Geoff Ryder

Myself and 3 mates headed out from the Townsville coast guard ramp for a night of fishing. we had planned to head over to Cape Cleveland and out past to the offshore shoals.

We checked into the coast guard and got the latest weather forecast for the night and we logged in a trip sheet before we departed. the weather report was sweet with calm seas and 5knot winds forecasted. the boat we had was a large western Australian built dassan 7.5mtr plate alloy boat with a 200hp motor, which is a great safe ocean boat for reef and offshore fishing. We departed the coast guard ramp and When we got close to the cape I started to have trouble with my GPS unit, so I decided not to head out past the cape as I could not bring up the marks that I wanted to fish. We decided to stay at the cape for the night and fish the cape tip for fingermark etc. A couple of hours had passed when we noticed the winds suddenly increasing and the sea getting a small chop on it. Within the next 10 mins, it blew a gale with a strong squall hitting us with very heavy rain and then the seas getting quite large and with big waves coming from Maggie island direction.

I got one of my mates to pull anchor and I started to head into the waves so I could get away from the rocks at the cape. I was not in any danger at that time but my mates were getting a bit nervous. The rain was that heavy we could hardly see the lighthouse behind us even though we were only a few hundred meters from the cape. I noticed a couple of small tinnies were getting into trouble as these vessels were right beside us fishing before the storm blew up. I told my mates that I am going to turn around and go back to help them as I couldn’t leave them behind without knowing that they were ok. when I turned I knew we were going to cop a big wave from the side but I had full faith in the boat.

A big wave hit us on the starboard side and came over the boat washing the anchor and rope out of the anchor storage well. the anchor rope went under the boat and got tangled in the prop and stalled the motor, now I was dead in the water and a little worried myself. i told one of my mates to get on the phone and call the coast guard I also radio contacted them as well. i instructed everyone to put on the life jackets and to stay calm.

One of my mates was an ex fisheries officer from Western Australia and I told him to grab the flares and EPIRB and have ready. We were drifting back close to the rocks at the cape tip and I was getting concerned that we may get washed up onto the rocks so I told everyone we may have to abandon ship if we get to that situation.one of my mates could not swim so I told him to grab some rope I had on board and I would tie myself to him to help him if needed. My other mate (the ex fisheries officer) was really starting to panic by this time to my surprise and I had to settle him down with some very stern words. We drifted past the cape and out of harms way much to a lot of cheers from everyone. we took another wave over the back of the boat which flooded the batteries and made all of our electric’s fail so all we had was a couple of torches which we used to try and make contact with the other boats that were near us. the storm only lasted about 20 minutes and we bailed the water out of the boat and we were drifting out to open ocean. the other boats that were near us were safe and we tried to contact them with flashing a sos at them to come and help us but to our surprise and disgust, they just went past us and left us to fend for ourselves.

After an hour had passed the coast guard boat was on its way and when they arrived they pulled up beside us to ask us if we were ok. They told us they had other boats sinking out at keeper reef from the storm and told us we just had to wait it out. I told them we found and we were floating and everything would be ok with us. I contacted a mate that was at alligator creek and he said he would come out and tow us back in so all was sweet by the time my mate had got to us we had all of our electric’s back on the boat but to get the rope untangled from prop it required someone to get in the water. the seas were still quite lumpy so this wasn’t a good idea at the time, so they towed us back to the cape were we got the motor going again.

We headed off back to Townsville and arrived back at the coast guard ramp about 3 am in the morning. I went into the coast guard office which they were there having a busy time trying to coordinate various rescues that were happening that night .i logged of my trip sheet and I asked them about the weather forecast that the bom site had released for that night and they were as shocked as I was with the poor forecast. Anyway, all was well and we got back safe and sound, but my mate the ex fisheries officer has vowed never to return to sea again and he offered me all of his fishing gear at a very reasonable price ha. It ended to be a very bad storm that night with the loss of a couple of boats and I think a boat being washed up onto a beach at palm island and a person breaking his leg. Anyway, some good lesson’s were learnt and one that I have always known and that is to never underestimate the power of the sea and always have respect for it and be ready for when a surprise storm hits you.