Words: Chris Binns
Fantastic news from Indonesia today with South African man overboard Brett Archibald found after 28 hours lost in the Mentawai Strait. Durbanite Archibald, who was seasick as the charter boat Nagu Laut made an overnight crossing from Padang, fell overboard yesterday morning. His absence was not noticed until breakfast a few hours later, at which point the Nagu Laut turned around to retrace its path. At the same time the crew alerted Indonesian Search and Rescue and all charter boats in the area, who mobilized to join the search.
A few short hours ago Tony "Doris" Eltherington, skipper of the Barrenjoey, reported that they had found the stricken swimmer floating 12 miles east of the island of Sipora. Archibald is dehydrated and sunburned, and The Barrenjoey is now steaming to meet up with the Nagu Laut, to return their missing passenger and reunite him with his surfing buddies.
An incredible feat of endurance from Archibald, and an awesome show from all of the charter boats that ply the Mentawai archipelago, not least Martin Daly, who had no second thoughts about mobilizing all three of his Indies Trader boats and jumping straight into the rescue mission.
Less than an hour ago Surfing Life managed to talk to an exhausted Archibald aboard the Barrenjoey, via a terrible mobile phone line. The Nagu Laut arrived on the scene mid-call, reuniting their missing passenger with his friends, which lead to an abrupt and understandable conclusion, but here are the words of a true ironman, still coming to terms with what he just survived. Doris, being the legend that he is, coudn't quite understand that his new passenger wasn't up to a beer yet, and gladly handed the phone to him with the line, "Bretto, the paparazzi want a piece of you already!" Cheers Doris!
Brett! Amazing. Obvious question, how are you mate?
I’m not good hey, 28-and-a-half hours in the water, I am broken. I feel broken in half.
We were in a bad crossing, the seas were really rough. I went up on deck to take a wee and drink some water, and then realized I was really seasick. I had two really big vomits, and then I think I blacked out while I was wretching. I don’t remember falling overboard or anything, if you fell you would know, you’d try grab a rope or something. But I woke up in the water with no lifejacket, the boat 100 metres ahead of me with no tender behind it. It was 3.15am, there was a dark storm, I’m in the middle of this nasty strait, I saw the boat sailing off and I thought it was all over.
There were no islands anywhere for 15 kilometres, but I figured I just had to remain calm, and that once the boat realized I was gone they’d turn around. And they did come back, they got to within 250 metres of me, but they couldn’t see me because the swell was so big, and then they kept going past me and I knew I was in real trouble.
The night was carnage. I had sharks swimming past me, I got stung by every jelly fish in the ocean. Seagulls even tried to pick my eyes out, so I have big holes in my nose.
It was insane, was just insane. I actually gave up. I went under and said, “screw this, I can’t carry on”. But I couldn’t swallow water, I couldn’t get my lungs to take the water and I kept coming back up. So then I pulled myself together, said, “Okay, we need to keep going here”, and I kept swimming and treading water.
I treaded water all night, I saw a couple of islands and tried swimming to them but the current was too hectic, I wasn’t able to kick, so I just floated with the current. This morning I saw a couple more islands, but again I couldn’t get to them.
Did you have any driftwood or anything to help float you?
No, not a thing. I couldn’t believe it, you see rubbish everywhere, and yet I didn’t see a single log or branch or boogie board or anything. I did not see one single piece of litter anywhere, not even a piece of paper. I treaded water for 28-and-a-half hours.
How much longer do you think you could have lasted?
The human body is an amazing, amazing thing. I don’t think I could have gone much beyond today, by the time night came I might have been cactus. I had to get my rhythm, I was treading water for five minutes, then I’d swim again. I saw land five times, but I could never get closer, the current pulled me away every time.
I saw a fishing boat come out, and thought “Okay, he’ll get me.” He was headed straight for me then turned to port and buggered off that way, and I didn’t see him again, and then the boat I’m on now, these Aussie guys, just turned up from nowhere, and they were insane.
The captain, Tony (Eltherington), had already organized the whole search and rescue party, and then they were the ones who found me. I saw these masts and started swimming towards them, obviously they were trying to find me but they weren’t coming straight for me, they were going to miss me by 200 metres. I couldn’t whistle my mouth was so dry, so I just started hollering. Tony heard me but he couldn’t see! They eventually pinpointed the noise and found me in the binoculars and came and picked me up. I tell you, I’d never been so happy to see a boat in my entire life, even if it was full of Aussies! I’m a converted Aussie, I love these guys!
When you get onboard what do you do? Drink lots of water and phone your relatives?
Thankfully there was a doctor onboard, and he was amazing, he controlled the situation from the start. He gave me plenty of water, got me warm. I could barely drink, my tongue was the size of a tennis ball. The doc really looked after me, got me on a trip, patched up all my wounds, looked after my face, glued my nose back up, it was good.
Great to hear. Where are you now?
I’m still on the Barrenjoey, and the boys onboard have all been surfing this perfect left while I’ve been asleep. My boat is coming to catch up with me now, and then we can go and carry on with our surf trip.
Your surf trip?!? You’re not going to get checked out at a hospital or anything?
No, no. We’ve got a doctor here and he’s really taken care of me, you know? He says it’s all good, and in a day or two I should be OK. I must say, my liver and kidneys are buggered, my blood sugar levels are low, my heart rate is very slippery and not great, but I reckon I’ll come right tomorrow…
They make us tough in Saffa-land boy! We’ve got eight days left on our trip, I can’t go to hospital, we’ve got to surf.
You’ve got to get your money’s worth too, you’ve paid for the trip already. No South African is going to let his coin go that easily.
Exactly! We’ve had a good adventure, but we’ve also wasted two days searching for me. And they just pulled up! I have to go and say hello to them.
Well mate we’re really, really glad you made it.
Ah, thank you. And thanks a lot for the call, appreciate it. Tell everyone back home I’m okay.
Will do… (line goes dead).
Brett, we're glad you made it back in one piece mate. Your story is incredible, as is your willingness to have a phone jammed in your face so soon after you towelled off. Sounds like there's some swell headed your way, may you get what you deserve. Apologies if any of these quotes aren't quite 100%, the line was atrocious. Cheers bru.