A 61-year-old man who survived nearly 24-hours stranded at sea is adamant the experience has taught him some valuable safety lessons.
Will Fransen fell overboard while on a solo fishing trip just off the coast of Whangamatā on Tuesday.
Fransen said he fell out of the boat after he had hooked a marlin, put a tag on it and was trying to release it back into the water.
He said he knew he was in serious trouble after he was unable to get back into his boat, the Betty G, and saw it heading over the horizon.
No one knew he was out fishing and the chances of him being seen were very slim, he said.
“There were two boats quite early on near me that I unsuccessfully tried to shout to and wave to, they didn’t see me, but I knew as soon as I was in the water that the chances of getting a boat to be close enough to see me and grab their attention, very slim,” he said.
Fransen said when he had been in the ocean for a couple of hours he saw a shark which got his “heart racing” but fortunately it circled and then left.
There was a lovely sunset but he wondered what the night would bring.
“I was cold in the sun in the mid-afternoon let alone that night, I was shivering like for 15 hours I suppose, I dunno… and apart from seeing the light on Slipper Island and the light on the Aldermans and the glow of Tauranga behind the Mayor Island, there’s not a lot of light apart from stars, the stars were really bright, a nice astronomical sky.”
He did not have a life jacket, and spent a difficult night at sea, trying to stay afloat on a gimbal harness before being rescued by using his watch to reflect the sunlight.
“I saw a bigger boat and I tried to use my watch then to flash towards it but to try and get above the wave height, I had my arm fully above me and then I’d sink under the waves again. So I knew that I’d probably not even managed to get a signal to them.”
The wind and the waves then dropped but Fransen said he was hallucinating due to too much time in the sun and had seen a few boats that were not there.
“And then I looked up and saw the boys in their boat and it was not that far away and I looked again they’re still there and I thought yip, and I flashed them with my watch and fortunately they saw the flashes from my watch face.”
The boat had started to turn after seeing the flashes and Fransen said he then waved at them.
He said it was a huge relief to get on board the boat.
“I surprised myself with how I scrambled up the ladder into the boat, and yet I couldn’t stand properly inside it, I was just exhausted.”
Fransen said he collapsed on a chair and the crew on the boat gave him their clothing and wrapped him in an insulating sheet.
He said he was incredibly thirsty after the ordeal and drank about three litres of water in the one and a half hours it took to return to Whangamatā Wharf.
“God was looking out for me and all that stuff, I knew that my chances were next to nothing, so to be here, I’m very grateful.”
His three rescuers were “really down to earth Kiwi lads out there having a fish and they did the right thing by me”, Fransen said.
He said there were several things that he could have done differently.
“I could’ve worn a life jacket because I was on my own and a personal locator beacon, a PLB, so I could’ve set that off, I could have just tied a tether to myself to do what I did and then if I had of fallen in I could’ve pulled myself in.”
Fransen said he would definitely be wearing a lifejacket, buying a personal locator beacon and improving guard rails the next time he went fishing.
Fransen, who has three adult children, said his family came to see him in hospital after the ordeal.
“It was pretty emotional, my daughter wouldn’t let me go.”
But he said he got a “telling off” from his son for being so poorly prepared on the boat.