The Brisbane Floods Remind This Fool of His Nearly Fatal Adventure There.

Moreton Bay is now being rapidly built-up.

Moreton Bay.  A paradise for boaters who take care.
Moreton Bay. A paradise for boaters who take care.
Map of area and river, etc.
Map of area and river, etc.

How we were nearly "Up the Creek" for real!

The catastrophic floods all over Queensland - and particularly Brisbane at the moment - deeply saddened me and reminded me of an adventure I had while living there many years ago, which nearly cost the lives of my three companions and myself.

I had moved up to Brisbane from Sydney with the intention of establishing a small office providing welding equipment and supplies, and rented a house a mile down the road running along Breakfast Creek and close to the Breakfast Creek Hotel.

I was living with a girl from Yorkshire at the time, Maggie, and my friend, Tom, who had come to Australia with me two years previously; he lived with Maggie's friend, Sandy, also from Bradford. We had moved around a bit in the last two years and this was to be the last place we enjoyed before the girls - who were on the Australian assisted passage scheme (alas, no more) - had finished their mandatory two years and would return to the UK.

Brisbane was a far smaller and more informal place back then than it is today - now a metropolis of skyscrapers and huge housing developments.

Living on the water as we did, I made a decision to buy an inexpensive used boat. Unwisely, I finally settled on an old launch with a large cabin and a two-stroke motor: it was dirt cheap and 34 feet of trouble awaiting a destination.

We puttered around locally on it: up the Creek and into the Brisbane River - the sinuous, muddy torrent that was quite placid back then, but is an enraged mud-gorged killer as I write in January, 2011, full of debris and powerful currents; it has about destroyed much of Brisbane over the last few days.

During this period, I had met a local fisherman, Bob Taylor, who must himself have fed the fishes long ago, as he was getting on in years back then. He had a small trawler called the "Naomi." By and by, we had become friends and he intended to refrigerate the boat and head up to Aranci Bay in New Guinea to trawl for prawns - said to be as big as lobsters and carpeting the sea bed. I would have a go at anything back then, so had agreed to put up the cost of installing the refrigeration; we would go up there together and share any and all profits. (This would not happen as it turned out, but that was for the future).

We decided one weekend to take our untrustworthy ship (I forget what its name was, SS Unreliable would have suited) for a longer voyage, down the Brisbane River, into Moreton Bay and cruise out to a couple of islands we found on the map. Experienced local seaman, my bud, Taylor, took one look at our ancient craft, sprung planks, cranky, underpowered engine and all and advised us to forget it. That was just the spur two young guys needed to say, “F--- that, we’re going!”

Tom had insisted before we left on Friday morning that we return Sunday afternoon, as he had an appointment with ICI (Imperial Chemicals) early on Monday for a sales job.

We assembled some sketchy supplies such as fishing gear, a .22 rifle, some canned food and a spare can of gas (little knowing what an important part the latter would play); other bits and pieces of food and a few basic tools, such as a screwdriver and pliers. I am an experienced seaman in that I had four years previously in the Royal Navy. Will some reader ask me then, did I have a death wish by motoring off into strange water, miles from dry land, without any form of life-saving equipment, not even a ship-to-shore radio?

It’s extraordinary how reckless the young can be, but when we set off that long ago and fateful morning, the furthest thoughts from our minds was danger, disaster or, perish the thought: death!

If we had only tuned in to the local weather forecast we would have seen that a hurricane was passing well to the south, but that “high tides, seas and some precipitation was expected in South Queensland this weekend.”

The Brisbane River flows through the town and on south, past mangroves and over sand and mud banks, veering right into Moreton Bay proper. The Bay is around 1500 square kilometres in extent and has more than 300 islands, few, if any, inhabited back then. We had picked one island, about 5 miles off land, where we would anchor, sunbathe, fish, shoot and party for the weekend. We were pleased to find we were the only boat in the lee of this tiny fragment of land: out came the beers and the barbie; the gang was going to have fun!!

