Family tells of fight to survive

By JURIS GRANEY FOR close on 25 years Charlie Picton scoured the eastern seaboard for the perfect trawling grounds.

"He was always last over the bar," his eldest brother Peter said. "He wasn't scared of the ocean."

But the ocean he loved so much eventually claimed his life.

Sitting in their Yamba home, the Pictons spoke yesterday for the first time about the last voyage of the Sea Rogue.

"He grabbed a bag of clothes and said that he would be home when he ran out of ice, which was Thursday," his mother, Robina Picton said, sipping a glass of water.

Charlie left Yamba around lunchtime on Monday, February 25, and powered the Sea Rogue with deckhands Michael Williams and John Jarrett (JJ) for six hours to reach his favourite trawling grounds off Byron Bay.

That night they had planned to do two short test shots in close before steaming out to a place called the 36er, and then on to a spot called the Slide.

"At the bottom end of the shot he was turning to trawl back," Peter explained. In the process of turning the nets hooked on something.

"With the vessel side on to the swell, it rolled over sideways, flipping upside down.

"In complete darkness the panicked men sought any flotsam they could find.

"Charlie took on a fair bit of sea water in the accident, and because of his health he wasn't strong."

The 39-year-old had been battling cancer, had undergone chemotherapy and was in remission.

The three stayed together until daylight before Michael Williams began his marathon 10-hour swim to shore to raise the alarm.

"They (Charlie and JJ) talked throughout the day about their families and kids," Peter said.

"They made a pact that if one of them passed away they would let each other go."

The pair swapped messages to their respective families. At 9pm Charlie died from hypothermia. JJ held on to him for up to four hours.

The Pictons are now trying to seek some closure, but are finding it hard without a body.

"I'm still waiting for him to come back," Charlie's brother admitted. "If he doesn't then I am of the opinion that he has gone back to his boat."

And if his body is found, the family know exactly what Charlie wanted.

"I remember talking to him one day. He was lying on the couch and he started talking about cancer," his father said.

"He said to me that if it beat him, he made me promise that we would scatter his ashes from the end of the south wall back towards Lovers Point. It's called Desperation Bay. "That is why we would like a body," he said.

A service will be held on Friday at St James Catholic Church in Yamba, starting at 11am. The family requests those attending not to bring flowers, instead they will collect money to donate to the Brunswick and Byron Bay Coastguard.

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