Last week on our return to Cairns from holidays, we were caught unawares by an electrical storm at sea.
One minute it was just wind and rain, and we felt pretty safe in our Black Watch 40, Mood
Nek Minit – lightning flashed all around.
To make it worse, the clear zipper ripped and we were soaking wet and standing in 2 cm of sloshing water.
All of a sudden it was no laughing matter.
And when the wife asked me, “Do we have lightning protection on the boat?” I had no answer.
As a result of our rather harrowing experience, we decided to look into best practice when caught in lightning
storm at sea.
Although the VERY best practice is not to get caught in the first place.
But we all know that weather forecasts are just that… Forecasts. And many variables come into play and they often get
We also requested community
members send us their stories so we could learn from any mistakes (a rising tide lifts all
boats). A ton of members sent along their accounts of storms at sea. Some were actually fatal and our hearts go out to
In some cases, really simple mistakes caused big trouble during the storm. In others, even the best preparations were
Thanks to everyone who sent along an account. Your experiences are a valuable teaching tool for other readers.
These stories make for great reading are reprinted here;
► Swamped at sea“She’ll be right” attitude to an approaching storm front was nearly fatal as these fishing friends were swamped at sea with non-operational bilge pumps…” Aaron Falls
► My day at sea when the motor stopped.“The snapper were on the bite on a beautiful New Zealand morning, but all was not well as the wind picked up and the motor failed to start…” Malcolm Lochead
► Washed onto a breaking reef in the dead of night“Failure of the anchor alarm meant a close brush with tragedy for these anglers, only their quick thinking skipper saved them…” Ian Williams
► Saved by beginners luck from several close encounters“Trying to impress a girl and trusting an “expert” (her Dad) was the first of several dramatic and comical mistakes made by this first time boat owner…” Allan Darwen
► My passenger broke her nose“A quiet holiday on the boat turned next level as the weather forecast got it so so wrong…” Adam McLauchlan
► My brother David, lost at sea in 1984.“An extra safety precaution turned out to be a fatal mistake leading to the loss of two young lives…” Chris Jones
► My mate hid in the esky“After trying to outrun the storm, they bunkered down, lost the motor and were rescued after setting off their second set of flares by passing commercial fishermen…” Paul Szybiak
► The one third fuel rule – 1/3 out, 1/3 back, ⅓ contingency.“In a pre-GPS white out, steering a few degrees off course left them dangerously low on fuel…” Peter Eklund
► Going from good to bad in a millisecond.“Turning to check on some smaller boats during a freak storm nearly ended in disaster as the anchor rope washed overboard and stalled the prop…” Geoffrey Ryder
► Thank Goodness for self-draining decks.“An innocent looking squall turned nasty as the wind started blowing the tops off the waves and dumping water into the boat…” Jon Snell
► Maiden voyage becomes a nightmare“With a terrified wife and two young daughters aboard, the boat started getting heavier as the bilge pump failed to cope…” John Beasy
► Lighten the boat, toss the fish overboard.“An inappropriate radio antenna and an incorrect weather forecast could have spelled disaster if not for extra fuel and a jiggler hose…” Glen Stockdale
► Tsunami overturns boat and takes life“A group of fishos hired a charter boat when a freak wave overturned their vessel and drowned one of the occupants…” Keith Palmer
► When lightning strikes“Luckily this couple were not on board when lightning struck their vessel resulting in a fireball and holes to the hull…” Glenda and Mike Brooks
► Preparation prevents piss poor performance.“If it wasn’t for this good samaritan, this family would have been swimming in croc country due to some really basic safety blunders…” Troy Moore
► BOM predicted 5-10“After whipping out the angle grinder (how’s that for preparation), catching the wife’s ankles as she goes overboard and wearing the skin off his fingers manually pumping diesel, Udo finally gets his family home safe…” Udo Hennig
► Nearly killed by a peaceful whale.“This commerical fisho survived fires, collisions, two man overboards and a sinking during his career, but his closest call came via an encounter with a whale…” Bruce Lake 20-second reads:
Last year I was out fishing with a friend in his boat when a lightning storm came from nowhere. All the rods in the rocket launcher had sparks from the reel handles to the aluminium. My mate said to me, “Just get the rods down and we head in”.
