When surfer Brett Archibald fell overboard in the Mentawais he thought he was going to die. For more than 28 hours he was barely staying afloat, over 50 miles from the nearest land, in horrific conditions whilst being set upon by sharks, gulls and lethal Portuguese men-of-war.
We spoke exclusively to Brett about his experience in Indo, how it changed his life and why, by his rules, you should always eat local.
“I’m in a blackout” Brett told Wavelength “Then I wake up in the water with my boat 20 meters in front of me, heading off into the pitch black, storm lashing down and I was in the middle of the water.”
“I had one thought, I knew this was where I was going to die.”
Brett had fallen overboard in the Indian Ocean, in storm conditions at 2am in the morning, but much worse than that – nobody had noticed and neither would they until the boat docked some ten hours later.
“I knew it wasn’t a shipping channel and the only boats that go there were supply boats and surf charter boats and they weren’t going to be out in that storm so my first thought was – this is where I die”.
Brett was on a surfing holiday with nine friends, but had fallen ill from food poisoning during a hellish crossing of the Mentawai Strait.
“We had all shared three massive pizzas, we ate these big calzones, when you cut inside them the mince was black and it stank, we found out afterwards they had been left in the sun for about nine hours before they were cooked”
Brett then shared what would be one of many pearls of wisdom he could take from his experience:
“When in Italy eat pizza and pasta and when in Indonesia eat nasi goreng and noodles. Just eat what the locals eat.”
“It was horrific and we were vomiting, on the loo… Just terrible. I went out to the back of the boat to get some fresh air.”
“I was still vomiting and by the third time I remember to this day, clearly thinking ‘If I vomit like that again i’m going to blackout’, then I woke up in the water with the boat moving away from me”
I said all of my goodbyes to my wife and kids, my family and friends and prepared myself to die
As the boat sailed off into the distance Brett heard a crazy hysterical laughter around him.
“I thought there was a hyena in the water, the noise was so manic and cackling, then I suddenly realised it was coming out of my throat”
“I said all of my goodbyes to my wife and kids, my family and friends and prepared myself to die”
“And then it’s just weird as you know our will to survive is so primitive and ingrained. Very quickly I just said Brett you need to survive this”
For the next 28 hours Brett was alone in the ocean with nothing but his mind to keep him alive.
With waves crashing down around him Brett used his strength from swimming and surfing to keep himself afloat.
Brett, from Cape Town South Africa, calculated that his friends would notice he was missing when it docked and turn around to look for him, he worked out he would need to stay afloat for around 14 hours.
Little did he know that he would be lost at sea for nearly double that time. During that next 28 hours Brett became determined not to succumb to the elements.
At one stage he started to hallucinate as he was completely exhausted, but a series of events gave him the power, and the fight, to stay alive.
At one stage after falling asleep Brett was even woken by seagulls pecking at his face. “Blood was streaming from the bridge of my nose. I felt like I’d been whacked with a baseball bat” Brett told us ” These two gulls were just dive bombing me”
It was however a further 13 hours before he was found, around 30 miles from where he had originally fallen overboard the previous day.
His friends had quickly realised that Brett was missing when he failed to turn up for breakfast once they had arrived at their destination port. They then contacted the Indonesian coastguard. Brett’s boat, the Naga Laut, then set sail immediately to look for him.
Meanwhile a local captain, Tony Eltherington skippering the Barrenjoey, owned by a Sydney couple living in the Mentawai’s, rustled up his nine passengers on a surf charter set sail to look for him. Tony co-ordinated another Australian boat to also help in the search.
At around 6.30am local time the Barrenjoey spotted him floating in the water, amazingly Brett was still alive.
Shaking, shivering and in complete agony Brett was saved. His feet, hands and lips were nearly bloodless and he had lost nearly 6kg in weight in the water.
A Facebook page Searching For Brett Archibald published a communication by South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute which announced the incredible message that Brett had been found alive and well.
“Family and friends of Brett Archibald are overjoyed by news that Brett has been found alive and well, although sunburnt and dehydrated”.
Brett told Wavelength that the experience had changed his life completely.
“My life has turned 180 degrees… At the time I made a pact with myself that I would never ever do any form of work that made my life miserable.”
“I’m in a very good place as I have relooked at life.”
“When I was in the ocean I never once thought about how much money I had in the bank, what car I drove or what house I lived in.”
“All I could think of was my faith, my family and my friends and that has become my new life. I call it my ‘Three Fs’, when all those are in sync then everything else works in my life.”
Brett has just published a book about his ordeal which is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.