Fishing boat sinks, anglers rescued

THE photos above were taken by underwater photographer Vanessa Torres Macho, who stumbled across this sunken fishing boat in 80 metres of water off Port Hacking, NSW. The photos were then posted by Robert Main on the East Ciast Tuna and Billfish Facebook site, with a view to discovering the story behind the sinking.

An angler by the name of Micky Kovakas answered the post, saying he was owner.  This is his incredible account of what happened on the day of the sinking:

“The background to the boat is that it’s an old 1988 model Ocean Pro 600. I bought it around 1998. It originally had a 150hp blue band Merc. I had many fishing trips in it till I had a family and a mortgage, and basically couldn’t afford the fuel in the thirsty 2 stroke.

To cut a long story short my brother bought half share in it and did a bit of work on the motor to try and keep the costs down. In about 2013 we pooled our money and had a heap of work done on it over that year, including putting a hard top roof on it, which took an alloy fabricator about 6 months, and welded all the corrosion spots, modified the back, put in a checker plate floor and painted it. After that it went off to have two brand new 115HP 4 stroke Mercs fitted to the back.

At the start of 2015 we started to use the boat while we had floatation ordered and the built in fuel tanks to be fabricated and fitted.

After a heap of river and inshore reef trips, we got the 20 hour service done on the outboards and I bought an electric reel. I was itching to try out at Browns.

On August 18, 2015, which was a week day, I checked the forecast and decided to give it a go. The forecast was light W-SW winds in the morning but increasing to about 20-25 knots in the late afternoon. From memory the swell was only around a metre with a metre seas. Not too bad.

My mate and I set out with three eskies full of food, drink and bait. We put in at Tunks Park around 5 am and off we went. I remember when we came out of Middle Harbour I hit the wake of a ferry pretty hard, but at the time I didn’t think much of it.

So, we headed straight out of the heads, the plan was to head straight to the Peak and tow a couple small skirts to Browns. The swell at the time was good and looked like we were in for a good day.
We got to the peak dropped a couple of lures and off we went. About an hour in to the trip we caught a mack tuna, my mate dragged it to the boat and as we swung around I noticed the wind had picked up. It was probably blowing at 15 – 20 knots from the W-SW. About this time when we were stopped I also notice a fair bit of water in the back of the boat. Not thinking a lot about it I just turned the two big bilge pumps on and off we went.

A couple of hours later we made it to Browns, or between the shelf and Browns. By this stage it was blowing a gale and the seas had chopped up bad.

I remember telling my mate that I didn’t think it was going to get any better so we decided to head in and fish one off the inshore reefs or the harbour. We headed back the same route we came out, back over the Peak.

When we got to the Peak I saw a commercial boat fishing there. I didn’t mark anything on the sounder but I thought “if he is here there must be fish”. I told my mate to have a drop to see if he could hold the bottom with his 8oz sinker. But with the wind (which by this time is blowing at about 50 knots and kicking up a big swell with heaps of white caps) and the strong current we weren’t staying.

I started looking for an inshore reef to head to on GPS. I remember rolling over fairly big swells, and having the boat kind of roll over the wave but then have the bow of the boat stay high and not roll back. After about a minute, my mate ask me to turn the bilge pumps on because he was standing in water. When I looked the water was past the floor and about 6 inches up his leg. I went to turn them on, but they were already on. When I turned around to tell him they are already on the water was up to his waist. I tried to fire up the motors and drive to the pro boat, which was about 200 metres away, but the motors sucked up water and stopped.

I turned around and saw the motors starting to disappear into the water. This is the first “oh $%^&” moment I had.  I told my mate we were sinking. I kept all the safety gear in a milk crate up in the cab so we both headed up the front. I saw him grab a jacket and dive out of the boat as the roof was starting to hit the surface of the water. I grabbed a life jacket but the bloody strap was wrapped around the front rib of the boat. I remember the water rushing in to the cab and jamming me into the front of the boat. I lost the air space in the cab and remember trying to get out over the roof, but I couldn’t get there, so I pushed through one of the windows.

When I came out of the cab and pushed away,  I looked down and saw a heap of air rushing out of the front keel area. The boat was sinking motors first, and when I looked up I was around 15 metres deep. I didn’t get a chance to take a breath and I thought I was a goner. I’m a big bloke and I swam as hard as I could. When I got about 5 m off the surface I just needed to take a breath and I couldn’t stop myself from taking one, when I did I ended up swallowing it. It felt like I was under the water forever.

When I popped to the surface the first thing I saw right in front of me was my mate looking back at me. OK, now we are in 17oC water, about 14 mk off the coast with a gale of a SW blowing and pushing us out to sea, with no life jackets…the life jacket I thought my mate had he had thrown back to me, and when he couldn’t get the other one he bailed.

Our only hope was to get the other boat to notice us, which I could see about 150m away. I looked around for something we can use as a flotation device. But bugger me out of all the stuff in that boat that would float, the only thing that came up was the wife’s tupperware lid the size of a A4 piece of paper and a quarter of a loaf of bread.

So my mate and I start to swim towards the other boat. I knew they had seen us when we drove past them earlier. Using the plastic lid as a paddle we would swim 20 metres and yell “HELP”.  After about 5 or 10 minutes, I saw one of the blokes start to look around. Then he got on the roof and pointed straight at us. When they started driving our way I swear I was about to cry. I knew if that boat had of left, we were done. But they headed our way and rescued us. The blokes name is Nathan, his father and mate were on board and were top blokes. They took us back to Port Hacking and looked after us till we got a lift home.

It took me nearly a year to get back in to a boat and I still get nervy every time the wind swings to the west. I do things a little differently now. I log in to marine rescue, we have a safety floating gear bag, I carry a PLB on my life jacket, and don’t trust forecasted winter westerlies.

The scary thing is that when we took the boat in the river the week before, we had my then 8 year old son and nephew in the boat. I’m so glad nothing happened that day. My mate is a good swimmer and is level headed (he gave his jacket to me and bailed without one, that’s a good bloke, even though I missed it!). And we were lucky Nathan decided to have that one last drop on that day. Lucky we pulled up on the western side of him so the cries for help carried. We had heaps of luck that day. From the time we noticed the water in the back to the time I was under water I reckon was no more than 10 seconds.

Now all I’m focused on is getting one of these monster SBT in the new boat before they disappear.”

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