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Keppel Bay Fishing
"Good news. We can get you back to Miles."
This was a bad dream. After six months of my promotional course, we were being allocated to depots, and this was what I was being told. I desperately explained my wishes to be sent to the Sunshine Coast.
"No. There are no positions available on the Sunshine Coast. There are positions available at Mackay, Sarina, and Rockhampton."
This was more like it. None of them was the Sunshine Coast, but at least they were all near the beach, albeit hundreds of miles north. I picked Rockhampton. As a city, it was the furtherest from the beach, but it was the closest to our families for visits. Also a very good friend whom I had worked with in Miles had moved there a few years earlier, and he had built a boat.
|Emu Park's Singing Ship|
"Brink, do you want to come fishing"? he asked not long after we caught up again.
"Fishing! I remember you and your fishing, and the last boat you built."
Police and fisheries persons can skip this paragraph. There was a creek flowing near Miles. I had been invited by my friend to climb into his boat, and help place a net across the creek. I use the term boat lightly. It was a bathtub sized and punt shaped pine frame with tin wrapped around it. The tin was screwed to the frame, and the edges of the tin were soldered together. We had oars of sorts, but they did not help with getting the protruding screw heads from entangling the net. And nothing helped the fact that I was lightly dressed on a winter's night with the temperature at about 5 degrees Celsius.
"Sure. Love to," I replied.
This was a much better boat. It was still wood, but covered in fibreglass instead of tin, because we were going in the ocean.
|Camping on GKI|
"Here Brink. You can borrow this rod."
"What. No net?"
"No. Not this time. We're going to do proper fishing."
We were off. The boat was a twenty-foot Hartley designed half-cabin, with a 135HP outboard engine. We were at the 'spot' in less than fifteen minutes. I had never heard of mackerel. We caught a shipload.
"Why hadn't somebody told me about this before?"
We soon moved to live at the town of Emu Park, right on the beach. Phil and I went fishing in his boat just about every weekend until he and his wife Beth moved closer to her family about ten years later. When we first went out that day we only had to travel about five miles to catch fish. Fifteen years later, and I was then fishing with another mate on a twenty-six foot shark-cat, and travelling fifty miles out to sea to catch fish. Such was the increase in the population of fishermen, and the decrease in the population of fish in that time.
|Main Beach GKI|
It was during this time that I learnt some navigation. Technically speaking for the purists it was mainly piloting, because navigation is what you do when out of sight of land. Piloting is when within sight of land. There were no GPSs or chart plotters then, and we didn't have radar. We had a paper chart, a hand held compass, and a Furuno depth sounder that gave us a paper read out. When we found a good spot we would take three bearings to land features, and then form a three cornered hat on the chart. Next time, when we got near one of our spots by taking compass fixes, we would then motor about with the depth sounder running until we found the exact spot. It's a bit different now. A GPS and autopilot will get you within a few metres of your spot, and the boat will do circles around it until you have finished your beer.
Old salts will say that most boating people today couldn't find their way back to the harbour without electronic instruments, and that real sailors don't need them. While it is nice to know that you can find your way home if your electronics fail, there are certain circumstances where GPS and radar are very handy; like fog.
Phil and I were about 14 miles north of Yeppoon, and 14 miles out from shore. Half way between the shore and us were two islands named Flat and Peaked. Peaked was more commonly known by locals as Perforated, for one obvious reason. It was full of holes. Quite often the holes were full of birds. Because of this Peaked Island was usually a guano white colour.
Also this day between the shore and us, the fog rolled in. Eventually we couldn't see much except the white of Peaked Island. We wanted to be south of Peaked so we motored on that compass heading. We didn't seem to be making much headway. Peaked Island was still abeam of us after about ten minutes. It was also getting closer. We realized we were piloting with a prawn trawler as a reference. Hmmm. We turned the boat to place the compass on west. We knew we would find Australia sooner or later.
Sir Francis Chichester's prowess as a navigator is embellished by this supposedly true story told about him. When an onlooker commented on the amount of gin being brought aboard his boat Sir Francis retorted, "Any damn fool can circumnavigate the world sober. It takes a real sailor to do it drunk."
During our time at Emu Park, Eileen and I had our own boat. We had built a house there before Phil and Beth moved from Gracemere to Yeppoon, a town very close to Emu Park. Gracemere was about an hours drive to the boat ramp. Yeppoon and Emu Park were only a few minutes. On weekends when Phil was too busy, I would look out over Keppel Bay and wish I were out there.
The promotion I received still involved a period of further training and annual pay increments. So, despite being on basically apprentices wages, and with a wife who was a full time mother to now two small children, and paying a mortgage, and with a car that was closer to vintage age than new, I decided we could afford our own boat. Eileen, who didn't like fish, either catching them or eating them, was not so sure. I bought a 16 foot bondwood half-cabin that just needed a bit of work. After ripping out most of the transom, several ribs and stringers, and replacing the dry rotted wood with new, I fibre glassed the entire hull and painted the entire boat. Come to think of it, I think I painted the cabin top with the same bright burnt orange paint with which I had painted the bike. The engine was a tired 35HP Evinrude.
Despite the undercapitalisation of Foxie 11, she proved reliable except for the first few trips when dirt in the fuel tank kept clogging up the filters. We fished out in the bay and used her to lay pots to catch mud crabs in nearby Coorooman Creek. Our most adventurous trip was when I loaded her with Eileen and the two boys and our German Shepherd dog and we went over to Great Keppel Island. We were going to sleep aboard. In the night a huge storm came up which frightened the kids and the dog. Eileen and I took them to friends who owned the campground. As the campground was still being established it was not yet profitable, so the owner's wife was working at the island resort. She snuck us, dog and all, into a room for the night.
We kept Foxie 11 for a couple of years before Phil and Beth moved to Yeppoon. Then it seemed pointless to have two boats so she was sold. Eileen and our bank manager were relieved.
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