Lost at sea but never forgotten

How do you mourn the loss of a loved one when their body has never been found?

Peter Sims has had to grapple with the heartbreak of such a loss since his father, Kevin Sims, disappeared 44 years ago.

It was on November 13, 1977, when Mr Sims tragically lost his life at sea and his body was never recovered.

He was aged 49.

Mr Sims was a crewman on the fishing boat Eastern Queen, working on the waters near Carpenter Rocks with skipper, business partner and friend, William “Bill” McCracken.

According to the coroner’s report into the disappearance of Mr Sims, at around 7am the fisherman went overboard.

Mr McCracken provided an account to the coroner of the circumstances that he had witnessed.

He said they were fishing in the south-westerly direction of Cape Banks lighthouse, around five kilometres offshore.

Mr McCracken said they were six pots into a string of 13 when Mr Sims was gaffing the buoy of the sixth pot, but instead of the usual sound of the gaff hitting the deck indicating he had the rope, he heard Mr Sims yell out.

In the report Mr McCracken said he had rushed out of the wheelhouse to no signs of his deckhand on board.

He looked around and could see Mr Sims in the water about 60 feet away.

“I ran inside the wheelhouse where we keep the life buoy and I threw it but it did not quite reach him,” he said.

Mr McCracken could only speculate the circumstances that led to Mr Sims going overboard.

“I cannot say just what he did, where he went over or how he got over,” he said.

“Normally when Kevin picked the rope up he held on to the rail and held the rail and rope together and put the gaff hook down.

“I do not know if Kevin missed it and fell over the rail, or whether he followed it right back looking over the side and went over the back of the boat.

“I cannot honestly say what happened to the man.

“All I know is he was here one moment and into the water the next.”

Unable to turn the boat around due to the risk of striking Mr Sims or tangling the pot lines in the propellers, he threw a life buoy.

However, the life buoy did not reach Mr Sims.

Mr McCracken said he could see Mr Sims was not far from the life buoy.

“He was endeavouring to swim, but taking into consideration he had a woollen jumper on, his side boots and waterproof pants, he was handicapped,” he said.

It was reported, that alongside Mr Sims was the buoy line with two floats.

“I yelled out to him to grab the buoy line thinking the floats would assist him to some extent,” Mr McCracken said.

“They could have held him up buoyant enough to get to the life buoy, but instead he grabbed the line and immediately went straight down, straight under the water.”

Mr McCracken brought the boat around to where he had last seen Mr Sims head above water.

He pulled the pot up hoping that Mr Sims was holding onto the rope but unfortunately, he was not.

The report attributed Mr Sims’ disappearance “in all probability” to drowning.

The father of three was never seen by his children, including Geraldine and Dennis, and wife, Joyce, again.

This left a void in Peter.

One that was evident when he reflected on the day.

He lost not only his father but a great mate.

Peter said he was also out fishing that morning on another boat when he heard tragedy had struck his father.

“That was probably the hardest part, because I was out there.

Another boat came alongside us, and the fisherman yelled out “Bill’s lost his decky”.

“He did not realise I was his son,” he said.

“I said to my skipper ‘What’d he say?’ I thought I registered it but wanted to check.

“He said ‘Your dad’s lost’.”

It was at this point of retelling his story Peter became visibly emotional.

“Even today it still affects me.”

Peter was 27 years old and starting out in life.

“That’s an awkward age to lose a father,” he said, adding he had been married three years to wife Lee and together they had a 21-month-old son, Chris.

Peter was also 12 months into gaining experience as a professional fisherman with the goal of becoming business partner with his father.

“My dad and I were very close.

“We would go fishing and get together all the time,” he said.

“Even today I think about my boys and how they would have loved him. I know what my dad was like,” Peter said.

“He and Lee also have another son, Ben, born in 1979.”

Peter said he spent weeks searching for his dad.

“Every time I hopped on a boat I was looking and looking. Even pieces of timber started to look like a body,” he said.

Lee also reflected on the day she heard the news.

“I can remember I was doing the washing. Even now, every time I do the washing, I think of him.

“It’s funny how those things stay with you,” she said.

Until recently Peter had never truly had closure or a place to mourn the loss of his father.

Thanks to a generous tribute there is somewhere he can honour his father’s memory.

A memorial wall was unveiled in October in memory of those who had lost their life at sea, between Blackfellows Caves and Carpenter Rocks.

The memorial was a project of the Carpenter Rocks Progress Association in conjunction with Grant District Council.

“I was asked if I wanted my dad on there. “I jumped at the chance,” he said.

It was during his reflection of the memorial wall there was a sense of peace within Peter.

Located at Carpenter Rocks foreshore the wall will provide an everlasting place of significance to mourn and pay tribute.

With the 44th anniversary of Mr Sims’ tragic disappearance having recently been honoured, the opening of the memorial could not have come at a better time.

Kevin Sims is one of 19 souls currently immortalised at the site.

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