Peter and Julie Fidler.
Peter and Julie Fidler.

Sunshine Coast kayakers rescued in Bass Strait after 9 days

STRANDED on a wind-lashed island in Bass Strait for nine days, running out of food, and then being involved in an emergency rescue by boat wasn't in the plan when world champion kayaker Peter Fidler and his team attempted to cross Bass Strait.

In November we reported how Peter, 59, with wife Julie, also 59, and eight men and two women from his learn to surf company, Go Ride A Wave, intended to leave Wilsons Promontory in Victoria and paddle 332km across the treacherous Strait to the north-western tip of Tasmania.

As per the plan, they left on December 12 for Hogan's Island 66km away but rough, cold waves and even colder 30-knot south-easterly winds hit them hard, causing seasickness, and in Julie's case, hypothermia.

"It took 11 hours of hard paddling but if I hadn't got her to the island and got her warm, I don't know what may have happened," Peter told Seniors from his home in Noosa.

With members of the party still seasick, the group decided to have a rest day before tackling the 45km to their next stop, Deal Island, which they could see on the horizon.

"When we woke up the next day, we couldn't see the island because of the fog and haze.

"It's quite a mental challenge to trust a GPS (global positioning system) and we were probably 20km into the trip before we could see the outline of the island through the haze.

"By this time the wind was up to 30 knots and very strong. It was almost impossible to paddle but we managed to land on Erith Island, which is close to Deal Island."

It was here that the unpredictable Bass Strait turned on its full, unforgiving power. The next stretch was a 70km paddle to Flinders Island and the group was kitted up and ready to leave at 4.30am but a satellite phone check on the weather showed more fog, high wind and 3m high waves.

"We were very nervous and we didn't think we would make it," Peter said.

And that was the story for the next seven days.

"We couldn't reverse back to Hogan because the wind was too strong. There was a tiny bush hut with a tin roof that runs into a water tank and we had water. That's how we were surviving, catching fish and rationing ourselves to one meal a day from our supplies.

"One of the group had a friend who owned a 60ft catamaran with a motor at Port Albert and we asked the owner to come and get us. He was worried about the weather but said he could see a window and would make the journey. He came at three in the morning and said, 'We've got to go now otherwise we'll not make it back'.

"It was 10 hours of seasickness the whole way with big, wide swells coming side-on to the yacht. Conditions were seriously bad and we were lucky he was such an experienced sailor."

Peter describes it as a "fantastic adventure".

"But I won't be rushing back there again," he said.

"I'll be looking for warmer weather, shorter distances."


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