VICTORIA’S water police came to the rescue of three young adventurers who struck trouble last week before they had got far in their venture across Bass Strait in an ocean-going rowing boat.
The three – Ben Turner, Margaret Bowling and Clark Carter – set out from Walkerville in their 24-foot boat in the early hours of Saturday January 28, planning to row across Bass Strait and down to Hobart over two weeks.
It was to be a practice for 27-year-old Ben, the owner of the boat, for the solo expedition he is planning across the Pacific in April.
You could call his companions ‘serial adventurers.’ 27-year-old Clark has traversed 1000 kilometre wide Victoria Island in the Arctic using homemade wheeled kayaks and in a separate adventure hiked 200 kilometres to the source of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea before paddling the remaining 1000km in a dugout canoe. He has also sailed the Southern Ocean and skied from the North Pole to Canada. 32-year-old Margaret has rowed the Atlantic twice.
The trans Bass Strait expedition was also designed to be a trip in the spirit of George Bass, who back in 1797 so bravely explored the southeast coast of Australia, determining that there was a strait between the mainland and Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was known as then). The George Bass Expedition has attracted some big name sponsors and has a further objective of raising money for research into cystic fibrosis (see the website www.georgebassexpedition.com).
The weather was idyllic when the adventurers left Walkerville, but by Monday night they were battling high winds and big waves.
Seasoned sailor Margaret said the conditions were the worst she has ever experienced. Hardly surprisingly, her companions had to battle seasickness. They were, however, confident in the ability of their small vessel to withstand even this rough weather. They were also securely clipped in and had the most modern safety equipment. It was only when the boat was struck side on by a particularly big wave and it rolled (which it is designed to do), throwing them together in the cramped cabin and smashing Ben’s elbow against a hard storage case, that they decided to review their plans.
“The boat was fine. It is built to cope with rolling and we could have kept going, but because we feared Ben’s arm was broken we decided not to continue our expedition,” said Clark. “We thought we had better get medical help for Ben, and having started as a team we wanted to finish as a team.”
The trio contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, who coordinated a rescue with Victoria water police, based in Melbourne.
The water police headed out from their Williamstown base at 10am on Tuesday. Their boat lived up to its name of ‘Fearless.’ It was not easy even for this 17 metre vessel to withstand the rough conditions. The four-man crew battled eight metre waves and gale force winds out of Port Phillip Bay. It was not until about 8pm that night that they reached the young adventurers on their row boat about two miles off Deal Island. They took the three on board and towed their vessel back to Port Welshpool, arriving about 2.30am. The local coast guard were advised and met them on their arrival. Ben’s parents collected him and took him to the hospital at Yarram, where he was given painkillers, and he and his shipmates then snatched a few hours’ sleep.
Later on Wednesday morning they were back at Port Welshpool to thank the police and the coast guard and load their boat onto a trailer and take it back to Melbourne. They won’t be setting off again across Bass Strait any time soon, though Ben is hopeful of embarking on his trans-Pacific trip in April (depending on his arm), but they haven’t yet given up.
“We love this stuff! Bass Strait might have beaten us this time, but we’ll do it one day!” said Clark.