Drenched and battered Mallacoota policeman Mark Tregellas was knocked back by pounding waves and the couple he had come to rescue on Sunday evening.
Tregellas put his life on the line to reach the couple in their seventies, when their nine metre catamaran was washed onto the beach after being dumped by a massive wave in dangerous seas at Wingan Inlet near Gabo Island on Sunday morning.
The policeman reached the couple after driving into the remote area at dusk, receiving a lift from a boat across an inlet, rock hopping and scaling roped cliffs with no working communications.
“Waves 3.5 to four metres were hitting the boat when I got there. Bigger waves than that were breaking out half a kilometre offshore,” acting Sergeant Tregellas said.
He was concerned the couple were injured and timed his attempt to reach the boat at the end of a set of waves.
“I jumped up on the port rudder and (was) in the process of clambering on the boat when a 75-year-old European pops his head up out of the hatch and says ‘eloo, you want to come on board?’”
Tregellas made it on board, where he could see the woman making tea in the galley, before he was swept off by a huge wave.
“C’mon mate, time to go, daylight’s burning,” he urged the couple as he clung to the yacht’s rudder.
However the man refused his offer of rescue, and according to Tregellas, insisted they would be fine until a boat arrived.
The man advised the police officer that he had an EPIRB to activate if things got rough.
Left with no other option Tregellas headed for home, wet, bruised and bemused at the couple’s knock back.
“I was stunned but I couldn’t tell anyone because I’ve got no comms,” he told the ABC on Monday.
At around midnight in extreme winds, a helicopter managed to land on the beach with a paramedic and a water Police officer from Sale onboard and carry the couple to Mallacoota to the comfort and warmth of a hotel.
Talking to the Magnet on Tuesday, Tregellas said the Western Australian couple were on an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Australia and had left Hobart recently.
He said the man told him they had been dumped by a 30 foot wave on the beach after a series of unfortunate events during Sunday morning’s freezing gale.
By the time their calls for help had been relayed to Marine Rescue Eden by passing merchant ship Kota Jaffa, they had been making emergency calls on channel 16 for around eight hours.
Their remote position meant those calls went unheard by Marine Rescue units at Mallacoota and Paynesville.
Eden established direct contact with the catamaran on channel 81 which uses a VHF repeater on Mount Imlay and also contacted friends and family who were waiting for them in Eden.
Acting Sergeant Tregellas said the catamaran, Pure Magic, had been completely destroyed in the wild seas and the couple had travelled on to Canberra with friends.
National Parks and Wildlife Services had engaged contractors to clean up the beach.
The stretch of coastline is known for its ruggedness with few places for boats to shelter and very little communication available.