My family had organised to all fly up to darwin to spend Christmas together, the first time we 5 kids had all been in the same place since 2015 let alone meeting all the new nieces, nephews and better halves. We've always been a fishing family since I can remember. Growing up in central Queensland saw us 4 boys out every weekend rail, hail or shine fishing and spearing for the greater part of 20 years.
So 23rd December 2019, 6 of us (me, my brothers John, Jared and Patrick, my father in law Tony and a good mate Dave) set off from Dundee beach, at 2 am in Tonys 26ft southwind center console with a 225 suzuki pushing us along. The plan was to head 50nm out to our red marks and work our way back in fishing and diving before getting out about 2pm to beat the dropping tide.
The forecast looked good, claiming a max of 7 knots for the day and it was an uneventful 2 hr drive to the ramp which is always a blessing. Upon launching and heading through the leads we noticed several small distant patches of lightning on the horizon so we pulled up and checked the radar. Everything looked good and the small scuds seemed to be all moving away from us or well to the south. There was one storm inland and north but heading west and as they usually break up before they hit the coast we didn't pay too much attention to it and the throttle went down again. It was a great run sitting on 26 knots with small ground swell giving the odd bump. Everyone was either asleep or too excited and the banter was flowing well. As the sky started to lighten up we stopped for a piss and noticed the storm that was north of us seemed to be closing the gap. Still not much was said about it although the subject turned to waterspouts, boats being lost at sea and struck by lightning. As the sky grew light enough to see there was some good lightning from the storms further out and to the south of us but they didn’t pose any threat and we were enjoying the show. By this time we could see the front of the large northern storm which had reached the coast and showed no signs of breaking up. By this time we were too far out to get any phone signal to check the radar to see the size of the front, but all agreed it was only going to last 20-30 min of rain. Dave laughed because he was the only one who'd packed a rain jacket and we continued on our trip.
About 6am suddenly tuna started busting up in football sized areas all around us so we took advantage and threw some slugs netting us 3 good size mac tuna as fresh bait. As we got them in the kill bin we heard a rumble of thunder and looked up to see a black wall of clouds and rain stretching roughly 100km!
We figured we couldn't outrun it so we may as well head for the lightest looking bit of the front still not realizing what we were in for or how fast it was travelling. We then spotted the waterspout poking out of the leading edge and although it was several kilometers away to the south it was thicker than a thumb. We made ready as best we could although we left the lifejackets in the nose which would prove to be a near fatal mistake for us all. The first bit of wind got to us at 6.30am and it wasn't too bad about 30 knots. We were laughing and joking that it would all be over soon and I pulled out the gopro thinking this will be a laugh.
The clouds dropped and started spinning 200m off our port. Tony turned outrun the forming waterspout, just as the wind that was ripping the tops off the waves hit us. Everything was screaming wind and mist. The front looked like a fog bank and when it hit us side on it all went wrong. The wind grabbed the tee top and pushed us over so far we started taking water over the side and pushing the boat sideways through the water. Everyone was yelling to Tony to get the boat straight while hanging on for dear life. He then told Jared and John to take the wheel. Jared turned full lock and John slammed the throttle down. After what seemed like forever we turned straight into the wind which was well over 50knts! This lasted about 5 minutes during which time the waves built up over 3m in height with less than a boat length between them. 2 out of 3 waves were coming aboard over the nose and being at the back i saw the entire outboard disappear underwater numerous times. With Jared on the wheel, John on the throttle and the rest of us hanging on white knuckled I yelled; “hit that bilge there's a lot of water building up back here”, they hit the button and nothing. So I opened the rear hatch and saw the entire hull was full to the brim. I then spent the next hour and a half inside the bilge clearing leaves and bits and pieces out of the bilge to keep it operational and us afloat. Every wave that looked like it was coming over us the boys would yell a warning to me and I would brace on whatever i could and hold my breath until the scuppers had done their bit.
At nearly 9am the rain finally stopped and we found ourselves a few short miles off Point Jenny. Being that it was too rough to head back out and chase reds we settled for protected waters and a few jewies. To say the least there have been some changes to the boat since (larger bilge pumps, lifejackets and epirb relocated to the center console) and will never underestimate a wet season storm again.