Weather at Sea.


A Fisherman’s life is ruled by the weather we live for the days when the sea is calm and the catches are good.

Great days when all the dillies are so full of crabs that I struggle to lift them over the gunwale. One such day like this I had a full load of crabs on board, well over 500 kilograms, and I was putting on board the last of my gear before returning to port. When Dolly, one of my pet Dolphins, paid me a visit and rolled over for a little scratch under her chin, I thought, what a marvellous end to a marvellous day, thank you Dolly. I put the last dilly on board and tied down the stack, I then phone the Department of Fisheries and give them my landing and catch details and complete my Fisheries Logbook. I start the two motors and power my faithful little 5.6 metre Shark Cat in the direction of port, turn on the auto pilot and press the GPS button to take me to the Harbour Wall. Contented that I have a full load and satisfied that I have put in a good days work I can now sit back, hands free, while my little Shark Cat powers me towards home at twenty five knots on a calm sea. Life can be great.

But it is not always like this;

Every year I regularly get caught out in 25 to 35 knots of wind which has not been predicted before I put to sea. Over the years I have had the misfortune to be caught in many ‘blows’.

A few of the following come to mind.


Electrical Storms.

Late afternoon highly charged electrical Storms are one of my pet hates, well, my pet hate is when the lightning is banging, as in striking, the water around me and I think to myself that they say that lightning will strike the highest thing around and out on the water I am the highest thing around! One such time like this I had several bolts of lightning strike the water within a mile of me while I was running for shelter.

On another occasion I decided to huddle in my small bunk size cabin, the rain was bucketing down and I could hear that hissing sound lightning makes micro seconds before the noise of thunder almost blows you away. After a few bolts of lightning like that I was sure that one was really about to blow me away.

While confronted with another Storm the radio started wailing loudly and I could hear an electrical hiss noise above me and I looked up the see sparks flying out of the top of my radio aerial, the sparks continued even after I had disconnected the aerial from the radio.  I do not know what caused this but I’m sure it was not a good sign.

 Most of our Storms build up through the day in the south west over the mountains and come thundering up the coast and out to sea. One of the worst storms to catch me out was when I was fishing Wide Caloundra. I had been watching this storm building in the south west but was catching some good snapper and pearl perch so I decided I could cut it fine and make a run for it and still get in close to land for some shelter before the storm reached me. Once under way I had the ‘hammer down and peddle to the metal’ so to speak and was making a good 25 knots and only about 18 miles to the safety of port. But this big black, ugly storm front was coming ever so quick, and one knows when one has left his run too late. I kept the throttles down for every mile I make is a mile less to battle. I soon had no way to avoid the fury of the storm front and half way to port I drove into a wall of cold wind and rain. Never had I ever felt so much wind, the nearby lighthouse recorded gusts to 70 knots, and maybe I had 50 knots or 70 knots I do not know. I can remember vividly the wind hitting me on my port bow and the boat was only making 11 knots even though I had enough revs on the motors to do double that speed. I looked back at the motors and was amazed to notice that they were almost on full lock to port even though the boat was travelling straight ahead, be it slowly; to counter the force on the wind I had unconsciously applied nearly full lock to port just to maintain my course. The conditions were wretched however the driving rain and waves of green water coming over the port side was being handled by the scuppers and on this angle to the sea my little Shark Cat was probably handling the maelstrom better then I was. Within 25 minutes I was through the worst of it and able to make good speed towards Mooloolaba again.

Next day there was news of over 100 sailing boats over turned in this storm but all on board had been rescued.   


Rain Squalls.

Rain Squalls are mostly short and sweet, a bit of wind and rain but soon over and done with. Some years back I was into my second day of a two day fishing trip hand lining for snapper and pearl perch, yes for many years I made a living catching fish on a hand line, fishing line wound around an old wooden spool. I would hand over hand the line and the loose line would lie on the floor of the boat, with a hand line I feel every little bite with the line between my fingers and thumb, this is the most basic fishing gear, just me, a hand line, the fish and the sea. Yet I caught enough fish this way to build my home. It was not until my daughter came along and I wished to be home at nights that I switched over to spanner crabbing.

