“I still have one lolly left mum.”
They were the first words Kushila Stein shouted through the phone to her relieved mother Wendy after she was rescued from floating on the Aegean Sea near Greece for 37 hours.
The 47-year-old Warkworth woman had been helping a British man named Mike deliver a yacht from southern Turkey to Athens in Greece.
They were three weeks into the trip and moored near the Greek island of Folegandros and she decided to row the dinghy 50 metres ashore and walk to the highest point of the mountain.
She texted him at 4.30pm on Friday to say her phone battery was low and she was heading back, but on her return she lost an oar overboard and the winds pushed the boat away from the Rival 34 sailboat.
When she hadn’t returned by 5am the next morning, Mike went looking for her and when there was no sign of her or the boat he raised the alarm at 8am.
A search and rescue operation with six Coastguard boats, a helicopter and plane was launched at 11am.
Wendy Stein, also from Warkworth, told the Herald her daughter had lost her oar trying to row the short 50-metre journey back to the yacht and the winds had pushed her off course.
Her daughter was an experienced sailor who had trained others in sea survival, so tried everything she knew to keep herself alive.
After her first night lost at sea, she wrung out her socks and hung them over the boat to dry so she could put them on at night when the temperature dropped.
Kushila had no water, but digging her into day pack she found a handful of boiled lollies which she rationed out during the 37 hours she was adrift.
She also unearthed three plastic shopping bags which she used to wrap her hands and other parts in at night to keep warm, and during the day she wore a red bag on her head to attract attention. Another bag was tied to her remaining oar so she could wave it at passing planes like a flag.
She also pointed the small mirror she kept in her backpack at the sun to try and attract the attention of any planes that flew over.
In case she wasn’t found alive, her mother’s name and phone number had also been written on the side of the boat.
By this time Wendy found out from a friend in the UK that Kushila was missing and had been floating in the Aegean Sea for 14 hours.
The search stopped at nightfall on Saturday and resumed the next morning.
But Wendy said even after the search was called off the first night, she had still been optimistic her daughter would be found as she knew she would never leave the dinghy on her own accord, and that you kept searching for at least 72 hours.
The search had been going a few hours on the second day when Wendy received a call from Mike that the coast guard wanted to speak with her.
The woman took the phone and said: “She is found and alive.”
She had been located 55 nautical miles off the north of Crete about midday on Sunday.
Wendy whooped with relief.
They later learnt that Kushila had been picked up by the Greek Coast Guard and had been able to walk to the boat.
A short time later, Wendy received another call from an unknown number. This time it was an ecstatic Kushila who yelled down the phone that she still had one of her lollies left in case she had to spend a third night on the water before she was found.
After being give the all clear at the hospital, she was discharged and took a ferry to Santorini to meet a friend who had arrived from the UK to help lead the search.
Wendy had planned to travel over on Wednesday to relieve him. But now her daughter was safe and well she was now waiting to whether she would continue with her travels before returning home in mid-December.
Wendy said she was extremely grateful to the Greek authorities for leading the search and finding her daughter safe and well.
Kiwi woman’s dinghy misadventure ends in successful rescue off Greek coast