I said, “No you do it.”
He said “No. Why do you not wish to touch them?”
It was simple it will blow up my pacemaker
Racing off Mooloolaba in my father’s Yacht when a storm blew in and was a bad, very bad electrical storm. The skipper [Dad] got us to drop all sails and run the anchor chain around the mast a couple of times and make sure it fully reached the water at all times. It wasn’t long after a lightning bolt hit the mast and offloaded down the chain! He said if we hadn’t done the anchor chain thing we may have blown off the mast and damaged the hull.
In 1965, between Christmas and New year I went on an overnight trip to the reef. Fishing in 20 fathoms the reds were slow. About 10.30 a storm approached. My anchor came adrift when the wind blew and I began drifting away quickly. Then my lights went out. My mate put his lights on so I could have a bearing. My compass was useless for as the lightning flashed the compass would spin. I took a guess at what I hoped would take me to shallow water. The rain was cold and felt like ice bullets. It seemed to take forever to get there. When I dropped the anchor it was in 10 feet of water! After the water was bailed out I got the lights working to signal my mate all was well. I still think I had guidance from above.
P.S. Forgot to mention, boat 15 ft motor 40hp manual pull start, no sounder, GPS or 2 way
Many years ago (in the late 1980’s) my wife and I were fishing off Lee Point, a close reef to Buffalo Creek in Darwin when a storm came thru. We were in a 4.5m Quintrex centre console. The anchor would not hold so we put a 2nd anchor out and the boat still would not hold so we started the motor and idled into the wind till the storm stopped. My wife was pretty scared and I was concerned but tried to appear non-concerned. We were only approx. one km offshore but could not see anything while the storm was on. This was before GPS technology was available to small craft so we were basically flying blind as we didn’t want to end up on the rocks.
When I was a small boy we were fishing in the parents 15ft Pride Starfire runabout with canopy. We were just offshore from the Urangan boat harbour (which was much smaller in those days to what it is today). A storm came over and one of the trawlers in the harbour overturned and the ferry that took people to Fraser Island up anchored and drifted away. It was scary and very wet for the duration of the storm.
About 40 years ago I was invited to go on an overnight reef trip from Turkey Beach. It was in June. We were in an 18-foot half cab. Everything was fine until about 8 o’clock at night when we were hit by a severe electrical storm. The waves were so big that they were crashing into the windscreen, running along the canopy and dumping water onto the outboard. Arthur (the skipper) went onto the front deck and pulled up the anchor. He then started to head in towards the coast. We saw what looked like 2 trawlers and steered to go between them. Suddenly I realized it was a ship and Arthur changed course! We spent a wet, very uncomfortable night sheltering in a creek ( the rum helped) before going back out for more fishing the next morning.
We used to go to the Reef & Palms every opportunity that arose in a 5.8m. Kingston (Displacement max speed 6 knots) & our worst 2 storm events were…
- We were diving Loadstone reef for the weekend when Saturday afternoon it was like a sheet of glass but looking back to Townsville we could see a storm building. What we should have done was we should have moved to the sheltered side of the reef & anchored, but we decided to run for home, Big mistake, you don’t run from anything at 6 knots & we were heading straight to the storm. We were only about 1 hour from the reef when the wind picked up to about 25 knots. At that stage, it was no worries and kept steering to Townsville. Then the storm hit! Try watching a compass & steer when you cannot see 10m. in front. The wind was screaming & the thunder & lightning was terrifying. The boat would roll right over to one side & then get pushed sideways down the waves. Thank goodness it was a great sea boat although we thought it would tip over dozens of times. This went on for about 3 hours, then when it cleared it calmed down pretty quick. These were the days before epirbs & GPS, so if we sank we would not be missed until Sunday night, scary thought.
