`They saved my life’

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By ROBYN BRISTOW

Ron Lee has called it a day on the high seas.

After a dramatic five hours clinging to the hull of his 4.8-metre Stabicraft boat Leona in choppy seas off Motunau Island, the 77-year-old has no appetite to venture out again.

He thought his time was up, but thanks to Motunau community members looking out for their own, Ron made it home safely. He says he cannot thank his rescuers enough.

Ron had gone to check his two craypots off the island when disaster struck.

His pots were not where he had set them and when he went to lift the first one, it was fouled and got stuck in the davit (small winch). Before Ron, who was wearing a lifejacket, had time to grab a knife to free it, the boat flipped, tossing him overboard.

He scrambled on to the upturned craft, which fortunately has flotation chambers on either side. He kicked off his gumboots and clung on.

He was plunged back into the sea a couple of times as a brisk nor-west made conditions very choppy, and he prepared to meet his maker.

“It was quite slippery. I was trying to hang on.

“There was not even a rope – nothing. It was all at the bottom of the sea,” says Ron, who had been expected back on land before his wife, Colleen, left for work at 8.30am.

“It wasn’t very nice.”

“I thought to myself I had had my life. I was 76, and in three to four days time I was turning 77.

“I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s it. That’s my lot’. I was prepared to go.”

But Ron says the good Lord must have been looking out for him.

When he wasn’t home when expected, his wife contacted Geoff Basher, a
local commercial fisherman and tour operator, who raised the alarm with Bill
Byrch, of Motunau Ag-Air.

He immediately took off in a plane to search for Ron. By this time Ron had
drifted 10km out to sea in the nor’west conditions, before a south to southeast change.

“I was headed to the Chatham Islands or somewhere, I reckon, until the change and then thought maybe I might end up at Nape Nape.

“I have never been so pleased to see Billy Byrch.

“Apparently, someone had spotted me from the top of the hill,” says Ron, giving┬áBill some idea of where to start searching.

Once spotted, Bill radioed back to shore and Greg Skene, a local fisherman, set out in his jetboat at low tide and rescued him, before returning and towing his craft home.“I thank them all for saving my life.

“I was very, very lucky,” Ron says of the late-February incident.

“I have called it a day,” he says. “At my age, it is time to
give it (fishing) away.”