It was about 10.00am and I had a good catch onboard and was ready to pull the anchor and travel the 35 nm back to port but there was the biggest, blackest rain Squall between me and Mooloolaba so I decided to wait and let it past, anyhow the fish were still biting even if I was nearly out of ice.

 By 2.00pm the Rain Squall was still there blocking my way to port but I did not wish to leave it go any longer and pulled up anchor and pointed the boat towards Mooloolaba. I was powering along on a beautiful calm sea until I ran into the Squall about half way home.  As I made my way through this Squall the seas became bigger and steeper, the sea just seemed to keep going up a notch until I had about 50 knots of wind with seas like one would find on a breaking river bar. I was taking green water over my windscreen and would watch as the broken water passed through my boat rolling over the two outboard motors which could not be seen for the white water. 

Then the sea became even rougher, easily the worse sea I had ever encountered, I had to change course and turn the boat away from Mooloolaba and in a south easterly direction out to sea so as I could tackle every wave in a survival fashion. Just enough throttle so as I could climb up the face on these walls of water but careful not to overdo the power or I could be flipped over backwards in the curling foaming crest. The worst waves the curling crest was so intense I could not follow up and over so I needed to ease off and crash the boat through the top of the wave and be prepared to take a heap of water over the windscreen. As the boat ploughed through the foaming crest of the wave I could just hope the self draining floor would cope with the water. I really did think at the time that if this sea increases by one more notch I’d be in a spot of trouble. Thankfully after about 20 minutes of survival mode driving the sea eased a little, still extremely rugged but I was able to resume my south westerly course towards Mooloolaba.

South Westerlies.

South Westerlies are one of the most feared winds for the small boat fisherman working off the Sunshine Coast. South westerly seas are short and steep and are land breezes (off the land) so must be punched into to return to port. South Westerlies are deceivingly calm to those on land or inshore where the sea which is in the lee of the land appears flat calm for as far as the eye can see. But beware for the further offshore one goes the further the waves have had a chance to build and just five miles offshore the waves may be 2 metres or more and will continue to build the further one is from shore. These waves are ready to pound the soul out of the small boat fisherman returning to port. The waves can be so steep and short that the boat will launch itself off the top of every wave and crash down into the face of the next wave and there is nowhere to hide. This pounding can split and sink boats no matter what they are made from and if the boat does not have a self draining floor the boat can be swamped with water, many a fishing boat or trawler has had its front windows punched out while battling South Westerlies back to Mooloolaba. The pounding can break nearly anything on board; I have broken Echo sounders, GPS Plotters, Microphone holders, EPERBS, Aerials, and Canopies, really nothing can withstand this pounding. One South Westerly I was caught in took me most of the night to punch 54 miles from the ‘Shelf’ east of Double Island back to Mooloolaba. I remember coming off the top of one wave that night just as a strong gust of wind caught the boat and just held it up in the air, instead of slamming into the next wave the boat just sat on a cushion of air, a really weird sensation and one I did not like. Another gust stood the boat up vertically, thank goodness it fell back right side up. After that hair rising moment I changed course endeavouring to lessen the angle to the waves and when I was finally in the lee of land I tuned south and came down the coast to Mooloolaba.     

 The best approach is to take South Westerlies on as slow as possible, as if you have all the time in the world but you do need to make some headway and may need to consider your fuel consumption because one is using up the fuel while making little headway. Regardless of the forecast I always plan ahead to always have in reserve at least double the amount of fuel I normally need for the return trip to port.

 Also be aware that South Westerlies are not predictable and can blow much harder off shore then what is forecast. I have battled Gale force South Westerlies just five miles offshore when there is just a gentle SW land breeze onshore. I treat every South Westerly forecast with the utmost respect and avoid putting to sea if the barometer is low as this is a sign that a lot of air may be about to rush in. Watch for clouds coming from the south west, if they are moving quickly then there is obviously wind up high and once clear of the land that wind can touch down and race without restraint across the ocean. 

