Wednesday, December 21, 2005
An Australian Skipper and his New Zealander First Mate survived 11 days in a storm-battered life raft with no food or water - and were forced to drink their own urine - after their yacht sank off Vietnam. Mark Wesley Smith and Steven John Freeman recounted yesterday how they clung desperately to their life raft as storms flipped it over and over for days on end. They ate nothing for 11 days, licked rainwater off the raft and were forced to drink their urine.
They were finally rescued by Vietnamese fishermen. "We were left with just a paddle and a sponge," said Smith, 49, of Hobart. "We battled for our lives with almost nothing. It was just sheer willpower that kept us alive." "It's unreal. It's unbelievable," said Freeman, 30, of Nelson, New Zealand. "The Vietnamese have been so fantastic. They dragged us out of the water, and everyone has been unbelievably wonderful to us." Mr Smith and Mr Freeman spoke by telephone from Ly Son Island, off the central Vietnamese coast, where they are being treated after fishermen pulled them out of the water on Saturday about five kilometres offshore. The Captain and his Mate set off from Hong Kong on December 5 to deliver a 20-metre motor yacht to Australia for its owner. But within a day one of the yacht's engines failed and the seas started to get rough. Mr Smith said he had turned the yacht around about 200 kilometres off of Hong Kong to try to make it back to port. But a "monster wave" crashed over the bow and bashed a hole in the hull. "We sank in 60 seconds and the very next wave flipped the life raft just as we were zipping in," Mr Smith said. "It was unbelievable bad luck. All our flares, radio, water and food - just gone." The torrential rains of the storm allowed the men to at least drink fresh water, which they licked off the sides of the raft. After three days the rains stopped, leaving only winds that Mr Smith said never dropped below 35 knots. "Every day the raft was flipped and flipped again," Mr Smith said. "We did all the horrible stuff like drink our own stuff. But the nights were the worst." Both men's greatest fear, Mr Smith said, was that the other would be swept away. The same late-season tropical storms that tormented the pair - and have killed more than 40 people in floods in central Vietnam - have made it impossible so far to take them to the mainland. But Mr Smith and Mr Freeman say they are happy to wait, and happy just to be alive. They asked a reporter to contact their families to tell them they hoped to be home by Christmas. The first thing he wants to do in Australia "has a lot to do with food", Smith said. "A chocolate milkshake will do, just for starters."