After all the intervening years, I don’t have many memories of the what must have been idyllic couple of days we spent out on the then calm and sun-drenched Bay. The return journey was just about to begin, and that was to be a different kettle of fish!

About midday on Sunday, we tidied the ship, probably annoying the fickle finger of fate even more by chucking the beer cans overboard. (We had already had a good try at upsetting the gods by firing the .22 at buoys!). Up came the anchor covered in weed from the bottom of the shallow bay - a paradise for many forms of flora and fauna - including sharks!

As we motored out from the west of the island, to head back north- east to the shelter of the river, the wind, rain and choppy seas hit us. I remember saying to Tom, “We’ll have to go back to the anchorage in the lee and ride it out.” And I can recall his answer that would nearly end all our young lives, “Bob, I can’t, you know I have that interview, you promised we would be back in time...”

So we continued out into the open bay, the waves getting higher by the minute and...the water in the bilges beginning to slosh around our feet where the gappy planks - which I had meant to caulk - letting green sea water in by the gallon!

“Sandy, Maggie, we have to bail!!” We grabbed what we could and while one of us steered through the thick rain which obscured vision to a few feet, the others desperately bailed.

By then, this tiny old launch was rearing and sliding around like a rodeo bull and we had to try and hang on, steer and bail. Just barely managing all this until...with a wheeze, the engine quit on us! This meant, as the headway ceased, we were swung around sideways-on to the wind and waves. We were in imminent danger of capsizing; Sandy had given-up and was kneeling, holding her cross and saying Hail Mary, or whatever they do. Maggie, also a Catholic, remained staunch and why, I muse, thinking of this lovely, brave lady, why did I ever let you go?

Tom - then 23, and one of the bravest and coolest people under pressure I have ever met - had braced himself and actually taken apart the carburettor and was removing some gunk from it. Meanwhile, I pushed my head and shoulders through the forward hatch and attempted to pour petrol into the tank filler right up in the bow. (I had a black and blue bruised ring right around my body the next day from being thrown violently around inside the hatch coaming...just to give you and idea of how rough it was).

“Rattle...rattle, (Tom hand cranking the motor). “Bang, bang, clouds of blue smoke and the motor caught and the propellor bit!

Somehow we made it, furiously bailing, stripping the motor again; all cut and bruised and terrified, into the calm, muddy water of the entrance to the Brisbane River, leaving the maelstrom that had so nearly taken our lives behind. Had we capsized, we would have had no hope of swimming to land or being found in those conditions - but a few sharks would have been smiling.

I wish I could capture the real story of this two hours of terror and action in this simple article, but I cannot do more than give you an idea.

Our ordeal was not quite over. One of us had to jump over the side in the shallow water and push out valiant craft another couple of miles over the sand and mud to the start of the river proper. We grounded several times and nearly got stuck often. And who knows what was following me in that soupy, three-feet-deep water ready to snatch at my heels. In fact, I did step on a few slimy things that squirmed away under my shrinking feet. But compared to the ordeal we had survived, nothing under the sea could worry me - although I stayed prepared to leap aboard if necessary and save at least one appendage from a Tiger Shark!

Guess who was waiting for us as we turned left back into the river, our old motor still managing to chuff away for a few more minutes? (a later check showed we had one inch of petrol left in the tank). Yes, Bob Taylor had been so alarmed by the weather reports after we left, he had worried all weekend and finally brought the Naomi down to find us! Well, he would have been way too late, but we did allow him to tow us back to the Breakfast Creek and our moorings, lecturing an embarrassed ex Royal Naval rating on the dangers of going to sea like that.

To Maggie, Sandy and Tom, whom I have not seen of spoken to for many, many moons, I am sure I apologised for risking your lives like that: I was the eldest by a couple of years, the sailor, and I should have known better. Thank goodness we survived due to your young courage and strength.

