Couple lucky to be alive after Yamba boat crash
FOR retirees Ron and Carol Clark, the purchase of a sailing boat was meant to be the start of an exciting journey to Far North Queensland.
Instead, the events that followed ended with a terrifying life-or-death situation off Yamba's shoreline.
Having bought the 45ft ferro cement motor sailer in Sydney last month, the Clarks' plan was to sail it up to Maclean, and ready the vessel for the next destination,
Bloomfield River in North Queensland.
"We lived on the beach there for a couple of years in the '70s, so we were probably looking for the same romantic lifestyle we had then," Ron said.
"It was just a matter of coming here to get the boat ready and then heading on up."
But as they were travelling towards the Yamba bar crossing about 9pm on Valentine's Day, following the red and green lead lights that mark the entrance to the Clarence River, a rogue set of waves washed them towards Lover's Point and sparked a life-or death situation.
"The sea wasn't rough that night, so where those waves came from I don't know, but they were monstrous things," Ron said. "They just picked the boat up like it was a toy."
Within minutes, the walls of water had them "on the bricks".
"I've got the motor going flat out, and was trying to drive it out of the way but then we were washed on the rocks and we've got no steerage.
"I told Carol to go and grab some stuff down below and she came back and said the boat's half-full of water. That's when I knew we were gone."
With no hope of saving the vessel, and less than five metres of visibility around them, Ron and Carol scrambled to their inflatable dinghy.
"I started the outboard but we had nowhere to go," Ron said.
"It was just like a huge washing machine and everywhere I looked were waves and rocks.
"Then a wave picked us up and smashed the dinghy onto rocks and the motor stopped, and so it was a matter of surviving after that".
Ron told The Daily Examiner they clung to the dinghy as it was repeatedly thrown onto the rocks, with the certainty that they would die if they let go.
"Sometimes we were under it, sometimes we were on top of it, but we were just getting smashed about, and eventually quietened down for a couple of minutes so we could drag the dinghy further up the rocks and out of the waves."
They had washed up onto Lover's Point, but with their charts on the ocean floor and only specks of light from the houses onshore to guide them, they were severely disorientated.
"It was as dark as the inside of a cow's guts, and I thought we were on a bunch of rocks in the middle of the water," Ron said.
"I said to Carol we have to keep going, and I saw a clearer patch of water so I said we'll get the dinghy down and paddle her again. By the time we got into the dinghy I could see the beach."
With the waves threatening to tip the dinghy however, Ron and Carol were forced to abandon it and swim the rest of the way into Convent Beach.
Bleeding and bedraggled, passing bits of debris as they walked up the beach, they eventually found a house with a light on, and knocked on the door.
Ron suffered two broken ribs, and both he and Carol were battered and bruised.
From the Maclean Hospital balcony, they could see the river they were meant to be anchored in.
"We made it, just not in the way we thought we were going to," Carol said.
"The main thing is that we have our lives."
"Our whole life was packed into the boat; all this stuff we were accumulating and preparing for a journey, and in one fell swoop it's gone," Ron said.
"We were navigating by charts and following the red and green lead lights so winding up there was a complete and absolute shock. I'm still trying to work out how we got there.
"But you bump into valuable things like the kindness of people; the generosity of people and the hospital has been just wonderful.
"Now we've got to move on and see what's around the next corner."