Preview: Tom Robinson’s Rescue

October 8, 2023

Steve Stone Steve Stone

Everything just changed…

As we were writing an update to send to members Friday about Tom’s departure from Vanuatu for his final “short” leg home to Australia, we received the following note from his shore team:

At 0700 UTC (1700 Australian Eastern Standard Time) on Thursday 5 October, Tom’s dad received a message from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to say that Tom’s EPIRB had been activated. Dad was told that a French plane would soon be taking off from Noumea to find Tom who was about 100 nautical miles WSW of Luganville in Vanuatu. In the dark, the plane spotted Tom who was standing on the upside-down hull of Maiwar. Subsequently a cruise ship, Pacific Explorer, made a detour from its planned course to pick up a naked Mahuta who climbed a rope ladder to reach the deck. Soon after, and some 13 hours since his EPIRB was activated, he rang his family at home. He was being checked in the sick bay, and sounded well after a precarious night. Tom explained that his demise was caused by an unexpectedly large wave that came through the main hatch, capsizing Maiwar and flooding the cabin.

Our sincere thanks go to the Australian, New Caledonian and Vanuatuan authorities who all had important roles to play in his rescue; and to the captain and crew of Pacific Explorer who literally went out of their way to pick up Tom.

Choked up and gut-punched, I picked up the phone and dialed Tom’s parents in Brisbane. Tim and Veronica were in good spirits after having received Tom’s phone call from the sick bay on the cruise ship. Tom was alive and doing well.

They said that Tom explained to them that he went below for a moment to get something and he relaxed his normal process of closing the hatch behind him. In an instant the cabin was full of water and the boat capsized from a rogue wave, despite the relatively benign conditions.

When I first read “cruise ship”, it didn’t occur to me that “cruise ship” might mean an actual cruise ship, so I looked it up. For perspective, here’s the cruise ship that picked Tom up — the 856-foot Pacific Explorer:

It’s hard for me not to wonder why a smaller cruising boat didn’t show up for the Mayday call, as there were several in the area on the AIS system. Such a boat might have easily helped right MAIWAR and half an hour of bailing would have had the boat ready to row again. Or a generous cargo boat or fishing vessel might have even plucked MAIWAR from the water for the short trip bak to Vanuatu for a regroup.

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