Lucas Burns' Apriori. Photo: Mitch Pearson at Surf Sail Kite.
Lucas Burns' Apriori. Photo: Mitch Pearson at Surf Sail Kite.

‘Whale!’: Scream in the night as yacht hits ocean giant

LUCAS Burns and Trevor Hill steered the Apriori out of Moreton Bay at 11am last Friday and settled in for what should have been a swift race.

They expected to reach Keppel Bay some time at the weekend, along with 17 other crews racing from Brisbane to Yeppoon.

But the ocean had other plans; it would take them to Hervey Bay instead.

"We had a great start to the race, right up at the front of the fleet, and stayed competitive at the back of the faster boats," Lucas said.

"Trev was steering most of the way up the coast, enjoying getting our 34-year-old boat surfing down the waves under spinnaker and staysail at 18 knots, at times."

The two travelled nearly 100km without a hitch. As night fell, they began to catch some of the faster boats.

It was about 2am when Trevor suddenly yelled out: "Whale!"

"A small whale - small, but still the size of Apriori - surfaced next to us," Lucas said.

A few seconds later, the Apriori came to an unexpected halt, but "not a hard stop as in hitting a brick wall, but more like I imagine hitting a pile of tyres would be".

The yacht had hit another, larger whale. It surfaced next to the boat as if nothing had happened.

"It took a breath and continued along, perpendicular to us," Lucas said.

"I think we ran over the back half of it, as it surfaced fairly quickly after the impact."

He and Trevor dropped sails to check for damage.

No water had got in, and the floors seemed solid. Nevertheless, there was a risk: if the stabilising keel beneath the water had been knocked, it might come off.

"We decided it would be best to drop out of the race, and have a look at the boat in the morning," Lucas said.

"We messaged race control our intentions and sailed under jib alone all around Breaksea Spit and into Hervey Bay."

Upon inspection at the bay more than 80km afar, the whale's barnacles had made only superficial markings.

But better safe than sorry.

"We could have easily finished the race, but it wasn't worth the risk," Lucas said.

"No damage to the boat or to us, so a successful outcome of what could have easily been a lot worse."