Rescue at Horrocks

Adrian photographed in the yawl at Malta.

In 1950, Adrian Hayter, a journalist and adventurer from New Zealand, travelled to England and bought a 35ft motor-powered yawl named Sheila II. He intended to sail it from Europe to New Zealand via Gibraltar, Suez Canal, India, Indonesia and Australia.

On 10 January 1954, he departed Indonesia with six weeks supply of food and water. A letter sent from the British consul at Surabaya stated that his expected arrival date in Fremantle was the end of February. Months passed, and Adrian did not arrive. No one had seen him in Darwin, nor Fremantle. In mid-April, after missing his estimated Fremantle arrival date, all masters of ships sailing in the waters between Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore were asked to keep a lookout for him.

At 1 pm, on 20 April, after 100 days at sea, an exhausted Adrian (with long hair and weather-beaten face) was spied near Horrocks Beach. Mervyn Quartermaine and Ron O’Driscoll rescued him and brought him ashore. He stayed with Ron and eventually told the story of his ordeal.

A map showing Adrian’s journey.

Three weeks after Adrian left Indonesia, he fell into difficulties. The vessel had a leak, which meant he had to pump the water out every half hour. He only ever slept for a maximum of two hours. He took 20 gallons of drinking water, but it became contaminated with sand and salt. To conserve what he had, he eventually limited his daily water consumption to a third of a pint.

The water ran out after another three weeks, and Adrian managed to make drinking water using a pressure cooker. On the fourth week, he rationed his meals to two per day. He lived off chutney, sauce, margarine, and rice with fish he caught. If he could not catch any fish, he reached under the vessel and used the gooseneck barnacles to make a soup.

He eventually reached the North West Cape (near Exmouth) and was caught in a storm that tore the mainsail and ruined his supplies. Next, the bowsprit broke. Ten days passed before the weather became calm, and he could make another one. On top of the damage, the barnacles on the bottom of the yawl further slowed it down.

When the pressure cooker broke, he was unable to condense water. Fearing that he might die from thirst, he combined petrol with rice and burned it to produce water in a similar way. Eventually, he used wood from the vessel to make fires.

Three times Adrian tried to get to Fremantle, but the wind carried him north. Drifting on a current, he wound up at Horrocks. He anchored off a reef and fired shots to get attention, but the people assumed he was fishing. Hopping into his dinghy, he tried crossing the reef to get to shore. It filled with water, and it was then that Mervyn and Ron rescued him. Both men later helped guide Sheila II across the reef. It was still flying a white cloth on the masthead, indicating distress.

Adrian lost nearly 10 kgs during his time at sea. On the night of 21 April, he arrived at Geraldton and received treatment at the Victoria District Hospital. On the following day, he returned to Horrocks, intending to stay there to repair the yawl.

Mervyn, Ron and Adrian having a cup of tea.

After several weeks at Horrocks, and with necessary repairs complete, Adrian sailed the Sheila II to Geraldton. He arrived at sunset on 6 May and tied the vessel up at Geraldton wharf on the following day.

A journalist for the ‘Geraldton Guardian’ interviewed him upon his arrival. He was happy to be in Geraldton and intended to stay for six months. The yawl required an extensive refit, and to pay for it, he planned to work in town. He added that, due to various stops, the journey had so far taken four years, a lot longer than his estimated time of a year.

For the rest of 1954, Adrian lived and worked in Geraldton and slowly repaired Sheila II. He obtained a job as a deckhand on the vessel, Trimmerwheel, and when it was in port, he lived aboard as watchkeeper.

Despite having a few issues sourcing various parts, by mid-December, the repairs (including an overhaul of the engine) were complete. On 22 December 1954, he sailed from Geraldton to Fremantle. He intended to stay there for a few days before departing to cross the Great Australian Bight, the Bass Strait, and then on to his home town of Nelson in New Zealand.

Adrian sitting on the dinghy (left) and Sheila II with the distress signal flying.

This story originally featured on ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt’s Saturday Breakfast with Nat on 30 January 2021. You can listen to that episode via the following link: https://ab.co/2C67gqO

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