Aussie boater Steve Zdravco got more than he bargained for when rough seas interfered with his 21st birthday plans

Most people remember their 21st birthday and I’m no exception. However, instead of falling out of a nightclub after a big night out as is expected of such a celebration, I ended up fearing for my life on what turned out to be one of the most frightening passages I’ve ever had the displeasure to experience.

It was November 2006 and my birthday celebrations were due to begin in the afternoon at Darling Harbour in Sydney.

We’d booked a berth there and various friends and family were set to meet us at the marina. At the time my family’s boat, a Sunseeker Predator 68, was based in Port Botany a few miles along the coast, so I’d planned a leisurely morning cruise over to Darling Harbour.

The passage was only half an hour at our usual cruising speed of 18-21 knots and my three cousins, none of whom had been on a boat before, were very excited by the prospect of such a fun start to the day.

Sunseeker Predator 68The day in question turned out to be a particularly cloudy one with wind speeds of over 20 knots. Despite the choppy conditions we decided to press ahead with the passage; after all, we had a big boat and were confident of its and our ability to cope.

It wasn’t until we approached the mouth of Port Botany and saw the swell that our jaws dropped. Three and a half metre waves were coming straight for us!

Rolling in the deep

We pressed on regardless but even doing 6 knots the boat was struggling to cut through the rising waves.

My cousins were holding on to the grabrails for dear life – as the Predator was too large to take the swell at speed we rolled over and over each and every wave to nauseating effect.

In no time all three of my cousins had their heads hanging over the side, struck down by severe seasickness. This proved particularly messy with a rolling boat!

Spray was flying over the top, soaking everything as we rose and fell with the swell. I was adamant we continue, so a couple of us disappeared down below to secure everything.

Plates and glasses were smashing all around us and the sunroof swung up and down with the roll of the waves. All I could see through the hull windows were monstrous waves; the horizon was all but lost.

Climbing the peaks was one thing, but surfing down into the troughs was scary as hell. Every time the 25-tonne yacht would slam down, taps would turn on, chairs would go flying and something would smash.

Counting the casualties

After almost two hours of motoring we could finally see the bay. Though the water was slightly calmer by the time we pulled up in Sydney Harbour, our bodies were still shaking.

It also became apparent as we approached our berth that our bow thruster had given up the ghost, but if that was the only serious casualty of the day I would be mightily relieved!

Friends and family had started to arrive in the marina just in time to see us stepping on to the pontoon with trembling sea legs.

We hardly felt like celebrating after the morning we’d had, but we were certainly ready for a drink so everyone put on a brave face and joined the party.

Everyone loved the story of me turning 21 while holding on to the grabrails for dear life, and it’s since become a family favourite. Certainly a 21st birthday to remember!

Do you have an unforgettable seafaring story? E-mail mby@timeinc.com and we’ll pay £100 for any one we use.