- We were on our way home from the reef & hit a big storm in the Kingston, I was driving & my mate was asleep in the bunks. I was beside the Island in the shipping channel when it hit, the wind was screaming & it blew up so rough & as the water was shallow all I could do is turn into the waves & hold it to about 3 knots. The waves were very close together & breaking over the top of the boat. My mate was freaking as he saw lights ahead & thought it was Horseshoe Bay but I was adamant I was beside the island in the shipping channel. When the storm settled we were 10m. from a channel marker pole. If we had hit that we would have sunk I reckon. These were terrifying storms that came so fast and blew so hard I would not wish them on anyone, I am so glad I was in a displacement boat & had years experience in rough seas in small boats.
Fishing the run-off for 4 days down the Daly River, Top End. We were sitting out the front of a creek flicking away when a massive storm brewed up and headed at us. We headed up into the creek, tied off to the bank, put bimini up and tarp over the top in preparation. The rain started bucketing down with lightning everywhere.
Due to being low on water, I decided to refill our water containers from the water running off the tarp. I was holding onto the Bimini pole and hanging the container over the back to catch the water. All of a sudden a lightning bolt has hit the other side of the narrow creek (20m wide) and has come up through the water and though my whole body. Scared the living daylights outta me. This was the end of catching water. Sat on the esky and waited it out.
It wouldn’t be boating without being caught out with changing conditions so for that reason I only take my family in our small boat out when the weather is mint. Unfortunately, I don’t get out that often but it’s better to be safe than sorry I guess.
I do however get out on the water with my local marine rescue to help some of those unfortunate or ill-prepared boaters on the water. As you can imagine many of our activations for our small brave team are when the weather is not pleasant and being caught out in changing weather conditions and storms are slowly becoming the norm😂😂😂
I had a trip recently though that was quite similar to yours where we went to assist on the water. The weather this time was great, glassed out and I probably should have shot out for a fish in my own boat. We were on the water for about 2 hrs and heading for home and got activated again so we made a detour and assisted once more. The tide was about to change and the wind picked up slightly but no big deal we had been on the water about 4 hours by this stage and headed home for the second try.
We were cruising quite well for about 1/2hr and then the storm closed in as we came back into open water, the wind picked up to 25-30kn which wasn’t supposed to happen ( BOM you really needs to get it together) and the tide was against the wind which stood the waves up to 2m as we passed through a long stretch of shoals. To say our trip back was slow would be an understatement with a number of waves crashing over the bow. No one was sick or injured but all were grateful to be back inside the harbour. Our trip was meant to be about 3hrs. Turned out to be 8hrs. It just goes to show how quickly it can change.
I didn’t get any pics as I got a face that would be better suited to radio and I was too busy holding on. Remember it’s very unforgiving out there. Stay safe👍
I own a 20ft Seafarer boat. In March last year, I was out off Edithburgh in South Australia near the Marion reef beacon. I was with two friends fishing for whiting and snapper.
The weather was average with about 0.5 to 1m seas. I decided as skipper to travel to a snapper spot and thought I would take a shortcut between the Marion reef beacon and the reef. There was plenty of water and no real swells. My mate whilst travelling made us a bowl out of a bag of salt and vinegar chips to share with us as we were moving to the drop.
Out of nowhere a swell formed, which was about 20 feet high, I was able to navigate up and down the swell relatively easily but right behind it was an even bigger swell that looked like it was going to break right on us. I remember looking to the right and left to see if I could turn away from it but decided that was too dangerous so up we went, I put a bit of throttle into it as I thought that it would break on top of us and as we reached and moved through the top of the swell/wave there was nothing on the other side so down we went with a massive crash.
I smashed my face on the metal screen putting my tooth through my lip and being concussed, my mate who had made the bowl of chips was on his back on the deck with salt and vinegar chips all over him and the floor, my other friend had fallen off the seat and was on the floor.
