Yacht Nijumi (1982)
Yachtsman survives 18 hours drifting
[The Canberra Times, 13 December 1982]
MELBOURNE: A Devonport man swam and drifted for 18 hours in rough seas after a yacht was smashed to splinters by a freak wave off north-eastern Tasmania. At one stage, Mr Alan Ralston, 41, was only 150 metres from Cape Portland before being swept back out into the treacherous Bass Strait by powerful currants (sic).
Mr Ralston was found exhausted but unhurt on a rocky beach on Cape Barren Island on Saturday morning. The body of the skipper of the huon pine yacht Nijumi, Mr Norman Newman, was found in another cove a short distance from where Mr Ralston had come ashore.
The Nijumi's two other crew members are missing believed dead. The Nijumi, a 10.7-metre Endurance-class yacht, and said to be one of the strongest boats in Tasmania, left Devonport on Tuesday bound for Hobart. On Wednesday it ran into a sudden south-easterly gale which hit without warning. The people who live there call the gales "the southerly busters". Mr Ralston told his rescuers that for 24 hours the yacht's wind gauge had been at its maximum reading. It is believed the Nijumi was lashed by winds of 60 to 70 knots. Mr Newman, 50, of Burnie, hove the Nijumi to off St Helens on Tasmania's east coast to weather the storm.
The worst of the storm was over when the yacht had been hit by a freak wave which rolled the boat 360 degrees. Mr Ralston told his wife, Anne, that he had seen another wave coming and screamed to his companions, "This is it."
The wave had slammed into the boat, destroying it. Mr Ralston was the only one of the four not wearing a safety line and he said he feared that his companions had been dragged down with the wreckage. For the next 18 hours and 32 kilometres he swam and clung to debris as he was washed north along the coast, pushed by strong currents and battered by the seas. When he was only 150 metres from Cape Portland, on the extreme north east tip of the Tasmanian mainland, he had been swept back out by currents and was finally washed ashore at Kent Bay on the southern end of Cape Barren Island.
Police were alerted when a fisherman saw Mr Ralston lying on rocks in the bay. He was exhausted, but the only physical injury he suffered was a rope burn on a leg, which happened when he had been flung overboard. Mr Arthur Redman, of Devonport, who operates a radio base station, said there was some concern on Friday night when the worst of the foul weather was over and the Nijumi still had not re- ported its position. "At that stage a plane and the Empress of Tasmania ferry had picked up an emergency radio beacon, and starting putting things together," he said. Although the waves smashed the boat on Thursday, the beacon was not heard until the next day. The beacon was attached to the stern of the boat.
Mrs Ralston said her husband was a strong swimmer, even though he had a bad back. Her husband's survival was a miracle. Last night Mr Ralston was still weary, but otherwise in fine health.