Postscript.

I had had enough of rough seas after going out in the Naomi a few times and wrote off the money I had lost in refrigerating the trawler.

I do know that Sandy and Maggie are have both been married for many years; live in the UK and have kids and, I’m sure, grandkids, to tell of their adventures in the Antipodes. Of Tom. No word. I do know he continued as an adventurer by becoming a delivery captain for a large yachting company based in France. I’m sure his guts and determination carried him through life and I would love to meet up some day.

He is Thomas (Tom) Morris - born, Torquay, if anyone knows of his whereabouts and could pass on my feelings. I am sure he won’t mind me publishing his name in this obscure article.

Anyone going to sea could do well to take in the advice inherent in this nearly tragic account.

 

More by this Author


Comments 20 comments

medor profile image

medor 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

wow thanks for sharing great writing and adventure... and caution of adventure... you rock... thanks for sharing.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks medor. That was about the closest I have come to an early grave.


Jaymeyaroch profile image

Jaymeyaroch 5 years ago from Somewhere between today and yesterday.

It sounds like quite the adventure, and I'm sure at the time you were determined not to give up! You have incredible spirit!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

You know, this episode made me suspicious of all bravery. It seems, when one's life is at stake, you fight to the death. Servicemen get medals, but their own survival is the reason for most of them I am sure. And the survival of their peers. Thanks for comment Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Adverntures by the thousands I'll bet you've had! Tell us more.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Too many, dear lady. And the typical rolling stone who forgot about the moss! Thanks for comment...Bob


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

Ah, impetuous youth...using warning signs for surfboards!

It's a good thing that being young means we haven't used up our quota of good luck, because skill and wisdom are surely lacking.

Good story.

CP


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Very apt comment...Bob


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

hi, bob,

rollicking story. glad you made it back to terra firma to relate this and other tales, always a good read.

you say floods of jan. 2010 but mean 2011, right?

by the way, i'm doing well. the little carnivore is purring in my lap. the big omnivore is 10' away obsessing over his re-credentialing. i'm just checking in with friends here on HP after a not-too-long work day.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi cathylynn. Trust a woman to let the cat have the prime position and the poor old partner on the sidelines. Thanks for pointing out the error, I'll change that. And thanks for your kind comment...Bob


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

Sounds like a scary adventure. Glad you made it ashore Bob!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hello Amanda! Where ya been, babes? Yeah, we very nearly didn't make it, it was actually much worse than I was able to describe in a short article. The motor was nearly under water at one stage. That bay is stiff with sharks, some of which are man-eaters. We were very, very lucky and it cured me of much foolishness, especially as I was the captain and would have been held responsible (by all at the funerals if any remains showed up!) Bob


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I think you should write a book. I sure it would be a bestseller. Thank you for the joy of reading this hub.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

I did, HH. But got ripped off by the publishers (Rosalind Franklin of Diggory Press) It's a long story! Bob


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

You have lived quite a full life. This episode had me on the edge of my seat. I always love your writing and this one is no exception, it is great. Thank you for sharing this.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks Bobbi. I tried to remember all the details without making a meal of it. Bob


Garnetbird 5 years ago

Wow..what a story--refreshing!


diogenes 5 years ago

Hi Garnetbird, long time no see. Thanks for the kind comment....Bob


Baileybear 5 years ago

we watched many 'lost' boats float down the river - we were due to fly out to NZ 2 days after the floods, and decided to go a day early in case we couldn't get to airport. We made it. The bridge closed because they were afraid a 300 tonne walkway was going to slam into it - a little tug steered it thru


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Terrible for you over there. I lived in Brisbane for a year or so and loved it, although it was a bit on the humid side. The shrimps and sea food there were exceptional, so fresh and cheap back then. Used to eat in the Breakfast Creek Hotel a couple of nights per week, they had a marvellous do-it-yourself-steak and fixings. Good days...Bob

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working