It was late afternoon, the sun going down on a lovely calm sea and I was kellicked (anchored) up in 32 fathoms 20 miles off Caloundra catching snapper, pearl perch and other prized table fish as quick as I could hand line them aboard. My line would only get half way down and would roar off with another nice fish. The fish bit well until the last remaining light disappeared into night and I knew that my catch would bring top money on the auction floor the following morning.  I started packing up at the same time as a light South Westerly sprung into being warning me that I should waste no time in pulling my anchor up and getting underway. I had travelled barely a mile and I was already punching a 20 knot South Westerly, another mile and I had 30 knots, another mile and I was punching into walls of water, standing my little ‘Cat’ up on its tail. Every wave was breaking white water at the crest causing both motors to lose grip in the aerated crest as the propellers spun free in the foam. With every wave I would have to throttle back to an idle to allow the propellers to get a fresh grip in the water and then quickly power up the face of the next wave. It was a dark night and the low windscreen I had at that time meant that I was taking every wave in the face as well. I only had about 15 miles to travel which would have taken about 45 minutes on a calm sea but in these frightful conditions would take me over 3 hours to reach the Caloundra Bar.

The Caloundra Bar is located at the northern most tip of Bribie Island and normally has a narrow channel into the calm waters of the Pumicestone Passage. The ocean swells nearly always break on the outer reaches of this channel and navigating this area always requires due care and seamanship to avoid the breaking waves. Many boats have been lost here and tragically quite a few lives. Back then we had no GPS so to navigate this Bar at night I would line up a blinking light on Golden beach with a certain street light and run in due west keeping these lights in line, however right in the middle of the breaking surf the Bar had a dogleg in it so I’d also watch the Caloundra lighthouse to the north and when it came in line with a certain high rise building I would need to perform a course change to the north west. I would have a few seconds where I have gone past my light marks, where my heart would race and where I would have breaking surf around me in the dark, just a little off course and I would be aground on a sandbar in the breaking surf. I would just have to trust that I had done everything right then, like magic, the boat would transcend into the smooth calm protected waters of the Pumicestone Passage with the channel ahead well lit by the nearby shore lights. It was always so nice to finally idle back the motors and leisurely motor up stream to the boat ramp at Happy Valley.  

Next day I learnt that fellow commercial fisherman Merv Thompson had his front windows punched out while battling this same South Westerly sea and had issued a Mayday but thankfully Merv was able to make it into Mooloolaba under his own steam. Unfortunately another fishing vessel did not make it that night and we lost two fishermen.  


Water Spouts.

 Water Spouts are often frequent along line squalls little willy willys or tornados which spin up along these squalls and most of which do not appear to touch down.

One morning travelling to sea in the dark before dawn I was about 8 miles out, the sea was a little lumpy and I was taking it easy at around 13 knots when without warning I had over 35 knots of wind and spray in my face. Before I had a chance to work out what was happening or even think about slowing down I suddenly had over 35 knots of wind and spray hitting my back. Then in an instant the wind was gone. I was completely mystified as to what had just transpired but finally I twigged what had taken place I had driven through a water spout in the dark.

Another day I was watching as a nearby water spout was becoming uncomfortably close. I casually started to motor away from it but in no time I realized that the water spout was coming straight for me and gaining very quickly. My immediate reaction was to push the throttles down but when I looked around this thing was still gaining on me, it was like the water spout was chasing me and by now I was flat chat and this thing which was spinning up spray high into the sky was going to get me. I never realized how quick water spouts could move along. I wheeled the boat hard to starboard and out to sea while the water spout continued straight ahead to the north.

Richard Freeman.

Framed Prints of the Weather.


Alone at Sea with Humpback Whales.

Alone at sea with Sharks.

Alone at Sea with my Dolphins.

The Wreck of the ‘’SS Dickey”.

Alone at Sea with my Gannets.

Alone at Sea with my Fairy Prions.

Alone at Sea with my Albatross.

Alone at Sea with Jellies and Stingers.

Alone at Sea with my Giant Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Storm Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Terns.

Alone at Sea with Jaegers and Skuas.

Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Weather at Sea.