A MOTHER and father fought four-metre waves and gale-force winds in Bass Strait to beach their yacht and save their two daughters on Sunday night.
Binalong Bay parents Simon and Karin Gilbertson and their daughters Leah, 7, and Tess, 6, had set sail on a six-month holiday to Brisbane 13 days ago.
The family had reached a check point at Erith Island when things started to go wrong.
"We arrived there on Saturday and the conditions were amazing, we were safe as houses that night," Mr Gilbertson said.
"We woke up at 5 o'clock the next morning and we had started drifting close to the cliffs, the wind felt like a hurricane had hit the side of our boat."
The couple had anchored their 13-metre yacht Thorendor in a sheltered cove at Erith Island, which was surrounded by cliffs and a small beach.
Mrs Gilbertson was the first to realise the dramatic change in the conditions.
"I yelled to Simon that the cliffs were right next to our boat, we had thought we were safely anchored for the night," Mrs Gilbertson said.
From 5am yesterday to 8pm the couple worked to secure the boat, while Leah and Tess huddled under a kitchen table in the boat's cabin.
"We spent 15 hours motoring and trying to hold anchor but we kept dragging all day," Mr Gilbertson said.
"Karin and I could not leave the cockpit, we were `steady Eddie ready Freddie' and the kids had to be downstairs and under the table."
The Gilbertsons decided to move the boat to another area under the island's lighthouse, where they could attach it to a small wharf.
"It took us 40 minutes to motor around there but when we got to the wharf the water was too low and the boat would have hit the sand anyway," Mr Gilbertson said.
"We went back to the bay where we were, which was the most protected place - so we thought."
The couple dropped two anchors and kept watch.
"It was too dangerous to go outside the shelter of the island, the only thing out there was hell," Mr Gilbertson said.
"Winds were so strong that our dinghy, which had an engine attached, got lifted up from the side of the boat and landed on the roof."
At 8pm and in darkness the couple decided to save their daughters and risk the boat.
"Imagine it's dark, there is a bay facing us and cliffs either side and behind us and a passage in between," Mr Gilbertson said.
"Both the anchors were gone, they were that far out we couldn't lift them; I said, `Cut the rope, babe, I'm going to put her on the beach.' What other option did we have?"
Safely beached, the family had a restless night before shifting to a cabin near the beach.
"A couple of hours later when the sun started to rise we got up and helped take all our gear to the cabin - our whole life was pretty much packed in that boat.
"It feels like our dreams have been shattered but no one was injured and that's the main thing."
Yesterday morning the family was contacted by a person on Deal Island via marine VHF radio.
At 2.30pm a Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived on Erith Island to carry the family to St Helens, where they were greeted by family and friends.
"It is good to be home," Mr Gilbertson said.
"It's not what we had planned and we will certainly think twice next time we take a holiday at sea."
Mr Gilbertson had just finished restoring the boat, which he had taken on shorter journeys to Flinders Island and Wineglass Bay in the past.