When things go bang in the night – Grant Shorland reflects on the night his beloved Cubin’ went on the rocks.
I’ve used the Bastion Point boat ramp in Mallacoota more times than I’ve had hot showers. It’s not the safest ramp, but when treated with respect, I haven’t had any drama. All that changed one Saturday night in June. Three crewmen and I were returning from a sword-fishing mission off Everard Canyon. The weather was like piss on a plate, with a long swell period. On approach, at 8.30pm, I radioed and text messaged returned crews for a report on the conditions. “All clear, Gutsy!” was the response. Nevertheless, I ordered my first mate Matt Cassar, a qualified skipper and deckhand, to keep watch for waves up the rear as we entered the harbour. It’s our standard practice.
The call came from the back deck — “There’s one on us!” Before Matt had finished yelling, a six- to eight-foot wave came out of the dark to smack the Grady-White side-on. It was like being king hit in the front bar of the pub. She capsized instantly and I clambered out of the upturned hull. In the dim light of the channel markers and the (now underwater) deck lights, I could make out two of my crew bobbing about. Holy shit! Someone was missing. I kicked off my gumboots and Stormy jacket and yelled out for Jimmy. “I’m up the front,” he wailed from under the hull. He was trapped in the bow. The surging water pressure had smacked him out of the co-pilot’s seat and into the grab rail, knocking him unconscious before washing him into the bow. It must have been a shit-scary ride. You could hear the fear in his voice.
At this point, the stern started sinking and the bow lifted. The two crewmembers who had escaped could now stand on the rocks with their heads just above the water. They held the bow of the four-tonne Cubin’ above water while I ducked under, broke off the front hatch with my hands and squeezed into the hull. We tried and failed to pull him out of the hatch. I ordered him to get all his gear off, swam back down, grabbed him by the hair and pulled him out. Together we waded towards the rocks. Other fishermen and bystanders scurried down to give us a hand.
In all the commotion, it was hard to see where the rest of my crew was. The local police arrived shortly after and breath-tested me. Surprisingly to some, I was .00. We considered a salvage attempt, but it would’ve been too dangerous. That night, Cubin’ was pounded into the rocks. She would never sail again.
If you’re reading this, then you already know never to underestimate the sea. I reckon the more time you spend out there, the more likely something will go cactus. I’d like to thank the crew who helped us that night, cleaning up the mess and returning pieces of Cubin’. If someone finds my Cubin’ beanbag, I’d love it back — I’ll happily trade for a Cubin’ hoodie.
I’ll leave the final word to Don Bamford, a wise and witty bastard — “Only two sailors, in my experience, never ran aground. One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar.”
Words by Grant Shorland