Fisherman says he found Spirit of 1770 first
BUNDABERG fisherman Glen Watson says he was the first person to discover the wreck of the Spirit of 1770 a good eight days before the vessel was dived on.
And if it wasn't for Mr Watson's quick thinking his trawler, the Mana, could have ended up at the bottom of the ocean alongside the Spirit of 1770.
On May 20 Mr Watson was out the back of his trawler pulling in a tri-net when he felt the boat lurch to one side.
Straight away he knew his nets had hooked on something at the ocean floor and he ran to the wheelhouse to power down the engines.
"I pulled the throttle back as the boat spun around," Mr Watson said.
"It pulled the boat around and if I kept the throttle on we could have gone under."
While Mr Watson slowed the vessel his deck hand started winching in the nets.
As the net lines tightened the vessel started to pull over again.
Mr Watson radioed his nephew on the nearby trawler the Ocean Sun.
"I told him to keep an eye on me in case we go over," Mr Watson said.
"Anything could happen, if it suddenly let go we could roll over the other way," he said.
As the pressure was released on the lines and the boat righted the deck hand saw a life ring float by.
"At first the deckie thought it was one of ours until he saw how burnt it was.
"That's when we knew we had hit the 1770."
The Spirit of 1770 caught fire at 4pm on May 11 on its way home from Lady Musgrave Island.
There were 42 tourists on board, mostly Chinese, who had to abandon ship and swim to life rafts before they could be rescued.
The vessel then sunk.
Mr Watson said he thinks the nets dislodged the life ring, the markings on the safety device showed where it held melted onto a rail.
After 20-30 minutes manoeuvring the vessel the nets finally came away from the wreck.
But when they came to the surface the nets contained parts of the transom and duckboard from the rear of the vessel.
On closer inspection Mr Watson saw where the aluminium tubing had given way freeing the Mana from the wreckage.
"If it hadn't come away we still might be there," Mr Watson said.
The trawler than stayed at sea for another two days before alerting authorities to the position of the wreck.
A warning was put out to boaties on Wednesday.
Mr Watson said he hoped the boat would be salvaged so that fishermen didn't have to be concerned about the wreckage.