He said four people who were on the capsized vessel were never found.
Because they had been delayed by the search, the Sea Level was too late to start the rally from Port Vila, so they sailed to New Caledonia and started from there.
Boats participating in the Port 2 Port started arriving on Monday and only a few are still to pull into Bundaberg Port Marina.
Mr Milski said he and his wife planned to spend about a week in Bundaberg.