On Friday 26 February, three very experienced and respected bluewater kayak anglers narrowly avoided death in a terrifying collision with a flybridge cruiser at South West Rocks in the Mid North Coast of NSW.
Stuart Thompson, Steven Smith and Grant Ashwell were fishing less than a kilometre from Trial Bay Gaol when a brand new 38-foot luxury cruiser travelling to the Gold Coast at 20 knots, careered head on into Stuart Thompson, narrowly missing the other anglers.
“I could feel myself shoot straight under the boat thinking the props are going to get me any second now, then bang…It was like I was in a big washing machine… The first thing I did was looked down to see if I was all there, I couldn’t believe my luck”, Thompson said.
The three kayakers were all within 20 metres of each other when they first saw the cruiser appear several kilometres away. As the vessel drew closer, the kayakers undertook preventative measures to avoid a collision but each time they tried to steer away their efforts were thwarted as the cruiser was running under autopilot and regularly changing directions to compensate for swell and currents.
“When it [the cruiser] was about a hundred metres out from us, we knew it was travelling very fast and a lot closer than we would have liked, but [there was] still room to miss us by about thirty metres. I could see the skipper in the flybridge with his head down, he didn’t see us… We hit head on”.
As the cruiser came to a sudden halt another of the kayakers, Grant Ashwell, found himself staring at the massive hull less than two metres away.
Steven Smith who witnessed the incidentl from slightly further back said, “When I saw Stu go under, I was ready to start collecting body parts”.
Thompson and his shredded kayak were immediately taken to Coffs Harbour. Prior to lodging his police report, the vessel’s skipper told Fisho he was not monitoring the ocean around the time of impact and that the 38′ flybridge cruiser was travelling at around 20 knots under autopilot.
This incident raises serious questions about the use of autopilot systems in popular known fishing areas and once again highlights the responsibilites of skippers when sharing waterways with other vessels.
In this instance the kayak anglers followed the correct safety procedures, wore brightly colored PFDs and displayed highly visible colours and safety flags to make themselves seen in the vastness of the ocean. They also acted in full accordance with NSW Maritime Law.
Although shaken by the incident, Stuart Thompson was not injured and now refers to himself as, “The luckiest man alive”. Looking at the images of his kayak it’s difficult not to agree.