Tuesday, 11 September 2001 00:00

"Gees you've got a good job Trev"

By Trevor Jackson - Esperance Star

Most times when I hear this, which is about three times an hour, I have to agree. But there are always days in any profession that you'd rather be home in bed waiting for the end. Mine is no exception. A couple of winters ago, in the throws of a stonking westerly wind on the eastern side of Moreton Island, such a day occurred.

Apart from the thirty odd knots of breeze coming off the beach a few miles away, conditions weren't at all bad. The Island obviously got in the way of all the big waves and because we were so close to the shore we only had to deal with a couple of feet of surface chop. Viz. was typical Brisbane winter stuff, 25 to 30, and everyone on board was having plenty of fun. We lifted the anchor at Cherubs Cave, a dive site about halfway down the length of the island and set course for ‘China Wall' a few miles to our north. The forecast of strong winds had typically kept most boats at home in the garage but there was one boat which appeared to be anchored near the intended site as we closed the gap. As it turned out he was about 60 or 70 metres further north than where we wanted to go so we dropped the pick and started to prepare lunch. The dive wasn't for another hour or so. A couple of minutes later we began to hear some verbal abuse above the hum of the breeze. "WHY DONT YA F**K OFF AND FIND YA OWN F**KIN' SPOT YA F**KIN' PRICK!!!"

There is a standing order amongst the crew of ES that they don't give any response to ‘Weekend Warriors' throwing insults at us. It does happen on occasion, especially at places like Curtin Artificial Reef on a Sunday afternoon, when some boaties have had the odd beverage and resent the arrival of a boatload of divers who are about to ‘scare away the fish'. But this gentleman at China Wall was really getting bothered, "YA'VE GOT A WHOLE F**KIN' OCEAN AND YA F**KIN' DROP YA F**KIN' PICK RIGHT HERE YA C**T!!!"

This guy was beginning to get on my tits and crewman Shane McKellar was begging me to let him get his orange cannon out and let the idiot have a couple of speeding Valencia's across the bows. As is the lot of Charter Boat skippers, I had to dissuade Shane from his violent tendencies and we decided that in the interests of pleasantness we'd pick up the anchor and shuffle down the wall a hundred metres or so, out of earshot and orange canon range. [Well not really, Shane's orange cannon shot a Potato across the Brisbane River once, from Pinkenba to Hemmant, a range of about 600 metres.] Shane stood on the bow and guided my steering as we got the anchor aweigh, letting me know in which direction the chain lay so I could keep the tension off the winch. Throughout a further tirade of abuse it all went swimmingly and I idled to the south and re-anchored. Lunch preparations were continued and calm was restored, for a few minutes at least.

No sooner had the tempers settled when one of the passengers yelled down from the flybridge deck that the boatie had upped anchor himself to come pay us a little visit. I went out to see what was up. The guy was screaming his lungs out, clutching a severed anchor rope, claiming that we had "CUT ME F**KIN' ANCHOR OFF ON PURPOSE!!!! YA PRICK!!". I quietly and politely informed him that we had come no where near him, his boat or his anchor and that a combination of the high winds and solid granite seafloor had no doubt caused his loss. "BULLSHIT YA WANKER, I SAW YA DECKY GUIDING YA ONTO MY ROPE". He was of course referring to Shane guiding me onto my own chain, but I continued in the face of idiocy to try to explain that at no time had we come within 50 metres of his ground tackle. With that I saw no point in continuing and went back inside, closing the door behind me.

CRACK!!!!!!! The first sinker bounced off the front windows. CRACK CRACK CRACK, it was like small arms practice. At first I couldn't believe what I was witnessing, then I couldn't believe he wouldn't stop. One of the top deck windows imploded and it was obvious we weren't dealing with a rational person. And we weren't dealing with normal sized sinkers either, these were big one pounders, about a third of the mass of a normal dive weight and they were getting pelted with more than a little bit of vigor. We were sitting ducks. I knew that if we went out and ‘returned fire' it would be more trouble than it was worth so I decided to call the water police. Trouble was I didn't know which channel they were on so I called the local coastguard and asked them. Half the east coast of Queensland heard me ask for the police channel so they also promptly tuned in to hear what was going on. As I was trying to explain what was happening a couple of big sinkers hit the front windows and another one imploded. The cop asked me, 'What was that'. I said, 'That was another sinker going through another window', I then thought, 'Haven't you been bloody listening'.

