I had an experience I will never forget back in Feb 2016 during the wet/storm season. Nothing special at the start weather report was good. I got up and checked the obs at Arlington. All was good and the visuals were fine other than some lightning a long way off to the south. We headed out of Cairns to Sudbury reef and the weather was good and the seas were smooth. As we passed the cay we saw that there were people who had camped there overnight and there was a gazebo they were using for shelter. We headed to our fishing spot another 5 miles on.
We fished for an hour or so and saw a small squall approaching. This didn’t look any different to ones I had been in over the years and it wasn’t even very dark or threatening. I knew we were going to get rained on and I expected the wind to increase a bit. As it approached the wind picked up and rain started. Then it got more windy and the anchor let go. It grabbed again but soon lost that hold as well. These conditions were getting pretty bad and with winds estimated at close to 30kn we decided our best option was head back to the cay.
We had the sea coming onto us quartering across our port bow. The wind continued to increase and it got so bad that when we were on top of the waves, the wind was blowing the top off and dumping huge amounts of water into the boat. Thank god for self draining decks. It’s these times you know you did the right thing by properly maintaining your boat, knowing how it all works, where things are etc. I can tell you this is the one time when I seriously considered putting on a life jacket.
We finally made it to the cay and sheltered in the lee side. The gazebo we saw on the way out was in the water and there was a lady and 2 dogs sheltering under tarp she had wrapped around herself. The squall passed and the winds started to abate. The lady called out to us and asked if we had seen another boat. I said yes there was a sail boat to the west but this was not the one she wanted to know about. She was concerned for her husband in a 6m half cab. I told her I hadn’t seen any other boats. I then got on the radio and called the coast guard. They had been talking to the husband and we were able to relay to them his wife was safe. He had taken the boat away from the cay as they were concerned it would have been swamped. The husband made his way back to the cay and when he arrived he had his life jacket on. He said that it was the most scared he had ever been at sea and his biggest fear was that the waves were going to go right over the top of the cay where his wife was sheltering.
By this time the seas had flattened out and we headed back to our fishing spot. From start to finish it would have been only 2 hours tops but very scary. We talked about how high the winds got and we estimated 40kn ( 80kmh) this was confirmed when we later checked the obs at Arlington which got to 38kn.
Bottom line for me make sure you do your maintenance and know your boat.
Jon Snell - Cairns