We were all stunned at what had happened. None of us was wearing life jackets and the situation could have been a lot different if I had made the wrong decision to turn away from the swell/wave.
Massive lesson learnt. Our wives could see the worry on our faces when we got home. We laugh about it now but it definitely was a what-if moment.
Obviously the best advice we can give you is not to get caught in these situations. But as we all know, weather
forecasts are just that…
Forecasts. And they don’t always get it right (as our storms at sea stories show).
So we have come up with some tips to consider and additional reading resources to keep you as safe as possible.
Stay safe during storms at sea with these tips.
- If the weather forecast suggests thunderstorms consider rescheduling your trip because safety must be the
- When you see a storm front in the distance, head to shelter (a protected area out of the wind such as the lee of
an island or reef). Or preferably back to shore. Because many of the incidents cited above could have been avoided
had they returned immediately;
- Always notify a responsible family member, coastguard or marine rescue of your destination and estimated time of
arrival. You can now do this with the Coast Guard App. Because if
the worst does happen, you’ll want someone looking for you.
- Drive to the conditions. This may vary depending on the
boat. Avoid turning side on to the sea in large waves because you may get swamped.
Sometimes the long way home can be safer.
- Keep a floating flashlight and batteries aboard your vessel.
- Although the odds of being struck by lightning are low, if worried you can have your vessel assessed and lightning protection installed.
- When inside an open boat, avoid touching metal objects and appliances as this can prevent electric shock. Stow
all rods and aerials, stay low and keep your arms and legs inside the vessel and try and keep everyone in the
centre of the boat;
- Ensure the VHF radio is not used during an electrical storm unless it is an absolute emergency to avoid injury
in the event of a lightning strike;
- Store small communication valuables such as phones, inside a microwave or even a foil twisties packet to protect them in the event of a
strike. These act as a Faraday’s
cage, hence protecting devices stored inside.
Please don’t take any chances and stay safe on the water. We recommend you use the links above to conduct some further
reading to keep you as safe as you can be.
We hope you enjoyed the stories and if you didn’t get a chance to submit a storm at sea story, we would love to hear
from you in the comments.
In December 2017, myself and a workmate organised a trip off Dundee in my 5.10m Quintrex Sea Spirit to get into some
reds. As is customary, we checked the weather for the day and it all looked good. So we got up at sparrow fart and drove
from Darwin to Dundee. Again we checked the weather and the radar was clear. We then set off on our 70km trip out to the
spot. Glass off conditions made for a nice ride in the darkness, and after arriving at the spot we were straight onto
some nice Nannygai.
After an hour or so and an esky full, we decided to search for some different species. We headed out a further 5km to
some lumpy ground. As we pulled up we looked back towards Dundee and there was a massive storm brewing. Lightning
everywhere and filled half the horizon. As with all storms, we thought we would wait and maybe watch it fizzle out or
Within the hour came the howling wind ahead of the storm blowing 100kph+ winds across the water. I said to my mate I
think this is going to be big. We decided to head directly into the storm in the direction of Dundee where there was
some closer in fishing grounds.
Within 30 min the seas turned to 1m and 2m then 3m then 4m. We were now down to 10kph on and off the throttle to keep
straight into the waves and soften the landing. Waves were hitting us from the side as well as breaking over the front
of the boat. This went on for about 3 hrs. Fuel gauge was dropping very quickly.
Here is a video we made of the trip: Battling the storm wide of Dundee
Once the seas dropped to about 1m again about 30km off Dundee we pulled up to put some more fuel in the boat and
had another fish. Only a few small sharks.We then headed back in closer to Dundee and got onto some blue salmon to
finish the day. While in close fishing I had a call from a mate in Darwin asking if we were OK as he saw an
article that a boat had to be rescued by the Care Flight chopper when they were only 30km off Dundee and lost
The next morning I could barely walk being battered and bruised all over and decided to crawl back into bed for
It ended up being the biggest storm of the season.
