I worked for six months on an abalone boat based at Shoreham on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne. It was my first deckhand job. I got the job through a Centrelink job agency.
This job was a lot of fun but also scary at times as the ocean is very unpredictable. Having a hearing impairment made no difference to my ability to pilot the boat. My boss explained to me that the 21- foot speedboat was virtually unsinkable, and I certainly tested his theory over those next six months.
Working as a deckhand on an abalone boat involved launching the vessel, piloting it to the fishing spot, and shelling the abalone once the diver floated them to the surface. The diver breathed through an air hose with an air compressor called a
hooker, which was on the back of the boat.
The abalone was attached to rocks found close to the shore. I needed to maintain the boat in position without chopping through the diver's air hose floating around the boat. I also needed to watch for sharks, freak waves, submerged reefs, and other dangers. On a very calm day this was easy but in rougher weather I became very
One day I was shelling abalone when I noticed a huge wave bearing down on the boat. We were very close to the rocks already and I realised I had to accelerate the boat directly at the wave or we would be bashed onto the cliffs behind us.
As I roared off towards the wave I had to chop the air hose with the propellers so that I wouldn't drag the diver along the coral under the water. When I hit the massive wave the boat became vertical and then airborne before slamming back down into the water. I then had to pilot the boat through another two freak waves before racing back in to check on the diver. He was bashed around and bruised but wasn't prepared to finish for the day.
Too risky for me
Other times I had to contend with seals chewing on the diver's air hose, the anchor chain breaking and storms appearing out of nowhere. The diver and the licence owner made a lot of money out of the abalone that were canned and then sent to Hong Kong. They were both prepared to take risks, as the profit was unbelievable. But as an inexperienced deckhand I was paid very little. I was assured that I would eventually get trained up as a diver. But occasions like the freak wave incident were so common that I decided the money wasn't worth it. After six months I gave notice.