A life spent on the water


WHEN a tugboat sank at Miami and the US defence force wanted answers, they went straight to Bob Modystack.

The Tweed man, on exchange in Washington DC from the Australian Army, blamed the bungle on a lack of training.

He ordered two "Elvis" helicopters to cut a submerged wreck in half and airlift it to their training base to make sure it didn't happen again.

US Army specialists are still locked inside today as part of their "damage control" training, and forced to patch up holes as it fills with water.

This is just one of the many anecdotes that Mr Modystack, a Point Danger Volunteer Marine Rescue member, has from his military service in the Pacific, Vietnam and the USA.

The anecdotes indicate a wealth of hands-on knowledge by Mr Modystack, who is passing it on to local boaties through a licensing course in May.

Mr Modystack's marine career started in 1963 when he joined the marine section of the Australian Army as a diver. He went back through school and served at confrontations in Borneo, Malaya and Vietnam.

He spent 22 years in the military and was seconded to the Papua New Guinea defence force and sent on exchange to the Australian Embassy in DC.

"I really enjoyed that time in my life. I was single, earning $1.50 to Australia's $1 and it was the post-Vietnam period, which was very exciting," he said.

"Over there, where Australia has one person doing five jobs, they have five people doing one job.

"When the tugboat went down they said to me 'do whatever has to be done', so I got the two helicopters and welders to cut the end off a ship and laid it beside the classroom.

"I went back last year and it is still operational. The 30-year anniversary is coming up and I've asked them to fly me out for it."

But it hasn't all been military work for Mr Modystack. He eventually moved to Melbourne where he taught people to drive amphibious vehicles for operations at the South Pole.

He retired in Perth and moved to the Whitsundays to become a local tourist attraction with his underwater boat-cleaning business "Barnacle Bob - Would You Like to Have Your Bottom Scrubbed".

"Then my son almost died in my arms of asthma and I moved to the Tweed, teaching at TAFE and setting up the maritime section. I also started the crab-catching tours by seaplane to Stotts Island," he said.

These days Mr Modystack devotes his time to driving boats and training the VMR and local boaties.

"I have a head full of knowledge that I can pass onto people."

But Mr Modystack never dreamed he would be a major part of Point Danger VMR, whose lighthouse used to give him so much grief.

"We used to resupply a base in Malaya with bombs and go past Point Danger lighthouse, which we were told was getting a laser beam light," he said.

"Back then we had to rely on lighthouses to navigate and we could never see Point Danger's. I went back and forward for a few years and I never saw the darned laser beam once - it turned out it was closed down because someone feared it could damage a boaties eyeballs if he looked at it through binoculars."

n Mr Modystack will run a practical boat licence course on May 22 at Point Danger base. Places are limited so call 5536 9333.

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