Two men who were reported missing after their boat disappeared off the South Australian coast four days ago have been found safe and well, with one reunited with his family.
A police launch found Goolwa men Tony Higgins, 57, and Derek Robinson, 48, on board their boat the Margrel off Salt Creek about 9am on Thursday.
The men left Coffin Bay, on the Eyre Peninsula, last Thursday, and had not been heard from since Friday, when they reported propeller trouble.
They were reported missing by a friend on Sunday, but made contact with authorities late on Wednesday, just hours after an air and sea search had been called off.
Derek Robinson arrived back on shore at Encounter Bay to be reunited with his family about 2pm on Thursday.
“It feels very emotional to see them,” Mr Robinson said.
“It was rough, rocky, I don’t think I felt scared, just isolated – I felt the world didn’t exist cause we were out in the middle of nowhere.”
He said the pair had no idea about the massive search operation.
“It was good they [the police] came along, we had no idea they were looking for us.”
The search over the past four days covered more than 120,000 square kilometres, with help from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Royal Australian Air Force and Kangaroo Island and Volunteer Marine Rescue, as well as police.
Mr Higgins was yet to step foot on land as he was still trying to fix the boat’s pump.
“He’s gotta stop it from sinking, I guess,” Mr Robinson said.
He said the pair ran into trouble when the boat’s propeller was damaged on Friday and they had to power down as a result.
The conditions caused problems from then on and they had no idea of the massive search operation.
“I fell in the drink off the wharf on the first night … so my phone was buggered the whole way through,” he said.
He said while he went on this trip for a “change of scenery”, he’d think again before jumping in a boat.
“We’ll see what happens, see where the next adventure takes me.”
Earlier, SA Police Senior Constable Matt Brown had said the men were “in good spirits and not injured”.
“Police are taking them back to safety,” he said on Thursday.
“[We’re] still trying to work out [with the men] what happened.”
The men were towed back to Victor Harbor behind the police boat Investigator II in the 10-metre wooden-hulled Margrel.
Anxious wait at dock
Mr Robinson’s brother, Ian, spoke to reporters this morning and described his brother as an inexperienced sailor, but said that Mr Higgins did know his way around a boat.
Waiting at a dock in Encounter Bay, he said he never gave up hope that his brother would be found.
“[I’m] ecstatic, over the moon, couldn’t be happier,” he said.
“It’s just been an overwhelming experience – your brother’s missing and suddenly he rocks up. You can’t explain it in words.”
He said it was an “adventure of a lifetime” and he was anxious to see his brother.
“I just can’t wait to see him. I don’t know if I want to hug him or kick the s— out of him,” he said.
Mr Robinson’s 26-year-old son Ashley said he felt the search was called off too early, but now he was just happy to see his father.
“It’s just really good to know he’s safe and will be back soon,” he said.
“Thanks to everyone who’s helped.”
One of the ‘worst stretches’ of coast
Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club commodore Randall Cooper said similar good outcomes had happened before.
“Over the years we’ve had boats go missing out on Lake Alexandrina and the worst was feared, but they’ve been found tied up in the reeds funnily enough drinking cocoa and eating crumpets,” he said.
“You never take the big lakes and the ocean for granted.
“It can change within hours from beautiful to horrible, and where they’ve been it’s some of the worst stretches around the Australian coast you can go to.”
Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes said the men were lucky to be found considering the “treacherous waters” of the Southern Ocean.
“They’re so lucky. We had been following the story hoping they’re OK,” Mr Parkes said.
“We just can’t believe how lucky they are to have been found.”
Jacina Te Rito, who works with Mr Robinson at a local supermarket, said staff “can’t wait to catch up with him when he’s ready and hear about his crazy adventure”.
“Derek’s a down-to-earth, genuine, gypsy-at-heart guy who doesn’t have a bad word to say about anybody,” Ms Te Rito said.
“[He is] an adventurer and young at heart with a love of wide open spaces and photography.”