Two fishing mates spent nearly seven hours clinging to a chilly bin at the mercy of the tides off Northland's coast after their boat capsized yesterday.
A massive search and rescue mission was launched and the two men were safely hauled aboard a customs vessel patrolling in the area.
Chris Kahotea and his mate of 30 years, Geoffrey Mager, launched their 18ft Fyran tinnie from Mahinepua - 21km north east of Kaeo - about 11.30am.
They were anticipating a great day of fishing at one of their favourite spots near Flat Island in relatively good sea conditions.
Instead the trip almost claimed their lives.
The drama began about 12.30pm when Chris, an employee of Top Energy from Wainui, hooked a fish. He stood up to reel it in when he lost his balance, causing him to fall to the side where Geoff, a retiree also from Wainui, was sitting.
At the same time a wave came through and hit the side of the boat.
"Chris was on my side and it was too heavy. Water started coming in and then another big wave whacked us. I hung on to the boat but it started sinking," Geoff said.
The men were unable to get to the life jackets and instead Chris swam for a chilly bin that was floating away in the current. Waves washed over the boat and they were sure it would sink.
"The first thing was not to panic. I swam and got the chilly bin," Chris said.
"We talked through what the best thing was to do.
"Geoff told me to swim ashore but I told him that we were sticking together."
With one person on either side they tried to steer themselves towards Flat Island. But the tide and winds were working against each other, leaving them struggling in the ocean.
An airpocket had caused the bow of their upturned boat to stay above the water. By chance the customs patrol vessel Hawk was in the area and a crew member spotted the boat. They towed it ashore and alerted police.
A rescue mission was then launched to find the two Far North men.
Two coastguard boats, a spotter plane and a customs boat were all searching for the men.
Northland police search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said tidal drift patterns for the area were obtained from the national Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington and radioed to the Hawke.
About 7.30pm the two men were spotted by the Hawk skipper. Saltwater had nearly blinded Chris.
Geoff kept telling him he could see a boat and that it was coming towards them.
"We were both screaming out and shouting," Geoff said.
And for Chris, the grey mass of the Hawk that loomed out of the mist was "a relief".
Geoff said he doubted whether they would have been able to hold on much longer because they were cold and tired.
The Northland Electricity rescue helicopter had been called into help with the search but instead winched the two men off the Hawk before flying them to Whangarei where they were checked by St John for mild hypothermia.
Pilot Dean Voelkerling said the men were extremely lucky to keep themselves afloat for so long and to be spotted just before nightfall.