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Surviving at sea for eleven days on only rainwater
Written by Administrator    Friday, 10 August 2012 13:30    PDF Print E-mail

In many ways, the call that Mark Smith received from Kurt Braun on 25 November 2005 was a mixed blessing. Kurt wanted Mark to deliver his motor yacht Technima 65 from the Aberdeen Yacht Club in Hong Kong to Sydney for AUS$17,000 before Christmas of that year. The planned 12-day route was Hong Kong to Manila onto Lae, Papua New Guinea, then on to Cairns and finally Sydney.
The hardship imposed when Technima 65 sank stranding Mark and Kiwi shipmate Stephen Freeman (originally part of Mark's fishing crew) at sea for eleven days was almost too much to humanly bear. But survive they did, and Mark took the hardship and was able to learn from it, turn it into a valuable life lesson and become a better person because of it.
150 miles out of Hong Kong, the boat's rear end gearbox seal blew, As Mark describes it "the seal had dried and cracked and corrosion had set in, chewing out the rubber seal like a hacksaw through butter." He and Steve were down to one engine so they decided to head back to Hong Kong. But not soon after they had turned around, disaster hit. The boat started taking on water, quickly.
Mark radioed: "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Technima 65 my position is 20 57' North 115 38' East! We are two souls on board! We are sinking and we're preparing to abandon ship! We need urgent assistance!"
Mark was able to grab a number of supplies and throw them into the life raft Steve that had launched into the sea. The problem was the seas were so rough that very soon the raft was thrown over and almost all their supplies were lost. As Mark recounts in the book, "No food, no water, no flares, no radio, no repair kit, no pump, no nothing. All we had was half a raft, two sponges, a paddle, a safety kit, a coil of rope with a quoit and a whistle."
The two spent the next eleven days at sea before ending up clinging to the leeward side of a reef on Ly Son Island, 12 miles off the coast of Danang. The raft was destroyed and they were at their wit's end, but a father-son fishing team, who initially didn't see them, finally did spot Mark and Steve waving. They were shuttled to shore in the small wicker baskets the Vietnamese use for fishing, but not before they were clothed. The people who gathered on the beach formed a human shield to protect them from the wind, and the wife of the man who saved them fed them small doses of orange juice, which Mark said tasted like "liquid gold", and a rice water gruel, again in small doses. Then the military arrived and hustled them onto motorbikes to take them to the local hospital 5km away. They ended staying in the Ly Son hospital for a week. When they arrived there were only two other patients in the hospital, a lady and her baby.
Landing at a sensitive border outpost, it was thought that they were spies at first. The irony is that even though they were that close to the Vietnamese coastline, Mark said they just didn't have any strength left and if they hadn't been rescued on Ly Son, they wouldn't have made it.
When finally rescued Mark had shrunk to 35kg from 75kg, Steve had also lost half his body weight. They were down to skin and bone. When he got to Australia and started to regain his strength he had to always have food around him, even in his bed.
Mark is certainly no stranger to danger. Over the past quarter of a century, the native of Hobart has sailed over 750,000 nautical miles, battled monster seas off Tasmania's west & south coasts, and survived the eyes of two category five cyclones in the South Pacific. He has fished and delivered vessels around the entire coastline of Australia and sailed countless thousands of miles in pursuit of tuna. His adventures have covered the great Southern Ocean, the North & South Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean, the South Pacific Ocean, the Tasman Sea, the Solomon Sea, the Coral Sea and the Andaman Sea.
But the depravation he and Steve faced after being shipwrecked, especially near the end of their sojourn was just gut-wrenching. "It was as if we were not on planet Earth anymore, just adrift with no hope of contact, air rescue has already passed over us on the second night without seeing us, we were either going to bump into land or die."
Thoughts of cannibalism filled both Mark and Steve on the final days of the odyssey. But to make matters worse, they didn't even have a knife, or any utensil for that matter. As Mark describes it, if Steve died first, he was going to "rip into him, tear his belly open and stick my head in." Just fingers and teeth - pretty gruesome stuff.
Before departure, Mark had hoped to pick up a cheap EPIRB (the 121.5 MHz Empire), but couldn't find one in Hong Kong. As Kurt Braun wanted the boat in Sydney by Christmas he didn't have time to wait around for the more expensive 406 model, which needed to be fitted by a certified technician and came with a host of timeconsuming registration, ownership and identification paperwork. The 406 uses geostationary satellites, and once it's activated the ship in distress is immediately identified and its position plotted using the GMDSS system.

By the way, Mark doesn't have many kind words for Kurt, who never paid him anything and squabbled with the Vietnamese authorities over the bill for the medical treatment and the cost of the Navy patrol boat sent out to fetch Mark and Steve from Ly Son.
How did the experience change him? "Small things don't bother me anymore," he says. "It also made me more caring, more aware of other people's problems, more sympathetic towards their plights. It wasn't an immediate change though, it happened more gradually throughout my recuperation."

His motto: 'Do the right thing; work hard, never give up and things will eventually work out for you."
When Mark finally did regain his strength he ended up doing some deliveries in Australia, and then he took a fishing boat from Sydney to Namibia, where he hoped to help develop the tuna long lining business there. But for the first time in living memory, the Bengali Current failed and this hit the Namibian tuna industry hard. As Marks says, "I was on my ass without a penny to my name."
So he decided to write in Luderitz, Namibia, for 30 straight days and he came up with the manuscript for Beyond All Limits. It was longhand, not digitized. And funny enough, that is where he met his future wife, Thitisada (Khun Bom), a Thai national, from Chachangsao, who was working in a small Thai restaurant in Namibia. They both ended up moving to Australia and going back to school, Mark to get his Masters Class 3 ticket and Thitisada her deck qualification.
Mark did some tug work for a while and again found himself in a perilous situation. In March, while towing a 2,000 ton barge with Greshanne, he was asked to help corral a 35,000 ton container vessel, the MSC Lugano which had lost command due to an engine room fire and was headed directly for the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve. Mark handed over the barge he was pulling and masterfully helped saved the sanctuary from the imminent damage the ship would have wrought if it had continued on its pace. In November of last year Mark took his life savings and purchased Oceanis, a 100ft motoryacht, which was built in Fremantle in 1993. He brought here to Ocean Marina in January of this year and nowadays Mark and his wife take tourists out on her for day trips. A typical itinerary looks like this: sail (if weather permits) from Ocean Marina at 9:30am to an isolated beach where guests can explore and go for a swim in the ocean. Then have a luxurious lunch followed by some afternoon fishing and snorkelling, heading back to Ocean Marina at about 5pm.
(Beyond All Limits was published by Nautical Publications. You can purchase copies from Mark Smith who resides at Ocean Marina by emailing him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).