Bruce Lake - Barwon Banks Qld

I was a commercial fisherman in the 60s and 70s, mainly prawn trawlers, a very dangerous occupation in those days. I was involved in two collisions at sea, 4 or 5 fires on board, knocked overboard two times with the net, broke my back in Princess Charlotte bay with the trawler sinking in big seas. I had a rope tied to my waist, thrown overboard and pulled aboard another trawler and taken to Cooktown. But the most frightening of all was in flat calm conditions around August 2012.

I was retired and had a 30’ powercat, at anchor on the Barwon banks, at my favourite fishing spot. I had loaded the esky with an assortment of reef fish at midnight and went below for a sleep, setting the alarm on my phone for 4 am for the morning fish. At 4 am the alarm went off and I tried to change clothes but there’s not a lot of headroom so I managed to shed my pants. With my clean pants and phone in hand I stepped up to the cabin as I did I felt a hard shunt. I looked towards the stern only to see it disappear and a wall of green water coming towards me. A whale had breached under the port stern quarter and lifted the port side and as it did the starboard stern went under water.

The boat capsized trapping me inside the cabin in an air pocket. It was 4 am, in the middle of winter, pitch black! I was trapped by the large esky which was spewing fish out of it. Thankfully I eventually made my way out of the boat on top of the water and climbed onto the upturned hull. There was only a metre of boat out of the water and because it was Monday morning after a flat calm weekend, I did not expect a boat to come by. But one did! I could see it’s nav lights first both red and green then only green then none. They didn’t see or hear me. Not long after daylight I could see another boat coming straight towards me but stopped 100 mtrs away. I was yelling as loud as I could eventually they heard me and came to my aid. They had thought some silly bugger was on a JetSki 20 miles east of Mooloolaba.

Remember I was getting changed. Well when rescued all I had on was a t-shirt. I was given a pair of track suit pants and a towel. 3 lovely gentlemen from Brisbane had taken Monday off to go fishing. On the way they were involved in an accident with a stolen car which was being pursued by the police so they nearly didn’t get to the boat ramp let alone rescue me. The Mooloolaba coast guard were contacted and took around 3 hours to reach us. I was then transferred to the 40’ coast guard vessel and after an hour or so they were able to right the powercat and commenced towing it to mooloolaba. Not long after we started the tow I suffered a heart attack and a helicopter was dispatched. The coast guard was advised to abandon the tow and proceed on course to Mooloolaba at speed. As soon as the boat slowed to let go the tow line the cat rolled over again! Meanwhile I was lying on the wheelhouse floor in pain.

A while later the AGL helicopter was above us and a basket was lowered to the deck. The boat was underway all the time. I was placed into the basket and as I was being winched off the deck the basket slammed into the back of the boat. I was winched on board and taken to hospital.

I had a Neuro stimulation device implanted inside me for back and leg pain. So when the basket hit the boat I took a direct hit to the area of my body where the medical device was inside me. As a consequence it went berserk inside me cramping my hands legs etc. I was in Nambour hospital and they had to fly a computer control unit from Brisbane so they could turn it off, but when it arrived doctors didn’t know how to operate it as it was new technology. They eventually figured it out and turned it off. I recovered quickly and now have 3 stents in my heart. I learned later the coastguard and the AGL helicopter practised the exact scenario 1 week earlier how lucky was that?

After I recovered my family hired a large cruise boat and invited all who were involved in my rescue from the radio operator to the boat crew and the helicopter crew and of course the 3 gentleman who found me. We all cruised the Mooloolah river, drank, ate plenty of seafood and told lies for the evening. It was great.

Moral of the story it hasn't gotta be rough or stormy for things to go wrong on the water.

Take care!