Jon Snell – Cairns
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
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
Aaron Falls – Dundee NT
My family had organised to all fly up to darwin to spend Christmas together, the first time we 5 kids had all been
in the same place since 2015 let alone meeting all the new nieces, nephews and better halves. We’ve always been a
fishing family since I can remember. Growing up in central Queensland saw us 4 boys out every weekend rail, hail
or shine fishing and spearing for the greater part of 20 years.
So 23rd December 2019, 6 of us (me, my brothers John, Jared and Patrick, my father in law Tony and a good mate
Dave) set off from Dundee beach, at 2 am in Tonys 26ft southwind center console with a 225 suzuki pushing us
along. The plan was to head 50nm out to our red marks and work our way back in fishing and diving before getting
out about 2pm to beat the dropping tide.
The forecast looked good, claiming a max of 7 knots for the day and it was an uneventful 2 hr drive to the ramp
which is always a blessing. Upon launching and heading through the leads we noticed several small distant patches
of lightning on the horizon so we pulled up and checked the radar. Everything looked good and the small scuds
seemed to be all moving away from us or well to the south. There was one storm inland and north but heading west
and as they usually break up before they hit the coast we didn’t pay too much attention to it and the throttle
went down again. It was a great run sitting on 26 knots with small ground swell giving the odd bump. Everyone was
either asleep or too excited and the banter was flowing well. As the sky started to lighten up we stopped for a
piss and noticed the storm that was north of us seemed to be closing the gap. Still not much was said about it
although the subject turned to waterspouts, boats being lost at sea and struck by lightning. As the sky grew light
enough to see there was some good lightning from the storms further out and to the south of us but they didn’t
pose any threat and we were enjoying the show. By this time we could see the front of the large northern storm
which had reached the coast and showed no signs of breaking up. By this time we were too far out to get any phone
signal to check the radar to see the size of the front, but all agreed it was only going to last 20-30 min of
rain. Dave laughed because he was the only one who’d packed a rain jacket and we continued on our trip.
About 6am suddenly tuna started busting up in football sized areas all around us so we took advantage and threw
some slugs netting us 3 good size mac tuna as fresh bait. As we got them in the kill bin we heard a rumble of
thunder and looked up to see a black wall of clouds and rain stretching roughly 100km!
We figured we couldn’t outrun it so we may as well head for the lightest looking bit of the front still not
realizing what we were in for or how fast it was travelling. We then spotted the waterspout poking out of the
leading edge and although it was several kilometers away to the south it was thicker than a thumb. We made ready
as best we could although we left the lifejackets in the nose which would prove to be a near fatal mistake for us
all. The first bit of wind got to us at 6.30am and it wasn’t too bad about 30 knots. We were laughing and joking
that it would all be over soon and I pulled out the gopro thinking this will be a laugh.
The clouds dropped and started spinning 200m off our port. Tony turned outrun the forming waterspout, just as the
wind that was ripping the tops off the waves hit us. Everything was screaming wind and mist. The front looked like
a fog bank and when it hit us side on it all went wrong. The wind grabbed the tee top and pushed us over so far we
started taking water over the side and pushing the boat sideways through the water. Everyone was yelling to Tony
to get the boat straight while hanging on for dear life. He then told Jared and John to take the wheel. Jared
turned full lock and John slammed the throttle down. After what seemed like forever we turned straight into the
wind which was well over 50knts! This lasted about 5 minutes during which time the waves built up over 3m in
height with less than a boat length between them. 2 out of 3 waves were coming aboard over the nose and being at
the back i saw the entire outboard disappear underwater numerous times. With Jared on the wheel, John on the
throttle and the rest of us hanging on white knuckled I yelled; “hit that bilge there’s a lot of water building up
back here”, they hit the button and nothing. So I opened the rear hatch and saw the entire hull was full to the
brim. I then spent the next hour and a half inside the bilge clearing leaves and bits and pieces out of the bilge
to keep it operational and us afloat. Every wave that looked like it was coming over us the boys would yell a
warning to me and I would brace on whatever i could and hold my breath until the scuppers had done their bit.
