Page back about 15 years, BOM predicted 5-10 all night and day, perfect for an overnighter in our trusted 34 foot diesel cabin cruiser. She is a GRP displacement cruiser with a single 6 L diesel donk. She can do 8 knots downhill. We headed for Keeper Reef about 70 km off Townsville, for an overnight fishing trip. Conditions were great and we arrived on dark to make anchor. I chose to anchor shallow, 10-12m, so I could dive up the plough and chain the next morning should it become entangled overnight.
I don’t do reef picks overnight.
We did some good fishing for lippers and it was time for bed, our two boys aged 9 and 11 at the time, were tired and so were my wife and I, aircon on and we were sleeping in no time……
Fast forward around midnight, I wake to the sound of heavy chain jarring and the boat heaving. The boat was rolling badly and its bow was forced under water with every heavy swell making its way past us.
slipped and slid into action. Instantly the wife was seasick, whilst I scrambled to find a solution to this pitch black mid night problem. The swells had grown to about 2 meters and the wind was howling 25kn plus.
Current, tide and ever changing wind direction had wrapped the boat and with that, the anchor chain numerous turns around a bommie, to a point where the boat was dangerously short on chain. I had had 30-40 m of heavy 10mm chain out originally and needed to cut urgently, after letting out another 20m plus a length of rope as shock absorber, to stop the boat from tearing itself apart.
Kyle my older son, then 11 years old, decided he was hungry in all that drama and microwaved himself some scrambled eggs, how is that for nerves?!!
I got the angle grinder out (yes guys, the lifesaver everybody must have on board, if you have chain only), fired the generator (no cordless in those days) and proceeded to cut the chain in the worst conditions, with sea water spraying all over me on the bow.
Finally the chain and anchor let go of us and we are free to run home, in these horrible conditions.
As I looked over my shoulder, angle grinder still in hand, I see my wife leaning so far over the gunwale (sick as), that her feet were dangling way off the deck, with most of her upper body and arms over the outside.
I raced across the slippery and wet deck and caught her by her ankles before she went over the side in the heavy beam on swell. She was so sick, that she no longer had any sense of balance or orientation. No doubt, we would have lost her in the dark of night, with the boat drifting and heaving in this heavy weather. That was way too close. Hell, it was too close !!.
But not the end of the story yet!
We are on our way now, carefully motoring at 5 knots due to the heavy conditions. Rocking and rolling. But at least on our way.
Engine stops, starter motor turning the engine, but it wont fire. Boat immediately turned beam to swell and rolled dangerously. Kyle is playing Gameboy and thinks this is fun!!!! The youngest one and his mother are not happy, with a bucket over their respective heads and under strict instruction to stay inside the cabin, whilst I am bleeding the fuel lines and filters in the engine room. I instruct the wife to press the starter button, with her head occasionally peeping out of the bucket, to see that we still had an engine that could take us home.
She fires and we are on our way, or so we thought.
5 minutes later the same thing and so it went on and on and on, an air leak, somewhere in the fuel system, but where??? Boat is taking water over the gunwales, every time the engine stops, she turns beam to and it feels like she wants to roll over in the massive white capped swells. The wife stayed put at the helm, head in bucket and I stayed put in the engine room and bleed and start and bleed and start till my thumbs had no skin left and started bleeding from pumping diesel manually (nonstop eventually) through the hot fuel pump, whilst the wife held the boat on course. We made it back into the marina the next morning after 9 hrs of limping home and berthed immediately into the first vacant berth. Couldn’t be bothered to go to ours, that would have taken too long, ( a couple of minutes we simply didn’t have left in us ). We tied up and fell asleep where we sat and only woke up, when we were chased away by the manager, for illegally berthing in somebody else’s berth. He must have thought we were boat people.
He was briefed sternly by me and he understood.
It turned out that an invisible hairline crack had formed on one of the two fuel filter, water separator top plates. It took me a long time to find, by which time we had replaced the lot.
Udo Liz Kyle and Kurt
P.S. Ryan I want to let you know that you hold a special place in my family’s history . We have just celebrated our 21th new year in Australia since leaving Cape Town, South Africa in 1999. Townsville became our new home, because of you! I stumbled across your Townsville estuary and Reef fishing charter website whilst browsing, (still in South Africa) for a destination with good fishing in Australia. . What’s the point of starting a new life when the fishing is poor ?. I had never heard of Townsville, before I got to find your web site.
One very early, dark morning in 2000, you were in the process of launching at the coast guard ramp, I saw your name and logo and I introduced myself and told you, that it was your fishing pictures, that sealed our fate, to arrive for a new life in Townsville. You might even remember. We were launching a trailer boat then. ( instead of the permitted one car, we brought the boat from SA, priorities 😊 ) Never looked back since.
I do believe you subsequently got to know our son Kyle Hennig quite well, in all matters fishing.