Graphic story of man cast up by the sea terrible nightmare - PPSP
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Graphic story of man cast up by the sea terrible nightmare

Staggered ashore to sleep for hours before help came  

Sorrento Friday “it seems like a terrible nightmare to me now said John Johansson 35, seamen in the pilot service from the bed of the Sorento police station tonight. He had been found exhausted on the back beach at Rye this afternoon.  

Johanssen and Robert Williams 72 had been blown through the Heads in a small boat in which they were going from the pilot steamer Victoria to Queenscliff the previous night. The boat had overturned, and he had clung to it until it was battered to pieces on a reef. When he managed to reach the shore. 

He told the graphic story of his struggles and of the death of his mate, who had said frequently he wished to die in the service. Friends had had advised him to give up the sea, but he would not. 

Johanssen is a big sturdy Swede more than 6 foot and more than 14 stone. Gashes and bruises on his legs and hips and torn and blood blistered hands were painful reminders of the grim fight. 

 He craved cigarettes- and strong tea and between them told his story.  

“Somewhere about 9 last night Bill and I left the boat about a 19-footer-to pick up a pilot at the Cliff.  I was pretty dirty, and we turned back after a few minutes. I was at the tiller and nearing the ship (the Victoria) Bill let the sheet down. It was too soon. We lost way just before coming abeam of the ladder rope and were caught by the eddy running around the ship. Before we had time to do anything we were through the rip and the next thing over we went.  

How he lost his mate  

I saw Bill a few feet away and said “keep your head up” cut the mainsail clear and righted the boat. She was flush with the gunwale. I climbed in and called to Bill. There was no answer. “He must have got back in the boat for I saw his oilskins swirling in the water in the boat. “I called again but Bill did not answer, so I clambered up to the bows and grabbed him by the leg when we went over again. That was the last I saw of him”  

I righted the boat again but two or three times it went over. Two boats passed but they were too far away to hear my call. 

“Until Daybreak I stood hip deep in the water. I had to stand to keep the boat right.  

Crawled out and slept  

With the light I saw the beach about half a mile away and I was drifting shoreward, just waited. I was not very hungry, but I’d have given a lot of drink.” My thirst became bad about 8:00 AM and I when it rained, I lay across the gunwales and caught a few drops in my mouth” 

The boat was nearly on the reef near the divide (the back beach at Canterbury) and missed three rocks. It was heading straight for another and rather than be killed I jumped clear and started to swim for it -still in my oilskins and heavy boots. ” The breakers did the rest.  Touching ground, I found my legs were stiff and I crawled out like a dog.  Then the beach and sleep.  

First thought for friend  

From 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM Johannsen slept and wandered around. Eventually he was seen by a farmer from Rye Mr W Dimmick. He was taken into the house while Sorrento police were notified. Constable John Fletcher ran his car out and taking Dr Cramm and a supply of blankets went to Dimmick’s farm. They wrapped Johannsen up and bought him to Sorrento police station and put him to bed. He remained dazed until late in the afternoon. 

 “Poor Bill… give me a cigarette” were his first words on regaining consciousness. Johanssen expects to leave for his home in Westall road Springvale tomorrow. Two of Mr Dimmick’s labourers were still searching for the body of Williams and the wrecked boat late tonight. 

Long dangerous search 

Urge frequently give up his sea life. Bob Williams persistently refused. The pilot ship was his home, and he would stay there.  The offer of a pension did not move him. The outstanding feature in the search for the missing men was the fortitude of the lifeboat crew, nine of them went out in the motor lifeboat at 2:00 a.m. and did not get back till 9:30 a.m. 

In that time, they travelled 50 miles in dangerous choppy sea. The four deck hands were lashed to the iron railing.  All were soaked in spite of their oilskins. This way and that way they chugged through icy blinding squalls, but they didn’t mind. They were looking for two men they knew and respected-two men of the sea, like themselves. When they returned, they were stiff and terribly tired. 

The pilots and crews were out in the pilot ships Victoria, Akuna and Rip. The Victoria went out 15 miles and zigzagged to Cape Schanck: the Akuna did likewise to the West and the Rip searched the back beach.  All returned empty handed. 

Searchlight lights played across the rip and to see from both sides of the heads. 

Pilots puzzled by mishap  

What puzzled the pilot is the reason for the capsize of the boat. They can’t understand how it happened with two such experienced men on board. 

The strong north wind prevented them making the jetty to pick up Captain Banks. They tried to get back and as they missed the pilot ship, their shouts were heard on board. Even then the men on the Victoria had no thought of danger. Hundreds of times their boats had been through nights like that. 

 It was not until three hours later that the tragedy was discovered. A second boat went ashore and found Captain Banks still waiting.  When the search ended at midday none have much hope that either of the men would get through. The cold night had given place to a colder squally morning. None thought they could live outside in a little open boat there. The only optimistic note was the feeling that the boat would not sink.  If the wind had not changed from the north to the West.  Johansson would not have been alive today. He would have been away out somewhere in the squalls of Bass Strait.  

Hope for the Best  

Mrs Johansson was advised by police at noon yesterday have her husbands at her husband ‘s poultry farm in Westall road Springvale her husband was missing. “I hope for the best” she said last night, and it was a great relief when the police called again at 5:00 p.m. and told me my husband was safe “I last saw him on Wednesday when he left at 7:30 a.m. to re-join his boat at Queenscliff. He worked four weeks and comes home the 5th week. He is a good boatman. “I’m sorry poor old Williams was drowned.  He always said he would die in the pilot service, and he is done so. They wanted a pension him off, but he would not have it. My husband always worked with him.  


Extract from The Sun 20/08/1927