At nearly 9am the rain finally stopped and we found ourselves a few short miles off Point Jenny. Being that it was
too rough to head back out and chase reds we settled for protected waters and a few jewies. To say the least there
have been some changes to the boat since (larger bilge pumps, lifejackets and epirb relocated to the center
console) and will never underestimate a wet season storm again.
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.
I went out with my friend Stanley and his friend, a doctor, in Stan’s run about. It was a nice morning at Kauwa Bay
around Auckland and we set off at 6.30 am. All was going great and we dropped a set line and carried on further out once
this was completed to do some rod fishing. Stan made mention that the engine was a little sluggish but thought it would
clear itself with further use.
We finally got out to where we were going and commenced fishing. The snapper were on the bite and we were hauling in
some really large beasts, but the wind came from nowhere and Stan decided to pull the pick and head back to retrieve the
set line. When he went to start it there was nothing he did that would get the motor going.
By this time the wind was really at a scary point with water lapping over the side of the boat and it was then I heard
Stan say, “guys get your life jackets on we may be going down”. All I could think of was my 3 children and that seeing
them that morning may be the last time. Stan put out a series of May Day calls and the police launch DEE a DAR was just
coming under the harbour bridge and could not get to us for another hour. But there was a boat coming to us from where
we left that morning and it seemed like forever before we caught a glimpse of him through the spray of the wild sea.
When the launch arrived he did a cicle of us and proceeded to come close and throw us a tow line but once attached the
slack in the line took it under our boat and when it tightened it was dragging our bow down under the water.
At last, the launch had us undertow and away we went grateful for the effort these guys had made. But the fun was not
over! The dingy tied to the launch came adrift and the skipper cut power and stopped. As we had no means of control our
boat slammed into the rescue boat and the bow rope guide punched a large hole in the port side of their bow, and again
the tow rope had gone under the launch and was slamming us even harder against it. I then heard Stan say I have to give
the engine another try and with much delight, it started. I reached over the windscreen and detached the tow line and we
reversed back off the launch.
Because we were not towed back to the boat ramp we used that morning, the skipper took us to the next bay so we were at
the boat ramp in the beaten up boat, but our car and trailer were still at the other boat ramp. A quick phone call to
Stan’s wife and my wife and they came out, picked the car and trailer up and when they arrived Ii lost the plot and got
down on my hands and knees and kissed the concrete boat ramp. WE WERE SAFE. And the fish on both the rods and the long
line were so nice.
We tried to contact the guys who saved us but had no luck but they were real heroes.
Glen Stockdale – Ayr
This story is about a day that was no-contest the worst day I’ve had on the water, ever. It all started about 15
years ago when my mate Troy had just bought a 2nd hand Yalta 189 fibreglass boat and invited me to take part on
the maiden voyage trip to the reef.
When I arrived the day before to help load the fuel/bait/ice etc, he said he had just bought a new VHF radio and
antenna to replace the old one, as it looked pretty dodgy and he didn’t trust it. I commented that I was surprised
how small the antennas were these days, as it was only about 300mm long. Troy told me that he also asked about
that but the guy at the shop told him “that’s what all the reef boats are using these days, it’s just the
technology has got better”. Ah well, that was good enough for me. We filled up the underfloor tank which held
plenty of fuel for a day trip, but we filled an extra 20L drum “just in case” as we weren’t sure of the fuel
economy of the new motor.
