Monday, 28 September 2020

Ordeal at sea

On Sunday afternoon/evening, September 20th, my younger 60 year old brother Billy was fighting a battle for his life. 

Billy was with his wife's brother-in-law, Charlie, and they were heading back to shore crossing over one of Australia's most dangerous bars. They were 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) from land — in rough seas. The boat was large enough where it wasn't legally required to wear lifejackets but, in hindsight, they sure wish they had been wearing them. Billy is an experienced boatie but, everything happened so fast, they didn't have time to grab the lifejackets or manually activate the emergency beacon. 

They were riding the top of a swell when it seemed to suddenly drop out from under them. This sent the boat precariously downwards under a huge cresting wave. The boat rolled and they were both thrown out into rough seas. The boat righted itself after the roll so the emergency beacon didn't automatically activate either. They couldn't get to the boat because the waves were immense and kept forcing them back. Their only chance of survival was to swim for shore. 

It took them about 30 minutes to get past the huge, crashing waves to what was still very rough sea though the waves weren't quite as high. It was getting dark and there were still miles ahead until they reached calmer waters. They knew their wives would alert the authorities when they didn't return at the designated time of 6pm for dinner but that was hours away. Darkness started to set in as they headed towards the lights on land. 

The next four hours were a battle to survive in a well known region for sharks — Charlie trying to stay afloat on his back with water constantly rolling over his face and then paddling slowly to conserve energy. Billy side-paddling so he could keep a check on Charlie and offering lots of encouragement to keep going. 

They thought they were done for but determination won out.

Four gruelling hours later, Charlie heard my brother's excited voice yelling, "Charlie! I can touch the bottom!". After being in the water for so long, working their muscles, it was even harder on their bodies trying to walk out of the water. They hugged each other finding it hard to believe they had actually made it. The first camp they stumbled into was a group of 18 year old boys who quickly gave them assistance — seats by the campfire, water, towels, and also called for the ambulance.

My brother's phone was at the bottom of the sea but the young men gave them mobile phones to call their wives who were frantic. Their wives had notified the authorities and 'search and rescue' were getting ready to go look for them. Thankfully, they rescued themselves so no need.

They weren't out of the woods yet though. Both were taken to hospital. Charlie's kidneys had taken a beating from trying to filter all the sea water he'd swallowed. On top of that, his Creatine Kinase levels were through the roof. A normal healthy male would read between 30 and 200 — his levels were 42,000! Creatine Kinase is an enzyme that the muscles release when suffering extreme stress or injury. CK can actually cause permanent damage to the kidneys usually ten days after the injury that caused it to release. Billy's levels were much better on the initial checks so he was allowed home the next day. He had a huge lump on his shin from where the boat hit him as well as bad bruising all around his torso. Both men were very sore all over after their ordeal.

Billy's CK levels started to rise again a couple of days ago so he was taken back into hospital and put on a drip to flush the kidney. My brother has only one kidney after having one removed due to cancer some years back so it's crucial that his only kidney remains healthy. His injured leg is now swelling up too so an ultrasound will be needed.

Charlie feels that if anything else had gone wrong during their ordeal, he wouldn't be here. He hails my brother as a hero for keeping him focused and encouraging him constantly with, "you're good, you can make it, just keep going, head toward the blue light, head for Inskip". My brother admitted to me that he nearly gave up the fight three times during the ordeal but Charlie kept him going so, in my view, they are both heroes. They are so very lucky!  
The boat was found and towed back by a trawler the next morning with everything still on board and the GPS still running. I don't like to think about how much worse it could have been for them. My brother and Charlie are alive and I am so grateful for that.

I will be more relieved when they are both fully recovered. 

Me with Billy at our Mum's 80th birthday celebration in 2015

Stay safe and well, everyone!


  1. They are still in my prayers. Such a blessing that they survived all of that!
    Love and hugs, my dear friend. :)

    1. Thanks, Rita. I'll be doing an update tomorrow but Billy and Charlie have both been released from hospital now. Both will still be monitored as out-patients until they are fully recovered. x

  2. So glad they made it to shore, good swimmers.

  3. So glad they made it to shore. Hope they both make a full recovery.

    1. Thanks, Tori. Billy and Charlie have both been released from hospital now. Both will still be monitored as out-patients until they are fully recovered but it's all looking good. :) xo

  4. What an amazing story Serena - I was in tears reading it and will now pray that both Billy (a true hero!), and Charlie, recover and regain 100% good health very soon. What a battle against the sea that swim must have been. IF they continue to go boating in the future I'm certain the life jackets will always be worn. . . . .
    Having spent quite a bit on time on ships and in rough seas (crossing the Drake Passage from Antarctica back to Ushuaia, Argentina was unbelievable - 24 hrs. of huge, mountainous seas!), I know how quickly things can change when on water.

    My thoughts are with your great guys - and I hope you will update us later as to their status. God bless them.
    Hugs - Mary

    P.S. Great you are back blogging!

    1. Thanks for your caring words, Mary. It's been a week and they have both been released from hospital but will still do follow up blood tests and out-patient visits until they are fully recovered. I will do a more detailed update soon.

      Oh yes! I'm sure life-jackets will be a must. The gift of hindsight is a wonderful thing; lessons to be learned.

      Goodness, I can only imagine your experience in the rough seas. I would have been a wreck! Mother Nature sure lets us know how powerful she can be.

      I'm glad to be back blogging, Mary.

      Big hugs xo

  5. Great story glad it had a happy ending, the sea is a powerful playmate.

    1. It certainly is, Merle...Mother Nature is incredibly powerful when she wants to be.

  6. oh my God what an ordeal for your brother and his friend. Glad to read the latest news in your post above. Wow, that must have been some awful ordeal.

    Love the bird painting - adorable . She reminds me of my cockatiel that I don't have anymore.

    1. Thanks, Sandy...and yes, it was a horrific ordeal for them both. Neither are athletic men and my brother has heart issues. They were so very lucky. I like to think that my Dad and Charlie's Dad were helping them from above.

      Glad you like the cockatiel painting. They are sweet birds although Chico can annoy my sons with his high pitched calls. lol

    2. I happen to believe also that helps comes from our loved ones who are in a different place now. I've seen evidence of it many times. I loved my cockatiel when I had her. She was sick and I didn't know it (too busy with new grandkids) and she passed away one day out of the blue. i always felt bad i didn't know she was ill. The day before I just noticed her breathing seemed a little different.