Survivor Chris Newlyn with VMR skipper Charles Linsley at Mackay Base Hospital.
Survivor Chris Newlyn with VMR skipper Charles Linsley at Mackay Base Hospital. Emma Murray

How a lone sailor and his cat were rescued

IT'S a tale of a daring escape, extreme weather and incredible selflessness.

As Chris Newlyn sailed his 15.4m yacht Stormtrooper around the Percy Islands with his cat, treacherous conditions pushed him to the brink of disaster.

Huge waves knocked him and his boat around, resulting in injuries from a heavy fall.

When he heard the deafening bang of an engine bursting, Mr Newlyn knew he was in strife.

The manifold had split and his electrical wiring and radio superheated and melted. Drawing on extensive military training, Mr Newlyn rigged his radio off a broken battery - one watt of power enabled him to signal caretakers on Percy Island for help.

His distress call was passed to the Queensland Water Police, who alerted Mackay VMR. But the extent of Mr Newlyn's injuries prevented transportation by boat and a RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was required.

At first, he refused to leave.

"I told them I wasn't getting off the boat without my cat," Mr Newlyn said.

"Simple as that, she's the only thing I've got left in my life."

A deal was struck with Mr Newlyn: get to safety and onto the helicopter and VMR would salvage the boat and his beloved pet, Smellycat.

 

RESCUED: Chris Newlyn's boat 'Stormtrooper'.
RESCUED: Chris Newlyn's boat 'Stormtrooper'. Contributed

 

VMR skipper Charles Linsley said a crew of six embarked on the rescue mission, venturing about 120km off the Mackay coast. He said they had been asked by Queensland Water Police to assess and secure the vessel, but the personal attachment Mr Newlyn had to the boat and cat put the situation into context.

"The thought process was how are we were going to get him safely to medical attention without further injury," Mr Linsley said.

"We spent some time working out how we might do that and what the options were. Given the weather conditions and the forecast for the return trip, the decision was made to suggest to Chris that he medivac off with CQ Rescue.

"My distinct impression was this was vessel was his home. I understood he lived on the boat ... and his cat was furry family and that put it in a slightly different context.

"He was very strongly attached to that cat; to decline to go and rescue the cat off the vessel would have just compounded his worry and anxiety."

Mr Newlyn tucked his cat into a safe space, and despite his injuries boarded his dingy and made his way to an island.

"When you've got enough adrenaline going through you, you can do anything," he said.

"One of the things I learnt in the army was to soldier on, no matter how much you hurt ... you just keep going, you don't stop or you will perish."

Still, fear engulfed him the whole time.

"I don't get scared very easily, I've gone to hell and back," Mr Newlyn said.

"A lot of my past has gone through my mind over the last couple of days, a lot of my learning.

"A lot of what ifs were going through my mind. What if they don't get to my cat? What if they were lying to me?

"I have a very hard time trying to trust people, so it was a 'what if they weren't telling the truth and they just wanted me to get on the helicopter and go?'"

As Mr Newlyn reached land, he set about finding a safe place for the helicopter to land.

He was experiencing shortness of breath from a prolonged stretch in the engine room, and his injuries were inflicting severe pain. At one point, he passed out and split his leg.

When he awoke, he waited. The sight of the helicopter incoming was met with overwhelming relief and gratitude for his saviours - from VMR and CQRescue to the carertakers on Percy Island.

"It was pitch black and the rain was going (horizontal) ... (and) there was blood all over the place," Mr Newlyn said.

"The smell and warmth of the engines as it was coming down ... it was just unbelievable. They saved my life, they saved my cat's life, they saved my boat.

"I live on my boat to basically get away from people ... seeing humanity at its best all of a sudden is super magical."

Mr Newlyn is recovering in Mackay Base Hospital. Safely rescued, Smellycat is being cared for by Better Pet Vets Andergrove.



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