Radio Ham Saves Sailors … from 200km Away

by Phil Thomson
Port Macquarie News Online
– Australia

An amateur radio operator from Comboyne has saved the lives of two men battling treacherous five-metre seas during a day-long Good Friday ordeal in the Pacific Ocean.

Bob Wilson and Mike Ross are now safe after their calls for help were heard by 62-year-old Harold Ralston – a radio ham for the past 30 years – who was working in his shed when he heard the call.

“He’s an amazing guy and I can’t wait to shake his hand,” said Mr Wilson, the boat’s grateful skipper.

The propeller on his 14m long vessel, Manunda, broke and forced against the rudder when they struck rough seas 75 nautical miles south-east of Port Macquarie at 6.30am on Friday.

Drifting helplessly without power or steering and being hammered by 40 knot winds, they were out of radio range and could only pick up non-English speaking radio operators.

Until Mr Ralston on the Comboyne plateau saved them.

“Because I’m 600m above sea level, I get a greater range.”

Mr Ralston, 200kms away, kept in touch with the boat and, on Mr Wilson’s advice, alerted rescue authorities at 1pm Friday.

Newcastle Water Police responded and began an eight-hour towing mission to Port Macquarie when they reached the stricken vessel.

During this time the nylon tow rope connecting the boats snapped six times and Mr Wilson, complete with harness, was forced onto the deck to catch the rope being thrown by police.

It was an act of bravery his 60-year-old shipmate will never forget.

“Bob was a real hero,” said Mr Ross, a journalist of 40 years.

“The boat was on a 45-degree angle going up and down the waves.

“The police told us that it was a record for the number of times the tow rope has broken.”

During the worst of the ordeal, both men calmly awaited their unknown fate.

“We were contemplating some rather breathtaking thoughts,” Mr Ross said.

“Both of us said ‘if it finishes now we’re grateful for the life we’ve had’.

“There was no fear, but it was solemn.”

Once here, the Port Macquarie Sea Rescue took the 18-tonne boat across the bar at 7am on Easter Saturday – virtually 24 hours after their call for help was heard in Comboyne.

Mr Wilson, who has sailed around the world one-and-a-half times, is now praising Port Macquarie’s volunteer marine rescue unit and the Newcastle Water Police.

“They’re professionals,” he stated.

The 58-year-old bought the boat to live in permanently and had asked his reporter friend to help him sail it from Queensland to Sydney.

The Manunda is berthed at Port Marina and will stay there until fixed.