Dorset skipper Pete Dadds resumed fishing static gear from Mudeford recently, some 16 months on from the day a rogue wave caused the 6.9m catamaran Déjà Vu SU 21 to capsize.
John Periam reports. Photos by Geoffrey Lee
It was just after Easter 2018 that Mudeford skipper/owner Pete Dadds and crewman Martin Hawks were potting on the 6.9m Cheetah catamaran Déjà Vu SU 21, when they were hit by a rogue wave that caused the vessel to capsize (Fishing News, 25 October, 2018).
The day after the incident, the MCA put a detention order on Déjà Vu. The catamaran was declared a total constructive loss and everything onboard was written off – although the EPIRB activated itself when the boat was righted alongside the quay.
While the ring deck was damaged in a couple of places, the foredeck was ripped up like a sole coming off the bottom of a shoe.
Since that incident, Pete has rebuilt Déjà Vu at Mudeford, before putting the catamaran back into the water and returning to sea. All restoration work was carried out by Seafish-approved boatbuilder GRP Profiles of Christchurch, Dorset, which also builds Patriot boats.
The period of rebuilding included regular visits by MCA inspector Steve Chandler. Work progressed steadily before being fully approved, giving Pete Dadds final clearance to return to sea to do what he does best – potting off the Dorset coast.
Immediately after the capsize, Pete decided that he needed to take some time off to be with his family.
“I needed to reflect on the incident, and most important of all, it gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my wife and my daughter. I had some great support from fellow fishermen, and also from the RNLI Mudeford lifeboat crew, of which I am a member. It was not until this period that I realised just how lucky Martin and I were to survive – another 30 minutes could have made the outcome totally different.”
One thing that caused Pete a lot of concern was the loss of his diaries and records, which he kept in the wheelhouse. He spent a great deal of time writing down the details of where he fished, what he caught, and the time spent at sea. These notes were his personal records, some going back for 10 years. It would be a case of starting all over again, if and when he decided to return to sea. As a result, he now only had his memory and knowledge of the area where he fished in the past.
“I also had to go to sea to try and find my lost pots, which totalled about 60 of the 180 I had out there. I have never found them to this day – this must have been weather-related. It was like getting back on a bike after one falls off it – I was a little bit nervous when it came to going back out to sea.”
Pete also signed himself off from the RNLI lifeboat for three months. He did this because he felt he needed to restore his own confidence – when he felt able to return to sea, he reinstated himself as a helmsman at Mudeford RNLI.
“I did some fishing with another fisherman, Matt Wiles, who also had a Cheetah, during the summer, on the proviso that it was during the week – that way, I could have the weekends off to enjoy time with my family and my three spaniel dogs.”
Pete set himself a timescale to get Déjà Vu back afloat on 16 April, 2019 – exactly one year on from the incident. He did not want to rush anything, and wanted to do it in his own time.
Pete put the boat into Elkins Boatyard at Christchurch after the accident. He needed permission from the MCA to move it. “I wanted to tow it across the Avon river to Rossiters Boatyard, also at Christchurch. However, the MCA would not give me permission due to the detention order, which had been placed on her after the accident. This meant she wasn’t able to go afloat without having had the necessary repairs. As a result, I had to hire a 17t low-loader – which was not cheap – and take Déjà Vu by road.
“There was a narrow bridge we had to negotiate that had been there for over 900 years, which – as you can imagine – caused us some concern. Due to local traffic, we had to do this in the early hours of the morning.”
Pete stripped Déjà Vu out in August 2018, being careful not to make a mess. He removed the engines and cut off part of the wheelhouse once the vessel was on its trailer. It was then put onto the low-loader and moved to Rossiters. It was there for two weeks, during which time it was gutted so the damaged frames could be replaced. The transom and the bow of the foredeck were rebuilt. “The quality of the build of a Cheetah could be seen easily. Sean Strevens has extraordinary talents when it comes to boat design and boatbuilding,” said Pete.
“I decided from the start to work closely with the MCA inspector Steve Chandler, and involve him from day one. We were in regular contact over the phone, and if needed, he would visit the yard. By doing this I felt a lot better, knowing that what I was doing was being done right. I also made it clear that I only wanted to work with him throughout the rebuild. The last thing I needed was to have to redo work that I had already done!
“When Déjà Vu was ready in March, Steve came along and did a full survey relating to my repairs, and signed her off. It was then a case of putting the trailer with the boat back on the low-loader, and back over the low bridge to the Elkins yard.
“At this point, the boat was not cleared to return to the water. Déjà Vu was in the strop, held by a crane, ready to be put into the water.
“Steve Chandler wanted to do a full out-of-the-water survey, followed by inspecting her in the water with everything running. Unfortunately, that day there were strong winds and heavy rain, which resulted in it being unsafe to use the crane.
