In a by-gone era, long before the days of IRB’s and jetskis, oared surf boats were the rescue craft of choice and in fact were a compulsory item of patrol equipment.  Surf boats are still proudly rowed at Aquatic Sports Carnivals, but occasionally, crews are called to action in their traditional role of saving lives.

In an incident occurring during a training session, 1km off-shore from Port Melbourne on Wednesday morning, 16th October, the Portsea Open Women’s surf boat crew averted another certain drowning statistic.  At 06.17am, in the early morning glow before sunrise, Stephen Blewett, sweep of the crew, heard a noise, like someone shouting.  Initially thinking it might have been another surfboat crew, they went to investigate.  Instead, they found a lone swimmer in the cold morning waters of Port Phillip Bay.  The man was clearly agitated, and unco-operative with any rescue attempts, despite the fact that he was violently shivering from the cold, vomiting from swallowed water and certainly not going to make it back to shore himself.

Training offshore in the dark, Stephen is careful to ensure his crew’s safety.  He carries a phone or marine radio during training sessions, has navigational lights on the boat and has the boat’s position tracked by the location app ‘nebo global’. As a crew member called 000 reporting the incident and their position, the other rowers continually manoeuvred the boat so as not to lose sight of the man – reassuring him, offering him water, at times holding onto his arm and ensuring his safety out on the open waters of the bay.

The police boat arrived about twenty minutes later but they were not able to rescue the man either and called for back up from a rigid inflatable boat.  Finally, an hour after the initial 000 call, one of the water police, himself a lifesaver since being a nipper at Mentone, jumped into the water and was able to negotiate with the victim and bring him aboard the police boat for transfer to safety.

A big ‘shout out’ must go to the Portsea crew members Emily von Moger, Amanda Rukuwai, Alexandra Hagan (with Frankie the crew mascot dachshund) and stroke Jacqui Hart, along with their sweep Stephen, for their preparedness and team work with the water police, in executing their successful open water rescue.