Canoeists swamped near bar
STEVE POSSELT said it was just ‘bad luck’ that two outrigger canoes from the Ballina-based Kawaihae Outrigger Canoe Club got into strife at the Richmond River bar yesterday morning.
The incident, in which eight people were rescued by the Ballina Jet Boat Rescue, happened 24 hours after a fishing charter vessel with three people on board capsized in the treacherous waters.
Both incidents occurred around low tide, which Ballina trawlerman of 30 years, Shane Castle, said made the bar conditions, already well known to be dangerous, much more rough.
Both incidents were reported to police by coast guard volunteers keeping watch in the North Wall tower.
Mr Posselt said the two canoe crews – five people in a six-man canoe and three in a four-man craft – were not trying to cross the bar when they got into trouble around 6.30am.
He was the steerer in the four-man canoe and said both crews had been catching waves at the bar in a training session, just as they had done many times before.
He said the conditions had to bereasonably rough for the crews to catch waves.
The Ballina Coast Guard recorded a swell of 2m in the bar about the time of the incident and the bar was not recommended for crossing.
Mr Posselt said the larger canoe was riding a wave in when another wave swamped it from behind, filling the craft to the gunwhales.
He said the second smaller canoe then came by to tow the larger canoe back to the Richmond River Sailing Club.
But, he said, the second canoe then also was swamped and filled with water.
“Then we travelled backwards into the bar,” he said.
“It was just bad luck.
“The mistake we made was trying to save the six-man boat with the four-man boat.
“We should have just worried about the people and let the boat go.”
Seven of the crew members were rescued by the Ballina Jet Boat Rescue crew using the jet boat and a jet ski, with several receiving minor cuts and bruises.
The jet boat crew retrieved four people from the water and took them back up the river to waiting ambulances, while the jet ski remained with another two people still in the water.
The boat returned to pick up the two and another person, who had managed to clamber up the south break wall at the river mouth.
A member of the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club helped the eighth paddler to shore.
Boardriders stayed with some of the people in the water while waiting for the jet boat to arrive.
The canoes remained afloat, even though they were filled with water.
They were last seen drifting south, and members of the club planned to see if they were washed up on a beach.
Club members estimated the larger canoe was worth $8000 and the smaller one $6000.
Surf Life Saving NSW state duty officer, Jimmy Keough, said there was dangerous surf along much of the coast and wave heights were expected to peak overnight or today.