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On The Water Little Things Can Mean A Whole Lot Of Danger

Trouble is often just a nuisance, but the line between a damn nuisance and a deadly dilemma can be very thin indeed on the water.

A case in point.

There I was over the summer break, in the tiny tinny (Kiwi speak for an aluminium dinghy) on Lake Otamangakau, (near Taupo in central North Island NZ). I had caught a seriously good brown trout and a good rainbow, but things had gone a tad quiet.

I took off my Polaroid's, and put on my reading glasses to tie on a new nymph to the end of the 6m (18') leader. That job done I took off my reading glasses.

There was - as is pretty much usual up on the big 'O' - a stiffish wind of over 15 knots blowing from behind as I prepared to cast. Up till now the wind had not posed too many problems, despite the long leader I was using, so I heaved away.

I felt and heard the line hit my hat, followed in very quick order by a thud just under my eye.

I feared the worst and I got confirmation by opening my eyes - the nymph was in plain view attached to my face just near my eye. In fact the nymph was embedded in the lower eyelid - a few millimetres higher and it could have found my eyeball.

Very lucky, but very silly.

All I had to do was put my Polaroid's back on before casting. A little thing to remember - the potential to become a big nasty-thing when forgotten.

Using the old loop around the bend of the hook, a press down on the eye, and a yank on the loop, stupidity cure, with the help of a nearby Guide, Graeme Dean, we soon removed the hook with little drama - but it set me to thinking about how easily disaster can happen.

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Like the time I was out doing a boat test in a 43 foot launch. We got caught out at Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, off Auckland NZ as Cyclone Bola rolled in. Very nasty it was too.

 After a few days sitting in Port Fitzroy the weather broke for a day and we set off for home at full flank-speed. Halfway home - and not too far away from the Noisies Islands and its attendant rocks - one engine died, closely followed by the other. Couple this with the fact that the wind had decided to get nasty again and things were looking a more than a little bit perilous.

The boat in question

Now I knew there was plenty of diesel, That, along with everything else on the boat, had been thoroughly checked.

Everything checked?

Well, everything except one little thing. There was a balance valve between the two diesel tanks on each side of the boat. When open this allowed diesel to balance itself out and keep weight distribution even.

I had not checked that the valve was open so all the fuel was drained from one tank and both motors died. On the big Detroit donkeys in the Mariner, bleeding the fuel lines is usually the only way to get fuel going again.

But once we discovered the balance valve mistake and got access to the fuel in the port tank, we were lucky enough to get the port engine going without bleeding and we rock and rolled home on one engine.

Silly little oversight - could have got us into seriously big trouble.

Getting into trouble is not too difficult on the water - in fact it can be surprisingly easy.

Most times the trouble is just that - some trouble, but the line between a bloody nuisance and a deadly dilemma can be very thin indeed. Try these little mistakes on for size.

You and some mates take off early morning to head to the place you told those at home you were going to launch the boat. But on the way you decide to head forty or so kilometres North of that launching site, and head North once launched.

At five in the afternoon when you said you would be home, those at home start looking at the clock, by seven o'clock they are seriously worried and ring the Police. By nine o'clock aware of the fact that you are always home on time, or have phoned in with a new ETA, the Police call in Search and Rescue.

What nobody knows is that you forgot to ring in with your new destination. They also don't know that at ten o'clock that morning your motor packed it in and you could not get the anchor to hold in the current and wind that was blowing you out to sea at a good clip.

They also did not know you flattened your batteries trying to restart your motor, because you don't have a separate one to run radio, sounder and such. You were going to get round to that little job, but...

The search and rescue people do not know where to start looking, because a check at the boat ramp where you said you where going to launch shows no sign of your car. It is not till three o'clock the next day before someone reports your car and trailer at the boat ramp where you really did launch.

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Now the search can begin in earnest, but in those strong off-shore winds and tides and after more than 35 hours since you started drifting.... good luck! There is a little chance they will find you - surely?

Another time, place and faces. There you are in your tinny, parked off a very steep rock face having a ball. The weather is great; well it was up till about a half-hour ago when the wind began to blow on-shore.

This wind, coupled with the big swell that has been pounding the rocks all day, starts to make things nasty. So nasty in fact that all the boats that were in the nearby area have headed for home.

You finally decide it is time to go and pull up anchor. Then you reach out to start the motor.

It is such a little mistake isn't it, besides the motor has always started first pull - until today.

It is too late to drop the anchor now, by the time it hits the bottom, and even if it grips, the angle of the rope will still see you on the rocks.....good luck! (Actually this little story is way too close to home to be comfortable.)

And of course you always check the bungs are in - I mean actually check they are screwed up tight don't you?

It is not easy to tell that the bungs are out till you have motored out to spot 'X'; well out to sea or in the lake. Then you anchor up or drift for an hour or so and it is not till someone notices that the water is awfully near the gunwales that the awful truth begins to dawn. At that point the crew all rush down to the stern to check the bungs, the stern under the weight of the crew, and the surge of water inside the hull ducks under just as a swell rears up.

Hope everyone can swim. (Actually this story is far too close to home to be anything like comfortable.)

It is all too easy to become blasé about safety on the water, getting the big things right is relatively easy. But all to often it is the little things that get you - it is not what you don't know that gets you, it is what you don't know you don't know.

What I do know is that in over sixty years of fishing I have
yet to find a fish worth dying for!


Article written by Tony Bishop (Bish)

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