We checked the weather forecast on Seabreeze, cross checked with BOM and wherever else and they all said calm sea
conditions until there was a strong Southerly change coming through around Sunday evening. We were planning to be
home around lunch on Saturday, well before that change came through so the trip was locked in and we were good to
It was still dark well before sunrise on the Saturday, when I met Troy, his dad Rob, and another mate Todd as we
put the boat into the water at the Ocean Creek ramp. We were all excited during the quick trip to the mouth,
especially as we were greeted with beautiful calm seas. We set course for the reef and made quick time as we got
to the reef in about an hour and a half and straight into the fish. As soon as VMR began operating, we did the
right thing and called in to register our trip details, and destination etc. The lines went down again and the
fish were on the chew, and we got a good haul of trout, red throat, a couple of nice emperor, and even a good size
Spanish on the floater out the back. It was an absolute belter of a morning, we had about 20 nice fish and the
weather was spectacular. “Doesn’t get any better than this!” was the common saying aboard.
It got to around lunch time and we decided we’d caught enough and had a good day, so it was time to go. We began
cleaning up the boat and thought we’d better have a beer to toast the great day, and the new boat as we were
wrapped how it performed and couldn’t have hoped for a better maiden voyage. As we were sitting back sipping on a
few beers feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, we noticed a gentle cool breeze started from nowhere and quickly
picked up enough to spin the boat around about 180 degrees on the anchor. We all looked at each other and all knew
what each other was thinking. “Uh oh, surely this isn’t that bloody weather change already…”
Sure enough, by the time we’d pulled the anchor up to start heading back in the seas had changed from flat shiny
oil to a nasty chop. We pointed the nose for home and started heading straight into much worse conditions that on
the way out. The sea was going to make the trip home uncomfortable, and we soon knew the 40 mile trip home was
going to take much longer than coming out, that’s for sure. As we kept going the waves kept growing bigger, and
bigger, with Troy having to gun the outboard just to get up the face of the waves, then quickly back off the power
as we fell down and slammed over the back. We’d all seen plenty of white caps before, but I still remember the
feeling of unease when we noticed a lot of waves were actually starting to curl over greeny blue, just like the
surf waves down south.
“Shit, we’re in a bit of trouble here.” We tried calling in to VMR to let them know of our predicament, but got no
response. We tried again and again, but got nothing. “This isn’t good.”
We’d travelled for over an hour, rarely at planing speed for a distance of about 10 miles. We tried contacting VMR
again but got no response again. For the first time in my life, we all had lifejackets out and ready, but nobody
actually put one on for some reason. Maybe nobody wanted to be the first to put one on and admit the seriousness
of the situation, but I’m sure we all thought the time may come that we’d need them. From such a fun trip where we
all were having a ball laughing and hanging shit on each other, there wasn’t much being said now.
I think we were about half way home after about 2 hours of up and down each wave as high as the canopy, when we
actually heard something on the VHF. VMR were actually calling us! We were overdue on our registered arrival time,
so they were seeing how we were. We found out later that they were overrun with distress calls and checking on
people as the weather change had come through so far in advance that something like 20 boats had called in
distress between Bowen and Townsville that day. We called back to let them know we were travelling, slowly, but
making our way in. We heard them calling something like “Mackie, Mackie, Mackie, this is VMR Burdekin, are you on
channel?”. We tried again to let them know our predicament but they couldn’t hear us. “Not such a great aerial
that bloke sold you Troy” was mentioned in not so polite terms.
We pushed on and noticed that we had already used way more fuel than expected and were only about half way home.
We had a quick discussion and if we kept the nose pointed forward we were travelling ok, but if we ran out of fuel
with the waves this big we would surely get turned side on, and most likely tipped over and end up in the water
with about 20 bleeding reef fish as burley around us. It shows how serious the occasion was when the decision was
made to dump the fish over the side. This would serve two purposes, significantly lighten the load by dumping the
fish, ice, food etc to help save fuel, and also get rid of the potential shark attractant is we did end up getting
capsized and end up in the water.
In all my life I had never realistically contemplated how bad this could get, but the shit was getting real at
this point. We opened the esky lid and threw back all of the fish we’d caught. Beautiful reef fish, trout, re