New Zealander Todd Vercoe has an incredible tale of survival to tell after being swept overboard on a sailing trip with two friends. The three set sail for Tutukaka on a 30-foot sloop at 8:30 a.m. As reported by The Northern Advocate, the ship was on autopilot to ensure the passengers would arrive at their destination before sundown.
Vercoe encountered trouble while the other two slept below deck. He told New Zealand’s 3 News, "I was sailing along and I thought I would take a bit of a pee off the back of a boat, [but I] hit an awkward wave and got bounced off the back of the boat and just saw the boat sailing off into the distance." Unfortunately the sailor was not wearing a life jacket and he recalled, "I thought, oh time was up, yeah. But I was like five or six miles out and thought, 'What do I do? Do I just float around and wait to get hypothermic and die, or go for it?'"
He went for it and swam for land with his clothes weighing him down in the rough water. "[I] was only making a knot, maybe a knot and a half and it seemed like forever," Vercoe said. "I was a bit worried about big biteys out there as well. I was a bit weary because it's quite a shark renowned place." Vercoe told The Northern Advocate that he didn’t think of himself as “the strongest swimmer,” but he continued with the breaststroke for three hours. He recalled, “I kept saying to myself, 'Don't give up.’…I just kept pushing myself to get there. It was pure will really."
Eventually, the Kiwi made it to Rimariki Island. Exhausted and with mild hypothermia, he continued on to Kaituna Bay, afraid of his chances of being rescued after nightfall. Vercoe said, "It was the will to survive. I just kept going." He reached the bay. Then, having seen the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter in the sky while he swam, he used his foot to scrawl the letters “SOS” in the sand.
Vercoe’s shipmates had alerted emergency personnel and rescuers were dispatched at around 4 p.m. to search for the man lost at sea. As the sun set, the helicopter crew was about to gear up for a night search when they saw the SOS and Vercoe. Dean Voelkerling, Rescue Ops Manager recounted, "We come across to the beach to land and we literally saw him there, waving frantically with the SOS written out in the sand."
An SOS message written in sand worked for Vercoe and just last month helped in the rescue of five stranded off the shore of Queensland, Australia after their boat drifted away while they were on shore.
Vercoe was taken to the Whangarei St John base and received treatment for his hypothermia and a small cut on his foot. The rescued man, who will now always wear a life jacket while sailing, is grateful and knows how lucky he was saying, “Yeah it was a bit of a miracle, [wasn’t] it.”