The early morning search for a stranded yachtie in the Whangarei Heads harbour mouth has won a regional surf lifesaving award.
Each month Surf Life Saving New Zealand selects a winning rescue from each region as well as an overall national winner for the title of BP Rescue of the Month.
Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service has won the Northern Region award for December.
During the early hours of December 15, lifeguards were alerted to a vessel in distress at the Whangarei Heads harbour mouth area. The information was limited but the vessel was believed to be an 8.8m yacht and the skipper, the sole occupant, had become stuck on the rocks. Neither the yacht, nor the skipper, could be located.
At around 3.30am, Ruakaka, Waipu Cove and Mangawhai Heads callout squads were tasked to search the area between Bream Head and Bream Tail.
Meanwhile, the skipper had abandoned his yacht for a small life raft and wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.
Mangawhai Heads volunteer lifeguards Murray Dix and Mark Vercoe responded immediately. Vercoe drove his vehicle along Mangawhai Heads beach to search for the grounded yacht and life raft. He spotted the yacht off Head Rock and notified Dix of its whereabouts. Dix had then launched the rescue boat and collected Vercoe and started the search for the missing man.
The lifeguards searched for some time and could not locate the man and it was only on a last scan out to sea that Vercoe noticed a white flash around one kilometre offshore. They had located the missing man in his small inflatable life raft.
Later that morning, Dix and Vercoe successfully salvaged the 29ft vessel off Head Rock and, with the assistance of the local Harbour Master, towed the damaged vessel into Mangawhai Harbour.
It was extremely lucky that the lifeguards spotted the man in the pitch black. The lifeguards demonstrated their advanced Search and Rescue skills, and knowledge of the area. If they hadn’t found him, the man risked spending another few hours stranded until sunrise.
BP NZ Managing Director Matt Elliott says the quick response from the callout squads in the early hours was truly remarkable. “Since 1968 we have been proud to stand behind this amazing organisation that can make the difference between life and death,” he says.