Boat owner tells of fire ordeal
A TWEED Heads boat owner was lucky to be alive when he jumped from his motor yacht after it caught fire 18 nautical miles off the coast.
Boat owner John Verwoerdt abandoned ship and had to watch from the water while his motor yacht, Rhapsody, burnt to the water line 18 nautical miles off Tweed Heads.
Two passengers, a man and woman, were on a jet ski at the time of the fire, and Mr Verwoerdt had to jump for his life.
Mr Verwoerdt said the first he knew of the fire was when smoke was pouring out of the cabin.
“The cabin filled up with smoke, and with 700 litres of diesel and three gas bottles I wasn’t going to take any chances so I just jumped off,” he said.
“There were two explosions on the yacht.
“I was in the water for 10 minutes and I couldn’t see anybody - the boat’s on fire and drifting away so you are pretty scared.”
Mr Verwoerdt said there was no time to think or send out a mayday call, but he jumped into the water with his mobile phone.
“I jumped in with the phone and I had one call left,” he said.
“Everyone was out there within a quarter of an hour; there were four boats, so it was good.”
He said it was a devastating end to a trip that he and friends from Townsville were planning for about a month.
“It’s my pride and joy, or it was my pride and joy.
"It was the first time in nine months that we took the boat out because we had been doing repairs.”
Mr Verwoerdt and two passengers, who were on a jet ski at the time of the fire, were rescued by Marine Rescue Point Danger after being alerted to the fire from witnesses who could see the column of smoke from the beach and reported it to police at 11.15am.
Mr Verwoerdt said it was a frightening experience, but he was grateful that the rescue crews arrived quickly.
The marine rescue boat with all the Rhapsody crew aboard arrived at the Tweed River about 2.45pm.
Gold Coast Water Police, Point Danger Volunteer Marine Rescue and Careflight were sent to the stricken vessel.
A RACQ CareFlight spokeswoman said the helicopter returned to base with no patients on board after being sent to the fire.
CareFlight crewman Ryan Purchase said the vessel was burnt to the water line.
“When we arrived overhead the people in the water were all safely on board a large fishing boat that had gone over to help,” Mr Purchase said.