In Dave Dawson’s book Salt of the Sea – Tales from Commercial Fishermen, Vicki remembers good times and bad chasing tuna off the Australian coast

Vicki Burnett recalls “The Barcoola was built at Caloundra in 1978. She had rolled over for one of the previous owners off Yeppoon while going to save a yacht that was being blown onto the beach in a cyclone. It’s a sad story – a couple of people were killed in the rescue attempt. The Barcoola had just returned to port before the blow came in. She had unloaded all her scallops and was almost completely out of fuel when a policeman and the harbour master commandeered her to attempt to rescue the yacht. Crossing the river mouth, light as a feather with no fuel or payload, she was hit side-on by a big sea and rolled. The policeman and harbour master drowned. With the two fishermen still aboard, Barcoola washed up onto the beach alongside the wrecked yacht. The next morning, the old bloke who owned her went down to the beach to see her sitting high and dry. As he was dealing with this, his insurance company called to advise they wouldn’t pay out because there was no written confirmation police had commandeered her. Word has it the owner then had a massive heart attack and died right on the beach! A country and western singer put out a record entitled The Night the Barcoola Went Down.”

Pic 61 - Looking haed - photo by Baron

The Barcoola was dragged off the beach, repaired, then worked out of Mackay and the Gulf of Carpentaria for about 18 years before Terry and Vicki purchased her. She was 60ft, just on 18m, a big boat back in those days. Vicki says, “She was our baby, our pride and joy. Such a bloody good boat! We had her fully sandblasted inside and out, everything was perfect. We spent a fortune getting her that way, but five years after we bought her, she rolled over while scallop fishing”.

deckie pulling nets on (1 of 1)

Terry takes over, “We were fi shing on our own, with no other boats around, 25 miles due east of Bustard Head in about 40m of water. Trawling the bottom, we caught a massive obstruction in our middle net. I don’t know what it was, maybe a sunken yacht or a shipping container that our nets and warp wires had tangled up around. We spent hours trying to free ourselves, even bouncing the net along the bottom. We were winching from one of the booms, all the weight on one side of the boat, when suddenly the trawl wire snapped and before we knew it, we were in the water. She had turned turtle on us.

Pic 62 – Spilling the bag – photo by Baron

“The decky and I were unhurt and hung onto the upturned hull. It was a moonless night, so it was tricky trying to figure out where the life raft was. Everything was upside-down and all the lights had gone out. We took turns diving for the life raft. At around 1am, about five hours after she rolled, we saw another trawler. He was so close we could see men working under lights on the back deck. The sea was pretty calm and my decky was tempted to swim towards the trawler, but I persuaded him not to. It took us nearly 20 dives, but eventually we managed to retrieve the raft. We sat in it with a painter tied off to Barcoola’s handrail, set the EPIRB off and before long a helicopter was hovering above. We cracked open cyalume light sticks and formed them into letters spelling ‘OK’. The helicopter and a light plane from Keppel Island took turns flying over us all night and a coastguard boat picked us up in the morning. It was the middle of summer, really hot and humid, and when the boat rolled we’d only been wearing jocks, so we were relieved, but just a tad embarrassed when we were picked up!

trawler sunrise (1 of 1)

We were going to refloat the Barcoola, but she sank to the bottom a couple of days later and has been there ever since.” Vicki chimes in, “Early that morning, I received the dreaded phone call no fisherman’s wife ever wants to get. Terry was phoning from the police station in Gladstone. ‘We rolled the old girl over,’ he said. It didn’t sink in. ‘We rolled the boat over’, he repeated. I ran up the hall screaming, ‘Argh, Dad rolled the boat over!’ Our two daughters started crying, ‘Dad’s dead!’ ‘No!’ I said, ‘he’s on the phone! He’s ok, he just rolled the boat’.”

Terry says with a smile, “Nine years after she sank, a guy dived on the Barcoola and found a few things in the wheelhouse, including my driver’s licence. He tracked us down and returned it. It’s a deep dive, only for experienced divers, but among the diving fraternity it is considered a five-star dive site.”


Dave Dawson has chronicled some captivating yarns in a cool coffee table book

Salt of the Sea – Tales from Commercial Fishermen

It’s a great gift for any salty friend – particularly one that’s worked in the commercial fishing industry.

RRP $50 from www.saltofthesea.com.au