TIN Can Bay fisherman Kevin Lee knew there was a big wave out there somewhere as his fishing boat Faysea G pushed its way through atrocious weather and almost total darkness near East Timor.
Kevin knew he had found that big wave when a huge breaker, riding up on the back of another big swell, smashed in the wheelhouse windows, six or seven metres above the waterline on the boat's third level.
In a second, the vessel's upper deck was flooded, the electrics shorted out, fires started inside one wall and circuit breakers cut out the lights and instruments.
“It took out all the electrics. All we had left was the GPS and auto pilot,” Kevin said this week.
Mysteriously, it had the opposite effect on his mobile phone, which had been malfunctioning but which suddenly started working again in the chaos of the wheelhouse.
“The boys thought it was raining downstairs. Water was just pouring down from the top to the bottom deck.
“We lost the 24v and the 240v circuits but we had to get some things back on just to keep going.
“We had to bolt to the engine room and get the generator out.”
Meanwhile, back in Tin Can Bay, Kevin's brother Peter, who was tracking the vessel via satellite, knew something was wrong.
“He knew we were in trouble by the way we'd turned around to go with the sea while we boarded up the smashed windows,” Kevin said.
“We had to get the broken glass out, sealastic a board across the windows, then bolt those to another board inside and tighten it up. Then more sealastic,” he said.
After a season of prawning in Indonesia and a refit, the return trip had been uneventful, except for Kevin's failed attempts to hold down food after picking up a stomach bug in Djakarta.
“From Djakarta to Bundaberg 25 days later, I couldn't eat. I lost about nine or 10kg and ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks.”
Things turned rough as the vessel motored past Timor.
“The sea was flat all the way to East Timor but right from there to Australia we just got smashed.
“It was a hell trip,” he said.
“Hell” was made even worse for Kevin, who had to spend a lot of his time in the cramped and smelly confines of the engine room.
“I'm the skipper/engineer and I had work to do on the engine, even if I was throwing up,” he explained.
Not to mention getting tossed around by the ocean.
“I don't get seasick, not for years, but it was not pleasant,” he said.
Kevin was taking a break in the wheelhouse, extracting what sustenance he could from a hot cup of tea and enjoying being above decks (bad weather or not), when near-disaster came calling.
“I was thinking, gee that's a big wave. We're riding up it and I'm willing the boat to keep moving up. It's midnight, so we couldn't see much.
“Then I saw this second wave breaking on the back of it. Three seconds later it came through and - boom!
“Don't call it a 'freak wave'. I'm not a believer in freak waves. If you're in a bad sea, there's a bad wave coming, just be ready for it.
“I've been doing it all my life and we've got a good crew. No-one freaked out. I would have hated to be in it with people who didn't know what they were doing.
“Mates of mine who know the boat couldn't believe we were in a sea so big we'd blown the windows in - and they're seamen.
“But it won't happen again. We've got 11mm glass across the front now.
“If we hit something that blows that out, I don't want to be on board!”
Kevin was fueling up the Faysea G at his family's Lee Fishing Company headquarters at Snapper Creek, getting ready for the scallop season, not so far away this time, off Bundaberg.
He's hoping for good weather.