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Offshore fishing with three men in a boat

Updated on March 15, 2013

The Naughty Lass fell a bit short on sea-worthiness

Welcome to Offshore Fishing and Three Men in a Boat, a real-event happening, one of those situations you can only laugh at when you're once again safely onshore.

I only went out in Mac's boat once- shortly after that it sank at the wharf- marine borers, I think. Mac's fishing boat leaked so badly that you could drain it very quickly by simply hanging it up and letting the water run out through the gaps in its planks.

Now, even in the 1960s you couldn't buy much of a boat for $500. Mac bought his for $100! The "Naughty Lass" was what they call a double-ended clinker-built 16 foot timber motor launch. She was of indeterminate years. But there was no doubt she was old. To her risk, she'd been modified, a top-heavy half-cabin which had the effect of making her roll in the smoothest of waters, had been added.

Heavy sea hazard - a top-heavy boat

This is not THE boat.  This one's in far too good a condition to even compare.  But the size is about right.
This is not THE boat. This one's in far too good a condition to even compare. But the size is about right.

A temperamental, single-cylinder petrol engine was only part of our woes

The Naughty Lass's engine was what nautical types call a "one-lunger,' meaning she sported a single cylinder petrol engine. This had to be started by wrapping a leather belt around the fly-wheel and giving it an energetic tug. This engine was temperamental and, at crucial times, difficult to start. Quite frankly, I've seen more powerful motors mowing grass in Sydney's suburban gardens.

The Naughty Lass had about as much speed as Captain Bligh's Bounty with most of her sails furled.

Safety gear? I don't think Mac had heard the term. We did carry a home-made bilge pump. A sort of T-shaped thing which you pumped like a bicycle pump. Oh, and we had this long spear thing- a boat hook. I think Mac called it a gaff. No, not a mistake - a gaff for hooking fish.

Our main cargo: six large bottles of fine ale

Well, I've never fished much. First time I went I caught a sole. Yes, it had a canvas upper and was about a size eight. Someone had already stolen the laces. Next time I caught an old boot - the boot of a fully submerged FJ Holden dumped in the Hawkesbury River. Have you ever had a flounder? Try falling off a small boat... I think you get the message. I was no angler.

Our cargo on the Naughty Lass that day comprised, hand-reels and line, hooks, bait, and a half-dozen large bottles of KB Lager.

Anyway, with Mac at the tiller, Alan, a very dark-skinned Indian from East Africa, and yours truly chugged out of Kogorah Bay, Sydney. Tom Ugly's Bridge lay to our right. The Captain Cook Bridge was still a blue-print on a public servant's desk in those days. We chugged across Botany Bay, out through the heads about half a mile and let go the anchor.

Botany Heads, just south of Sydney Harbour

Botany Heads on a very calm day.  Note: there are an awful lot of very sharp, oyster-sheel covered rocks.   Not a good place to try to climb ashore
Botany Heads on a very calm day. Note: there are an awful lot of very sharp, oyster-sheel covered rocks. Not a good place to try to climb ashore

Our anchor line was hopelessly inadequate

The anchor on its 30 feet of rope didn't even touch the bottom, so we drifted. It was a fine day, slight breeze, a fairly smooth sea- except for the long, rolling swell coming in from the Southeast.

We burley'd. That's like chucking a bucket-load of rotten old prawn heads, fish guts and the like over the side to attract fish. It's supposed to bring 'em to the boat.

Now the Naughty Lass was okay heading into a sea. Or even running from one. But as we drifted we turned side on to that big swell. The top-heavy boat rolled, dipping a gunwale partly under, and we had a foot of water in the bilges. I started to pump. Hardly had we lowered the water an inch or two when another wave swept over.

We never heard any 'Jaws' theme music

Time to start the motor. Mac turned on the petrol, tickled the carby, then placed the starting-belt around the fly-wheel and pulled. Nothing. He did it again- nothing.

By now we had drifted inshore. We suddenly became aware of the sound of waves crashing on the shell-encrusted rocks of Cape Banks. The sound got louder. Still we couldn't start that wretched motor.

We didn't hear any Jaws Music. I became aware of the situation when I looked at our East African friend, Alan's eyes. All I could see were their whites. He was as scared as a cat in a dog pound!

We never heard 'The Jaws Music.'

Biggest dorsal fin I'd ever seen
Biggest dorsal fin I'd ever seen

Tiger shark ...and a big one

Now eyes convey a lot. I followed where Alan was looking. I could not help but see. A huge, tall, triangular dorsal fin swept by the side of the boat. The fin was so high it was not only higher than our gunwale, it actually seemed to lean over a bit at its tip.

A tiger shark! It looked so wide it must had been three feet between the eyes! We could look right down on it. It seemed every bit as long as our 16 foot boat. Well...

Worse. With all of us looking down over the same side as the shark, as it dived below us, even more water slopped over the side into our boat. My arm was falling off from all the pumping and Mac still hadn't managed to start the motor. Both of us, I might add, were getting 'eye-ball infection' from the look on Alan's face. He was terrified!

A swell pounds the rocks.   Any closer in and we'd have been able to feel the spray.
A swell pounds the rocks. Any closer in and we'd have been able to feel the spray.

Any closer in we would have felt the spray

By now the sounds of the surf breaking near the rocky entrance to Botany Bay had become a boom. We could see the spray. We were barely 200 yards out.   This wasn't good...

Now, I know Mac's a good man in a crisis. He simply said, "Well, Alan, I know Tom can swim. And I can. I hope you can swim Alan. Because when we get ithat water that shark is going to be quite pacey. Yeah, I hope you can swim fast... "

Just then, the motor coughed, spluttered- and started. She'd fired in the nick of time. One more big, incoming swell and we'd have been trying to scramble onto those rocks as the Naughty Lass was dashed to match-wood.

Inside Botany Heads and around the corner it was...ah...bliss

We didn't get a single bite that day.

Well, with this big Noah's Ark - tiger shark - around we came back inside the heads into the smoother waters of Botany Bay. As it was, on that fishing trip we never got a bite...We're sort of glad about that.

I hope you enjoyed Offshore Fishing with Three Men in a Boat.

Keep smiling,

Tom

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