RELIEVED: Spanner crab fisherman Graham Smith is grateful to all those who helped in his rescue.
RELIEVED: Spanner crab fisherman Graham Smith is grateful to all those who helped in his rescue. Marc Stapelberg

Fisherman tells how he clung to Esky to save his life

A SHARK attack was the last thing on Graham Smith's mind as he clung to an Esky after fishing boat Nancy Joy capsized when it took on water off Lennox Head on Tuesday.

The professional fisherman of 42 years said he was more concerned about going missing like his friend, Michael Endres, whose unoccupied boat Julie was found off Evans Head on Saturday.

"Sharks didn't really bother me, but I thought about Mick a couple of times, and I thought I don't want to meet him yet," Mr Smith said.

Fortunately for Mr Smith, sharks in the waters where Paul Wilcox was fatally attacked last week kept their distance, as four commercial fishing boats joined in the search.

Mr Smith said they were hauling in the last of their spanner crab traps when deckhand Nicholas Slack noticed the 7.5m aluminium twin-hull commercial fishing boat taking on water.

"Within seconds, waves started coming over the side of the boat because it was pretty choppy."

Unable to start both outboards to stabilise the boat and with the bilge pump not clearing water, Mr Smith said the next thing he knew he was in the water, grabbing for an Esky to stay afloat, as Nicholas scrambled onto the Nancy Joy's hull.

"I thought if I stay here clinging to the Esky lid I might be able to paddle to the boat, but I soon realised the boat was moving away faster than I was paddling."

Conserving energy as daylight faded, Mr Smith said over the next three hours he got colder and colder as he waited, confident of being rescued.

"I looked up and here was a boat about 50 metres from me that started to turn."

Ironically, Mr Smith was in the sights of Gary and Steve Bordin on commercial fishing boat Nine Lives.

"I started waving my old straw hat that I'd kept on and gave a yell out and they spotted me and came and got me."

About $1600 worth of spanner crabs, plus equipment was lost in the incident.

Mr Smith and Nancy Joy owner John Milne said they couldn't thank their fellow fishermen enough for saving their lives.

"I gave Gary a big hug when I got on board to say thanks," Mr Smith said.

"I went and bought Gary and Steve a Lotto ticket so I hope they have some luck in this weekend's $20 million draw."

As for continuing his fishing career, Mr Smith said he was still keen, but his wife Jannene had serious concerns.

Mr Milne reported the Nancy Joy missing to his insurance company. It is fitted with foam in the hull to prevent sinking,



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