The cops were beginning to take the matter seriously but they were too far away to be able to do anything about stopping the attack. They told me I'd just have to grin and bear it and wait for him to stop. In the meantime they suggested I take down the details of the boat. I didn't have to bother with that, as some of the passengers were busy taking photos of all the action and having a great old time dodging sinkers and calling the guy a wanker.

Things were soon to turn from the surreal to the ugly. One of the female passengers was standing in front of a glass sliding window when a sinker hit it and smashed in on her. She was covered in glass and screaming blue murder, clutching her face, blood on her hands. Enough was enough. The cops had told me to just wear it but it had become dangerous. I raced out on to the front deck, grabbed an iron bar that we use to release the anchor winch brake and hurled it like a madman at the runabout. The sight of that bar boomeranging through the air shocked the madman into some type of frenzy. The bar bounced off the side of his boat and he actually had the gall to start bitching about it. He saw this an excuse to throw more sinkers. I yelled to Shane to go and get the rifle from underneath the dining room seats [this was purely theatrical, I had no bullets] and the guy got the message that we weren't just gonna take it anymore. He hit the throttle and disappeared to the south. All was quiet.

It was time to survey the damage. First and foremost was the girl who had been hit with all the glass. She only had minor cuts but was spinning out a bit. The rest of the cast and crew were ok, if a little shaken, and the boat had five broken windows, paintwork damage and a missing iron bar. Shane was ranting and raving and reckoned his orange cannon would have sorted things out straight away. I reminded him that his cannon had already got him in plenty of trouble with the law and he should calm down and make some tea. We made our way straight into port and the police were contacted again, they were to meet us to survey the damage and discuss the incident. The crime scene squad was at the jetty and took photos and statements. We had collected 27 sinkers off the decks, and plenty had bounced into the water at the time. The attack had lasted about 12 minutes.

About a month later the police rang me again to say the guy was about to go to court over the incident. His lawyer had told him that if had paid for the damage prior to the incident then the judge was likely to go lightly on him, and the police wanted a quote for the damage. We had fixed it ourselves at a cost of about $750. I had a mate of mine who fixed boats up for a living write me out a proper quote, and I told him to ‘spare no expense'. My mates quote was for three grand. I gave it to the cops. Obviously I expected resistance to the quote, and it soon came. The guy's lawyer rang me and said that the quote was outrageous! I told the lawyer that I didn't give a rats arse about whether the guy paid the quote before or after the trial. I went on to remind him that civil proceedings could possibly follow, both from me and from the injured passenger. I asked him what he knew about maritime law, and informed him that attacking a passenger ship on the high seas was the legal equivalent of high-jacking a passenger plane and that although it wasn't a serious incident, the guy could easily expect a stay courtesy of her majesty. A cheque came in the mail a few days later for the quoted amount.

In court the judge was just as unfriendly. The guy had a history of temper related incidents, and the judge wasn't in a good mood. He was ordered to pay the damage to the boat, refund the charter price to both the dive shop, and me, also copping a $5000 fine for good measure. I never heard anything more about it until a few months ago. A small timber cruiser called ‘Just Cruisin' had disappeared of the coast and no sign had been found. The ES had been up at Heron Island for a couple of trips and on the way back to Brisbane we came across some flotsam. We phoned the water police and it turned out to be from the lost cruiser. She was found a few hundred metres away from the flotsam position the very next day. The four men on board were not found. The police with whom I was dealing remembered me from the sinker incident and filled me in on our mate's latest activities. He had been involved in a few dramas, but the latest one had involved and old man in a tinny with his two grandsons. Seems they to anchored too close to his boat, this time at Curtin Artificial Reef. Our friend had driven up beside them and bucketed water into the tinny until it sank. When some other boat went for help he tried to ram it without rendering assistance to the old man and his two young companions he had left in the water. The cops were happy to tell me he got 18 months for this and a few other charges. All I can day to that is, stiff shit, you wanker!!!!