Crews of 12 capsized yachts rescued after wild weather sweeps through Esperance Bay

Photo: Esperance Volunteer Marine Rescue Services WA.
Photo: Esperance Volunteer Marine Rescue Services WA.

A smooth afternoon of sailing briefly turned into a scene of chaos for the Esperance Bay Yacht Club on February 15, when wild weather tore through the bay causing 12 boats to capsize and 'tens of thousands' of dollars in damage.

The crews of all 12 yachts were rescued by club members with assistance from Department of Fire and Emergency Services Marine Rescue volunteers. No one was seriously injured in the incident.

The club had 24 yachts and three support vessels on the water competing in a race when the severe storm hit.

Esperance Police were notified of the incident about 4.00pm when members of the public spotted a boat capsizing approximately 50-100m off the coast.

As the response unfolded, another 11 yachts in the area capsized.

Esperance Bay Yacht Club vice commodore David Swan said cruisers, Flying 15s, catamarans and teenage junior sailors were on the water when the situation unfolded.

"It was an unforecast micro-burst, I had nearly finished my race and it hit with 30 seconds warning," he said.

"We tried furiously to get the sails down but couldn't get them down in the time that it hit. It hit us and we went on our side."

"There were catamarans washed up against the old jetty and there was a 125 sailing dinghy that cartwheeled across the surface of the water and went over the top of a Flying 15, narrowly missing crew and damaging the Flying 15."

Esperance Police attended the shoreline with St John Ambulance on standby ready to assist.

Volunteer Marine Rescue towed 10 yachts into shore and the remaining yachts were able to battle the wind and make it back safely.

Two yachts were unable to be immediately recovered after one became lodged on the Tanker Jetty and the other drifted further away.

Dr Swan said he was grateful for the swift response from club members and support from emergency services.

"We are very fortunate because they club has a lot of very experienced and level headed people so the whole thing was carried off seamlessly," he said.

"There was a bit of damage to boats here and there but no one was hurt and the club did an outstanding job at rescuing and coordinating the approach of the rescue.

"There was a lot of adrenalin floating around and people were not terrified, they were not frightened, they were kind of excited by what they had just been through to be honest."

"It was just a wonderful response from the town and the club."

Dr Swan said although no children were caught in the wild weather it provided an important teaching lesson.

"I think the sport of sailing is a wonderful sport that builds resilience and helps you deal with the environment, the ocean and the wind and I think it was a little bit of a freak of nature but was a great way for kids to learn resilience," he said.