Tony Higgins loved the ocean and his “good old boat”. But he also knew all too well the risks and the potential consequences.
Tony Higgins loved the ocean and his “good old boat”. But he also knew all too well the risks and the potential consequences.

Maverick boatie’s chilling prophecy

It was only a fortnight ago that maverick boatie Tony Higgins delivered a chilling prophecy.

"I'm self-sustaining and if I f..k it up then I have to pay the price," he told The Advertiser as he knocked back a cold tinnie on his damaged wooden boat.

Mr Higgins, 57, was buoyant in more ways than one aboard the 33ft Margrel, just off Granite Island, 24 hours after he and deckhand Derek Robinson, 48, had been miraculously rescued.

"People have been punching around the ocean for thousands of years. They never had anyone to go out and rescue them and I never expected anyone to look for me," he said.

The mates were oblivious to having sparked South Australia's largest maritime search when they hit trouble on a voyage from Coffin Bay to Goolwa and vanished at sea for four days.

Tony Higgins on board his boat the Margrel on September 11, 2020. Picture Matt Turner.
Tony Higgins on board his boat the Margrel on September 11, 2020. Picture Matt Turner.

Authorities scoured 104,000sq km at a cost of $650,000 before finding the pair 13 nautical miles off Meningie at the top of the Coorong - not that Mr Higgins saw it that way.

"I went and bought a boat. How else was I going to get it back? Fly it?" the father of two said of his decision to make the journey.

The adventurers were towed to Victor Harbor, where Mr Higgins chose to stay on his boat - built in 1956 by famed Port Lincoln-based boatbuilder Axel Stenross - until it was repaired.

"She's a good old boat," Mr Higgins said of his $8000 purchase.

Police described the men as "extremely lucky". But Mr Higgins was unperturbed. His journey through the Murray Mouth was incomplete.

Derek Robinson and Tony Higgins reminisce on deck of the Margrel the day after they were rescued: Picture Matt Turner.
Derek Robinson and Tony Higgins reminisce on deck of the Margrel the day after they were rescued: Picture Matt Turner.

He had a minor mishap last Saturday when he was caught in a low tide while trying to dock his boat at Victor Harbor and became stranded for about an hour-and-a-half.

"It's boating, it's what happens. People have near misses all the time in their cars and they don't even think twice about that," Mr Higgins said.

But just after 5am Tuesday, 12 days on from his epic rescue, Mr Higgins sent out a distress call reporting that his boat was taking on water near Granite Island.

A second search was immediately launched but it was the last time anyone heard from him.

SA Police deployed its water operations unit, helicopter and planes. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority sent a Challenger rescue jet complete with infra-red radar from Melbourne.

Police on the Granite Island causeway during the second search for missing boatie Tony Higgins. Picture: Gary Juleff
Police on the Granite Island causeway during the second search for missing boatie Tony Higgins. Picture: Gary Juleff

Sea Rescue volunteers battled rough conditions on the water as officers searched along the coastline from Encounter Bay to the Murray Mouth and by foot on Granite Island.

Mr Robinson said he believed Mr Higgins had made an early-morning charge for the Murray Mouth in response to public criticism of his actions.

"Because of all the nastiness going on social media and people were hacking on him, he probably just thought 'Stuff you guys, I'll go out and charge through it," he said.

"What kind of a society do we live in where once someone's down we've got to kick him?

"It saddens me his boat has gone down. I can only hope he's got a life jacket on and he's made it to land."

A small bag containing glasses, keys and a wallet with Mr Higgins' identification card were found washed up on Goolwa Beach on Wednesday.

Search and rescue crews also discovered several items of debris from his boat, including part of the floor, several jerry cans and other equipment southeast of the Murray Mouth.

SA Police Inspector Gus Sickerdick with washed up equipment and debris from Tony Higgins’ boat. Picture: Tait Schmaal
SA Police Inspector Gus Sickerdick with washed up equipment and debris from Tony Higgins’ boat. Picture: Tait Schmaal

But, on Thursday, police called off the extensive 500sq km search pending any further sightings or information.

Victor Harbor - Goolwa Sea Rescue Squadron leader Grant Williams said wind and fairly big swells produced rough conditions for most of the year on the South Coast.

"Don't be fooled into what it looks like at the boat ramp because it's normally a fair bit different once you get around the corner," Mr Williams said.

"Once you get out around Granite Island it all changes again too. You're out into the open water and you don't have the island shielding you."

Mr Williams, whose sea squadron performs an average of 50 to 60 rescues a year, described conditions this week as horrendous and unfavourable.

"When you get a north-westerly down here it blows you away from the moorings," he said.

"No one saw what happened. We're all hoping for a miracle."

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Maverick boatie's chilling prophecy



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