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Wrong place at the wrong time

IT was a case of 'wrong spot, wrong time' for the prawn trawler Fleet Wing when unpredictable seas nearly reduced the boat to a sunken wreck.

Skipper Mathew Duncombe had no choice but to take a freak set of waves head on when he attempted to cross the Iluka Yamba bar on Saturday resulting in $100,000 worth of damage to the 25-year-old boat.

“The first wave hit and smashed two windows in the front wheel house and folded the others up to the roof.

“I turned straight around and copped two more up my rear; I thought we were going to roll.”

Mr Duncombe and his deckhand Glen Johnson walked away from the accident unscathed despite the wheel house becoming inundated with water and smashed glass.

“It all happened really fast, there was no time for conversation between us about what to do.” Mr Duncombe said.

The fisherman attributed the rogue wave on surges of fresh water coming down the river from the catchment area.

“It takes a day or so after heavy rain for water to come down.

“When the fresh and salt water converge, you can get some freakish waves,” he said

Mr Duncombe had checked conditions that morning before setting out on the fishing trip that was to take him to Tweed.

“I drove out and had a look earlier that morning and conditions looked all right.

“We hadn't been out for three weeks due to bad weather and boat maintenance, other boats had gone out that day and had managed to make it out OK.”

The young skipper has been driving boats since he was 17 and said this is the closest he's come to rolling.

“It's all a part of fishing and there's not much you can do,” a relaxed Duncombe said

Fleet Wing's owner was also philosophical about the incident.

“It's one of those freaky things to happen, the boys just reached the point of no return.”

The 53-foot trawler will now undergo major 'surgery' to repair its damaged wheelhouse at the harbour breakdown wharf in Iluka and will probably be out of action for about six weeks.

It was being tended to yesterday by a cabinet maker, a shipwright and an electrician, with damage to the engine still unknown.

For Mr Duncombe, all is not lost on the fishing front.

He's had the kind offer from trawler owners at Iluka to take out their boats until Fleet Wing finds its feet again.

“We free fell about 20 feet after that first wave hit the boat, I don't know how we didn't roll”



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