26 Jun 2017

'We all thought we were going to die'

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 26 June 2017

Wellington coffee and hospitality business owners, Geoff Marsland and Roger Young headed out from Wellington aboard the 61ft yacht Jungle with its skipper Peter McLean and his son on Thursday morning. 

Their plan had been to head to Tonga, however heavy weather changed their plans and they made their way to Fiji. 

Early on Friday morning, with no moon and a high tide, Mr Marsland was on watch in the pitch black. 

"I looked out the cockpit and there was just a huge wall of white water, it was just the worst sight you'd ever want to see."

He yelled to his fellow crew members, two of whom were asleep, to get up. 

"It just went crash. It went right up onto the reef and straight away a massive wave came. We got into the white water, the mast came down straight away. Pretty horrific stuff.

"Everyone was in total shock, it was like hitting a freight train, you know, hitting a brick wall. We were sailing really fast, we were sailing about ten knots."

The boat's boom crashed across the companionway, jamming a life raft and taking out a satellite phone and VHF aerial. 

"You know you saw your kid's faces, your wife's, your mother's, all our father's. We all looked at each other and we know that we all thought we were going to die. It was the worst scenario you know."

He said with a king tide their radar hadn't picked up the reef, but that turned out to be fortunate. 

"If it had been low tide and we'd hit the reef... we would have rolled onto the reef and it would have been a totally different story."

The boat began to break up on the reef however conditions eased as the tide went out. They gathered their things and stayed onboard with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

Sunrise revealed an island near by although they couldn't see any inhabitants. 

"I went through that whole thing where I hallucinated planes, I totally heard a helicopter, I imagined people on the beach."

At about eight o'clock three people and a dog appeared on the beach and the group set off flares and honked horns to attract their attention. 

However, after they received no response Mr Marsland decided to take the plunge and leave the boat. 

"I thought f*** this, I thought this is my last chance, I've got one chance here so I wanted to walk along the reef in my wet weather gear with a life ring and try get close to them and everyone was telling me not to do, not to get in the water, but I knew I only had one shot."

After grabbing their attention by shouting "Bula", the locals helped the group off the reef and took them back to safe ground. 

"As we just got to the beach an Orion flew over so it was midday and at that point I just became a blithering mess."

A radio and water were dropped off and defence staff told them the Fijian Navy would be there to rescue them. 

A low flight before they left also dropped off a third package. 

"We opened it up and it was crunchies and moro bars. All the goodies from home. There was such a good feeling."

The locals took them back to their village. Mr Marsland said it was incredibly basic with locals living off coconuts and fish with a supply boat visiting once every three months. 

"They had nothing, they gave us rugby shirts to put on, they made us a hot cup of tea... they killed three chickens and cooked us this big dinner and we sat round - we'd actually rescued a bottle of Cuban rum off the boat because we knew we'd all need it... it was the most amazing night."

The next day the Fijian Navy came to take them back to Suva, but not before returning to the Jungle briefly. 

"The boat's a write off, uninsured, total write off. Beautiful boat, and we got on to the boat and got some stuff but basically we've gifted everything on that boat to the Islanders... I tell you what they thought it was Christmas."

Mr Marsland said he'd sailed all around the world on the boat, and with Peter McLean, for years. 

"He hasn't lost his life, he's lost his possessions and his home but the way we're dealing with it is... we're just so happy that no one got injured and we're all here to tell the story. 

The group are hoping to return to their families in New Zealand over the next few days.