A massive tug on the fishing rod caught my baby’s attention.
Crawling over the beach, Julian grabbed the rod, pulled his tiny body up, and started winding the reel.
My boy could fish before he could even walk!
Then, when Julian was seven, he asked, ‘When it’s winter and the snapper are biting, can we please stay overnight on the reef?’
So, in June, my mate Stephen and I decided to take mine and Julian’s 5.2m boat, Gilly’s Hammer, out.
Arriving at the boat ramp at Mooloolaba, Qld, after lunch, Julian had a huge grin.
‘Dad, what do you think we’ll catch first?’ he asked.
Before we went anywhere though, I let the coastguard know where we were going.
At Caloundra Nine Mile reef, Julian clapped his hands every time he hooked a fish.
Around 7.30pm, Julian went to sleep.
With the snapper biting in the early hours, he wanted to be up at the crack of dawn!
A couple of hours on, Stephen went to bed too.
Later, I anchored and lay down next to Julian.
Cuddling him, my eyelids fluttered closed...
Next thing, I startled awake.
Why are my feet wet? I wondered.
Jumping up, I saw waves crashing inside the boat.
Frantically waking Stephen, I flicked on the bilge pump to drain the excess water.
Next, I tried to start the engine so I could spin the boat out of the waves.
But it wouldn’t turn over!
‘We’re taking on water. I’m afraid we’re going to sink,’ I radioed the coastguard.
Bending down to pick up my sleeping boy, his eyes snapped open.
I clasped my mobile phone, which Stephen had just passed me, in one hand, and started to stand up.
Suddenly, I was breathing in seawater.
The boat had flipped and Julian and I were trapped beneath the canopy.
Now, we were being dragged down with the sinking vessel!
Pure instinct must’ve kicked in because somehow I popped up back on the surface, with Julian still in my arms.
Sucking in air, I realised I was still grasping my phone.
Against the odds, it worked – the time on the screen read 1.47am.
Our life jackets had sunk with the boat, but two 15L plastic buckets I’d picked up for free on the side of the road, bobbed on the surface.
Thankfully, Stephen was there too.
Holding on to one bucket – turned upside down and filled with air – he passed
me the other.
Wedging it between me and Julian, we both held on to it tightly.
‘Dad, it’ll be alright,’ he said, an arm around my neck.
My hands were full so Stephen took the phone, and dialled Triple-0.
Amazingly, the call went through.
For the first couple of hours, every now and then Julian gave me a kiss.
‘I love you, Dad,’ my brave boy said.
But slowly the icy water zapped his energy and Julian spoke less, his breathing slowing right down.
Blowing hot breath in his face, I tried to warm him up.
Search spotlights blinked in the distance and Stephen and I both yelled and waved until we were hoarse.
But no-one came.
By now, my arms screamed from gripping the bucket and keeping my boy afloat.
Sharks definitely swam beneath us. But they were the least of my concern.
Four hours in, just before sunrise, Julian had stopped talking, his body floppy.
‘If he stops breathing, I’ll let go of the bucket and I’ll go down with him,’ I choked out. ‘I can’t live without him...’
Two hours later, I heard the whirr of helicopter blades above us, then a rescuer shot down on a rope.
‘Take my boy,’ I yelled, handing Julian over.
While he was winched into the chopper, Stephen and I were bundled into a police boat.
It was about 8am – we’d been lost at sea for more than six hours.
To my horror, I found out that Julian’s heart stopped beating on the journey up to the chopper.
The shock of the cold air hitting his freezing, wet skin was just too much.
My boy had been clinically dead for three minutes.
Paramedics revived him and now Julian was in an induced coma at hospital, where his mum met us.
Stephen and I also had hypothermia, but we were otherwise okay.
‘The chance of all three of you surviving is less than five per cent,’ a doctor said, gently.
If Julian did wake up, he’d likely have severe brain damage.
But my little fighter came to around midday the next day.
‘Dad, why am I here?’ he asked.
He’d made it through without a scratch!
Mind-blowingly, after just four nights, Julian was allowed to go home.
Three months on, he’s as cheeky as ever – he even appeared with me on Channel 7’s Sunday Night!
But he’s sad that we’ve lost our boat.
I couldn’t love my boy anymore, but I’m grateful for our second chance.
Together, we can take on the world.
To help Julian get a new boat, visit gofundme.com/f/help-julian-get-back-out-on-the-water