THE LEGEND OF DICK
I was running a skippers ticket course in Busselton recently when we had some particularly nasty weather. The clients were apprehensive about doing the practical, so to put a positive spin on the session, I talked up two good aspects to these conditions. Firstly, you learn a hell of a lot more about boat handling in poor conditions and secondly, there should be no other idiot on the water for them to worry about. As I said this, with the rain pelting down, one client points towards the ramp, asking me could I please explain why there was an idiot about to launch a boat. I recognised the skipper and immediately replied that this was no idiot, but Dick Gray teaching his 14 year old grandson how to drive a boat, because the young fellow was in my course the next day. And the memories came flooding back.
For those of you who have fished, surfed, swum, dived or just visited Gracetown back in the day, during the 80’s and 90’s, you may have noticed a 60ft cray boat moored in Cowaramup Bay. At around 4am each morning, Richard Gray ( Dick ) would be at the helm and depending on the conditions, would return around lunchtime, deal with the catch and then proceed to work into the evening at The Esplanade Hotel, which he owned. Dick was one of those guys who never said a lot, but when he did, you paid attention. So over the years we came to chat and I remember telling him one afternoon that a particularly big swell was due the next day. This was the beginning of internet weather predictions and I was keen to surf epic North Point at dawn. Dick didn’t seem too perturbed and sure enough when I paddled out the next morning before first light, he had already left the Bay. As the morning progressed, the swell increased dramatically, with a close out set eventually washing me in. As I made my way to the boat ramp I noticed Dick’s 60ft cray boat, behind the breakers. Picture a stiff offshore breeze spreading the bride’s veil ( as my wife Viv likes to describe it ), the rising sun just above the horizon, a hungry pack or surfers and 5 metre swell. It would have posed a daunting prospect for Dick to negotiate the channel. Once he was committed, there was no turning back and it was like the parting of the Red Sea with surfers scrambled to get out of the way. The sound of the diesel engines could be heard above the crashing waves and I will never forget the image of Dick coming in on the back of a huge close out set. The wave closed out, as did the one behind, but he held his position perfectly on the back. I waited at the boat ramp for the debrief and with three foot waves breaking there, it was impossible to retrieve on the trailer, so they just dragged the tender up the concrete ramp and dry winched it. When I finally got to chat, Dick dryly asked me how I knew the swell was coming, as he had lost quite a few pots that day. I explained the new technology, so he immediately purchased a computer and I soon visited him at Busselton to share the weather sites. Sometime later, on our way out fishing, Dick waved me across to his boat, handed over a piece of paper with GPS coordinates and so off me and Simon James went, landing four Dhuies that day. Legend!