Durban - When Durban anglers Gareth Collingwood and Gary Clouws left home for a Durban Skiboat Club fishing competition early on April 26, neither could have expected the freakish chain of events that ended with their lying in a hospital’s intensive care unit.
Their day of sporting fun on the Indian Ocean turned into a nightmare when a blue marlin leapt out of the sea and skewered both of them to the back section of the ski boat Mduduze.
Speaking to The Mercury this week after being discharged from St Augustine’s Hospital, Clouws and Collingwood were still on painkillers and anti-inflammatory pills, four weeks after the marlin, estimated at 100kg, speared both men in their upper torsos, narrowly missing their hearts and lungs.
With the help of Mduduze skipper Marc Gieseler and crewmate Sean Theunissen, the two anglers have pieced together a joint account of the dramatic “smash” that also caused nearly R70 000 damage to the ski boat.
It all started at 11am about 12.5 nautical miles from Durban, when Gieseler hooked into what he first thought was a shark off eMdloti. The four anglers were not aiming to catch sharks or marlin, fishing instead with light tackle in the 10kg line class. As Gieseler fought the mystery fish beneath the water, his crewmates decided to follow the fish, retrieve some of the line and then break it off.
But then they spotted action about 200m away and soon afterwards a large silver fish broke the surface about 100m away, and they realised there was a blue marlin at the end of the line.
It broke out of the water twice, before slipping beneath the surface and turning towards the front of the boat.
Suddenly the powerful fish leapt out of the sea, directly in front of the prow.
As it hurtled downwards it bent the bow rails, smashed through the windscreen, destroyed the radio communications console – and then its sharp bill lanced the left upper torso of Collingwood as well as the upper left chest and shoulder of Clouws “in a sosatie-type effect”.
“Both crewmen had ducked to avoid the fish, and thankfully so, as they both narrowly escaped life-threatening injuries as both these puncture wounds were close to their heart and lung areas,” said Gieseler.
Both the anglers were pinned against the back motor roll bar over the side of the vessel.
“Gareth hung over the gunwale and it was then that I reached over and grabbed him to pull him out of the water as the fish disappeared over the back.
“It all happened so fast. The crashing noise, the screams and the groans were sickening,” he said.
“Sean and I quickly placed whatever clothing we could find over the wounds on Gareth’s and Gary’s chests, applying pressure to stem the bleeding. Then we laid them down and assessed the situation.”
The radio communication system had been smashed by the impact of the flying marlin, but Gieseler found a cellphone lying on the deck and contacted two nearby competition boats to tell them about the Mduduze’s position and desperate situation.
The steering console had also been damaged, and they decided to stay put as other vessels had notified the National Sea Rescue Institute of their co-ordinates.
“It felt like forever, but our friends and fellow fishermen kept us positive with the news that the NSRI and a Netcare 911 paramedic team had been dispatched and that help was on its way.”
When the NSRI rescue vessel was sighted, Gieseler and fellow anglers let off flares and smoke markers to confirm the exact position of the Mduduze.
The rescue team swiftly bandaged up the injured men and transferred them to the NSRI rescue vessel before they were taken to shore and then to hospital by ambulance.
About a month later, Collingwood and Clouws are not quite out of the woods yet and are still going for regular medical check-ups.
Collingwood’s wounds are still dressed, although Clouws’s injuries have now healed.
Both men have thanked the NSRI, Netcare paramedics and fellow fishermen who came to their assistance, and they hope to be back on the water quite soon.
As for the fish… well, it got away – along with Gieseler’s fishing rod.