John Beasy

I lived in Derby in the Kimberley WA for ten years and whilst there I bought a new boat. It was a Coralline 670 half cab with a 200 Yamaha motor. I drove to Perth to pick it up and my wife had it named Spoilt Brat with stickers on the bow to my surprise. I towed it back to Derby and decided for its maiden voyage we would go over to Valentine Island, about a 40 k trip, with my wife, two young daughters and a mate. We fished the island and the creeks and, whilst in the creeks I noticed a slight breeze was coming up but was not worried.

The time came to leave the creek and head back to the Derby boat ramp, which is very exposed to the weather. It had a small creek about a 100 meters from the ramp which led to a protected ramp but was only accessible at about 3/4 tide. We left the safety of the creek only to realise the wind had come up substantially. The further we went the worse it got. By this time it was too late to turn around to seek the safety of the creek.

We were committed and it was getting worse by the minute. The shallow water in this area turning the sea into a washing machine, which large tidal flow coupled with gale force winds made this a very dangerous situation. With 2 young girls, a panicky wife, a new boat of which I did not know it’s capabilities, made it all the worse.

We were being pushed towards a shallow sandbar coming off the end of an island which we had to get around the top of. I'm trying to steer the boat sideways to the sea trying to avoid it broaching, we were being thrown around the cab all trying to hold on. We could not even get to the life jackets as they were under the passenger seats of which my wife was desperately trying to hold on to with the two girls.

I managed to steer it past the island just managing to clear the sand bars on the end of the island and then head to Derby ramp. The wind was still getting stronger, waves were crashing into the sides of the boat as well as coming over the back. We had a lot of water in the boat and the scuppers were working overtime to drain the water on the deck.

The hull was also filling with water and the bilge pump trying to cope. I could feel the boat getting heavier, but by this time we only had about 5 ks to go. I could hear the vhf radio going off but could not hear it properly due to the noise from the motor, wind, and sea crashing over us.

My wife yelled at me to call someone on the sat phone which also was under the seat but I had no chance of getting to it let alone making a call.

The sea had no pattern to it swishing like a washing machine. Just when I thought I had it figured out we would be hit by a wave on the rear quarter turning us 180 degrees and dumping a huge amount of water in the boat. This happened many times. Frightening stuff! And I was quite experienced in boats being an ex oyster farmer. But the unpredictable sea was certainly testing my boating skills, and with hysterical wife and kids on board made things a whole lot worse.

We eventually had the boat jetty and boat ramp in site but with waves crashing onto the ramp it was not an option and the back ramp had barely enough water to use it safely.  So we had no choice but to attempt to enter the small entrance to the creek where the back ramp was. There was only about 300 mm of water at the entrance and with waves crashing in I hit the throttle and lined it up. Suddenly we were hit from behind by a huge wave pushing the boat sideways. I'm thinking “this is it” but hit the throttle wide open and straightened up and we launched over the bar and into the safety of the creek, to wait for more water to retrieve the boat. Well we proved the boat could handle whatever the sea could throw at it. By that time we had quite a lot of people including the sea rescue watching on.

I still have trouble getting my wife to come out on the water some ten years later. Now living in Darwin I always plan my trips better and keep a good eye on the weather.

Maiden voyage,
John Beasy