I remember I was just 17 when the 28 foot trawler I was travelling on capsized and sank. The Wide Bay Bar had been closed for a few days due to bad weather but it was apparently open on that very early morning of December 31. It was about 5am and there were three of us aboard – the skipper, the deckhand…and Gilligan (only joking!)
Everything looked reasonably calm and still in those early dawn hours. As we got closer, a peaking wave hit us on the stern quarter (back corner for all you landlubbers). This wave lifted us up and gave us an amazing surf for a while, however then it picked up in intensity and was tipping us further and further over until that instant that we all realised that we weren’t coming back again.
The skipper dived through the open side door and the decky managed to get the rear door open and escape. By now, the boat was past the 90 degree mark and was rolling completely over. By the time I made it to the rear door, merely seconds after the decky, the boat had begun filling with water and the pressure was too strong for me to be able to pull myself through. I had the realisation that ‘This was it’ and was surprisingly calm. There was nothing I could do anyway.
It must have been split seconds (that felt like an eternity) until the cabin filled with enough water, the pressure eased and I was able to swim through the door. By this stage, I was completely disorientated but I could still see the decky’s back in the distance and just knew to follow him. I was mere seconds behind the other crew as I heard the skipper ask, “Where’s Kim?” as I broke the surface.
The next few waves were also freaks (they tend to come in sets) and kept separating us. By the time we all fought to swim back together after each wave, we were quite exhausted. It was tempting to try to cling to the upturned hull but we had all heard the stories of the boat sucking you down with it when it eventually sinks. After about six monstrous waves, things started to calm down.
We spent the next five hours drifting in the ocean. We were about three miles from the nearest land and we could see that we were slowly heading in the right direction. It certainly made for interesting conversation between the three of us.
As we floated around, the boat ended up doing that classic Titanic thing and rising up in the bow (pointy end) and going glug, glug, glug. It didn’t take long to sink to the bottom and proceeded to break up. This added a bit of interest as the three of us started to watch all of our wordly possessions float to the surface.
I was only hitching a ride on the boat as we had finished working around Brisbane and the boat was heading back to Cairns. I had packed for the holiday in Cairns yet to come so had most of my favourite things with me. I remember seeing one of my stilletos float towards me. I had only bought them the week before so I reached out and hung onto it, hoping the other one was right behind it! Hmmmm – the workings of a 17 year old brain!
As I looked toward land, I could see the little township where my brother used to live and I could remember being on dry land over there and watching the sharks surfing on the bar…this bar!!! Arrrrrrrr! That added a whole new level of trauma. Getting out of a sinking boat and not drowning were nothing compared to floating in the ocean with your legs helplessly dangling. (Special thanks to said big brother for reading me the book “Jaws” when I was about five years old and we were out on the family yacht!)
The story continues here.……