Coast Guard Marlo Commander speaks about his passion for the sea

25 May 2018

Coast Guard Marlo Commander Harry Ferrier is proud to come from a long lineage of seafarers dating back to the 1900s.

As a young boy, he spent his childhood growing up around the waterfront surrounded by boats that would venture out sometimes for weeks. His father was a boat builder, named by the locals as Putty Ferrier of Apollo Bay. At the time boats were built mostly from timber from local saw mills. Together with his brother, Harry would also accompany his father on numerous fishing expeditions.

Harry’s granddad William Ferrier was well known in the marine circles. He was involved in one of the most heroic rescues in Victoria’s shipwreck history, involving a New Zealand cargo ship carrying timber, called the La Bella.

The La Bella was on its way to Western Australia when it got caught by a heavy swell in the Port of Warrnambool. She was approaching the end of a rough and tedious 37 day voyage, bringing timber from Kaipara, New Zealand to Warrnambool when she ran aground on what became known as La Bella Reef.

Warrnambool had a life boat station propelled by men with oars and a small sail who were called to rescue the crew of the La Bella, before the ship disintegrated.  As the sea disaster unfolded that November morning, onlookers saw the lifeboat struggle to get to the sinking ship with a surging sea and heavy swells pushing them back each time.

By this time, water had started entering the La Bella’s deck and the life boat crew too were in danger of overturning.

Watching from the shores feeling helpless was William Ferrier, who wasn’t asked to help in the rescue initially because he had a poison elbow. He couldn’t allow himself watch in vain and to the horror of onlookers, jumped into a small clinker 12 foot dingy with one paddle and rowed furiously towards the sinking La Bella.

After some struggle with the heavy swells, he managed to get close to the side of La Bella’s quarterdeck through the heavy seas to rescue the men.   

Soon after, the La Bella broke in half and disappeared.

Harry says hearing stories of this rescue from their father, cemented his respect for the forces of nature and the sea, and to learn about the tides, winds and the weather before getting on a boat.

When he was 18 years old, Harry built a 56 foot boat, the largest one ever built at Apollo Bay. It took three years to build and in honour of his dad, he called it ‘Putty’s Pride’.  

After years as a volunteer, Harry became a commander nine years ago when he moved to Marlo.

“I signed up to volunteer in Marlo and within six months was voted in as Commander. I manage a team of 20 volunteers, eight who are mostly active and they meet twice a week for training. As part of my role, I also manage the phone 24 hours a day.

Marlo is a popular tourist destination so the volunteers are particularly busy from the end of October until April.

Harry has been involved in a few rescues in his years as a volunteer in search and rescue.

One particular one he remembers from the 1980s.

“It was Easter and the weather was changing. There had been plenty of heavy squally rain throughout the night and the wind increased to gale force. We received a call from Melbourne D24 requesting a vessel to be dispatched to a number one search for a 40 foot sailing vessel with white sails and a yellow hull.”

A May Day call from the vessel was sent out earlier that morning. After an hour or two they spotted the vessel and found the skipper to be in a state of fatigue and unresponsive.

“We made as much noise as we could, but still no savvy from this person. So we increased our speed and came around in front of him.”

Harry managed to throw a rope over and the boat was towed back to calmer waters off Apollo Bay.

“Once the boat was secured to the berth, we opened the cockpit to find the skippers wife and two very frightened children. I recall his wife thanking us for coming to get them, they could see us while they were below via the portholes and she knew how much time we spent trying to get things under control.”