American Levi Verwoest was rescued from open water about 50km offshore by RACQ CQ Rescue after spending a cold and dark night sitting atop his overturned boat.
Shortly after sunset on November 21 last year, while on a starboard tack from Middle Percy Island and headed towards Sarina, the hatch cover on the foredeck of the vessel came free. The hull of the boat started to fill with water and, once awash, the vessel jibed and capsized.
The 29-year-old Hawaiian had been sailing his 23-foot catamaran ‘Isis’ along the Queensland coast when he noticed the boat slowing and taking on water at sunset yesterday, about 40km south of Mackay between Cape Palmerston and Knight Island.
"I noticed the boat slowing down, I went out on deck and there was a hatch cover missing," he said.
"By the time I was able to get out of the cabin and even attempt to do anything the hull was already full of water and the boat just capsized.
The sailor was forced to spend a very long, cold and lonely night sitting on the hull of his overturned vessel as it drifted on the tide.
"I was hoping I could make an attempt to right the boat but that was just a waste of my time," he said.
"It was too much of a pain in the butt in the dark so I sat in the dinghy for most of the night."
At first light, he was finally able to activate his Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which meant RACQ CQ Rescue was tasked to the search and was able to quickly hone in on the distress signal and find the vessel just 12 minutes after take off.
“I had to swim inside and retrieve my waterproof VHF and EPIRB to call for help,” he said.
“Afterwards I sat and held my VHF for about half an hour before I was able to bring myself to call mayday. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, to admit I failed myself and my boat. My mayday call was received and I was instructed to activate my EPIRB and await the helicopter.
“I then dove back inside to see what I could salvage. I managed to grab a bag, my bosuns chair, a shirt, and three litres of honey. I then sat on the upturned hull and waited.”
After a quick orbit of the area, RACQ CQ Rescue rescue crewman Arno Schoonwinkel was winched down into the water as the helicopter hovered overhead to secure the stranded sailor into a strop and winch him back up in the helicopter.
“Faster than I expected, the RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was there, circling me twice, then approaching from downwind, with a rescue crewman dangling below,” Levi said.
“Upon entering the water he put me in a harness and whoosh, up into the sky we went. The view from the chopper was amazing, except for seeing my home of the last three years leaving my life.”
Levi was very relieved the elapsed time from EPIRB activation to being on the ground and in a hot shower was only about an hour.
He lost all of his belongings when the boat capsized, including his American passport.
Rescue crewman Arno helped give Mr Verwoest clean clothes and food after arriving back at base.
"For someone to be in the water for 12 hours it's really rare for him to be that calm,” Arno said.
'Without that emergency beacon, the poor bloke faced a much longer and more dangerous wait in the water for either a passing boat to see him or to be reported missing.
"It's good to be able to have a good job where you can come back to base and smile."
The Hawaiian hasn't been deterred by the sailing mishap.
"I still love sailing, I want to go back if I can retrieve the boat I would love to," he said.
"Otherwise, I might just work a bit and buy a new boat."
But his first port of call visiting the American consulate for a new passport.