“This is why I was so glad I had worked with Steve from the start. In the end, it was signed off and agreed that it could be returned to the water when the weather improved. The detention order was cancelled, and this meant I could now return to fishing on Déjà Vu.”
It was very much a case of taking things at a steady pace, and not rushing. “Matt Wiles came out with me, and Richard Stride, who also fishes from Mudeford and is the lifeboat operations manager, came out a couple of times too.
“Martin Hawks, who was with me when we capsized, spent a couple of weeks with me also. It was a case of me having to restore my self-confidence in going to sea again, while getting used to the way the boat handled after its rebuild.”
Pete now plans to fish by himself, and not take a crew member onboard. “I have decided that I now need to be able to fish the way I want to, and when. If you have a crew, you start to worry about them, and being able to get a reasonable catch so they can be paid.”
Pete has been fishing from Mudeford for over 30 years. “In the early days, I often used to push on, at times, in weathers I perhaps should not have done. I now want to be my own boss, and work as and when I want to. I think about my family more, and want to be able to share times in watching my daughter grow up, and seeing her at school events.
“I am very safety-conscious, as I always have been. As I mentioned earlier, Richard Stride came out with me, and he did a lot to help me regain my confidence. He fishes single-handed, and is prepared for any incident that could happen at sea. He checked all my gear onboard, and we went through everything together. I really have found out over the past 12 months just how many friends I have at Mudeford – it is so reassuring.
“The Cheetah is a wonderful boat, and a delight to go to sea on. I don’t feel I am working the boat hard, and she handles well in all weathers. When it’s rough, I would say she tells me it’s time to go home; she is a hell of a machine. I have no interest in getting a bigger boat – I just want to fish when it suits me, whilst doing it more economically. In the past, at times I was the last boat out there – this will now not be happening. Returning back to Mudeford has moved up the to-do list!”
Rogue wave came out of nowhere
On the day Déjà Vu capsized, Pete Dadds and Martin Hawk left Mudeford quay with a forecast of SW 4 to 5 decreasing 3, with a 2m swell.
“That morning, Martin and I decided to switch roles. He operated the pot-hauler and I worked at the stern of the boat. It was a very strong spring tide, but we were able to handle things.
“We decided to just do 10 strings, and return back to Mudeford. I went to the wheelhouse to get a bucket with my bits and bobs in, so I could repair a damaged pot.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the pot was stuck on the gunnel. I glanced up and saw a wave the size of an industrial unit coming at us. We were on a shallow patch some 15ft deep. I increased the engine power and turned hard to starboard, throwing the pots over the side. By the time I had done that, the bow was down by about 60° and there was 10ft of white foaming water above us, breaking either side of the boat.”
The size of the wave breaking over Déjà Vu pushed the bow down with such force that the foredeck was ripped up like the sole coming off the bottom of a shoe.
That was it. Pete could not remember any more other than lots of noise and being underwater. His PFD operated, and he came up to the surface to find Déjà Vu some 40ft away from him, upside down, and the sea covered in white foam.
“It was a surreal moment to see the boat upside down, and then Martin popped up and managed to clamber onto the bow, where he knelt in the tunnel. I managed to swim over and clamber up to join him. He then asked if I was fine, but referred to a nasty gash in my head. We were wet, cold and shaken.
“I have fished these waters for 30 years, and have never seen a swell like it. What was interesting was that both our ears had popped.
“Speaking to the Coastguard later, they said that to do that, the swell must have been in excess of 5m to 6m. Not having the depth of water underneath us was the cause of it all. There were other boats out there, but we could not see each other.
“The Cheetah hull has 14 watertight bulkheads, and it was due to the quality of this build that we did not sink. We were on the hull for four hours, and I gathered at the time that some of the other boats suffered gear damage.
“All our communication equipment and flares were in the wheelhouse, but it happened so quickly that we could not get to them. It was the lifejacket that saved me. Martin, who was stuck in the wheelhouse, was saved by not having his lifejacket on. Had he been wearing it, he would have been trapped as it self-inflated, restricting any movement.
“Richard Stride, who is the lifeboat operations manager, had just returned in his fishing boat, but at the time was unaware of the incident. A small sailing boat saw us, and they came over and immediately contacted the Coastguard and lifeboat. They came out straight away and took both of us in, then returned to tow Déjà Vu in.
“There is no doubt that the incident knocked the stuffing out of me. I locked myself away for a week. I was black and blue. If I had not gone back to sea to rescue my gear, things might be different. Slowly but surely, my confidence returned, largely as a result of crewing on Matt Wiles’ catamaran while Déjà Vu was being rebuilt. I owe a lot to my wife Jo, who was a wonderful support. She is also press officer for the lifeboat, and was at the station when the incident was reported, only to find out that it was my Cheetah that was involved.
“The insurance company was great and did not hinder me in any way, and I owe a big thank you to Anne at Morgan Marine for her support.”