The Lead South Australia

News leads from South Australia

Get The Lead in your inbox. Subscribe

SeaLink ferry captain farewells high seas


Kevin Eatts has spent his life traversing the seas as a fisherman and for the last 24 years as master of the SeaLink ferry to Kangaroo Island – earlier this month, he took off his captain’s hat for the last time.

Print article Republish Notify me

Sign up to receive notifications about new stories in this category.

Thank you for subscribing to story notifications.

Eatts, who was a commercial fisherman at the time, joined SeaLink in 1999 after striking up a conversation with a vessel captain on a night out at a Penneshaw footy club.

“With the fishing industry, you don’t really know where your next dollar comes from as it depends on what you catch,” Eatts said.

“I was looking for a bit of stability because I had a young family, so I thought it could be good to do a bit of work with SeaLink and continue my fishing on the side.”

Kevin Eatts and crew aboard a SeaLink Kangaroo Island Passenger Ferry. Photo: SeaLink.

Eatts said the best part of the job was meeting people and hearing about their adventures.

He has safely delivered the Crows Football Club to Kangaroo Island for off-season training and even had actress Teresa Palmer join him on the bridge, but the relationships formed with the locals were the most special.

“The hardest experience in my journey with SeaLink was during and after the 2019-20 bushfires,” he said.

“We had staff members who lost everything. So many people who we knew from our trips feared for their lives and they were so traumatised by what they were going through.

“There were so many terrible stories and all we could do was give them a hug, wish them the best and try to support them in that way.

“We were doing extra trips to take over the CFS people and doing many more hours to try and support the island. The tourists flocked back to the mainland, but the locals stayed to fight.”

Dolphins are often seen swimming alongside the vessels. Photo: SeaLink.

The rebuilding effort continues today, with SeaLink still transporting carpenters and tradesmen to the island regularly.

When he joined the company, Eatts only had marine qualifications to sail a small fishing vessel and needed to gain 18 months of “sea time” before he could skipper for SeaLink.

“I started as a Passenger Service Officer working in the cafe serving coffee and doing deck work,” Eatts said.

“It took me six or seven years to get all the sea time required to captain the vessel.”

Eatts said that every day since then there has been a different view out the bridge window.

“Going backwards and forwards was like playing with Mother Nature; enjoying whatever she decided to throw at you,” he said.

“You get whales, dolphins and schools of tuna going through. You get these beautiful glassy days and you get some really choppy days. At one stage, there were even submarines playing around off the shore.”

The first and only time Eatts experienced seasickness was when he joined a crew on a five-day journey to Fremantle to get a ferry’s motors serviced.

Caught in the middle of an August storm that swirled with 12-metre waves, the crew of six had to wedge themselves in their bunks to sleep so they wouldn’t get thrown out during the night.

Eatts said they ate only toasted sandwiches for the first 24 hours as it was impossible to stand up, let alone cook a proper meal.

Both the vessel and Eatts were more used to its 45-minute course from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw, and although he wouldn’t put his hand up to do that specific trip again, he is glad for the story he can tell.

Although Eatts is retiring from SeaLink, the family’s SeaLink days don’t end with him – his daughter Rebecca is now crewing on the Kangaroo Island Ferry.

“She was working on my crew for the last twelve months and has been learning the ropes,” Eatts said.

“If she keeps it up, she might just be the first female captain of a SeaLink vessel in South Australia.”

Nathan Eatts catches a southern reef squid. Photo: Kevin Eatts.

Eatts said he won’t be giving up his ocean adventures any time soon, joining his son Nathan to continue working for the family business.

He and Nathan established Cape Calamari in 2019, having previously worked as commercial fishermen with their produce being sold as far away as Sydney and Melbourne.

“With Cape Calamari, we decided to only supply to local restaurants so we know exactly where the produce is going,” Eatts said.

“It started when Nathan’s mate – who is a chef – asked us to supply some calamari for his restaurant. Word got out from there and we now supply some of the best chefs in South Australia.”

The business sells calamari to 12 local establishments, including Star of Greece, Coriole Vineyards and The Salopian Inn.

“At the start, I was in charge of the business but Nathan has been running it for the last 10 years so if I go out on the boat he is the boss,” Eatts said with a laugh.

It is no surprise that Eatts’ son would develop his father’s passion for fishing since he learned to fish at the same time he learned to walk.

Eatts’ wife Tracey suffered complications after the birth of their second child and was in and out of hospital for several months, leaving the couple no choice but to send Nathan off on the boat with his father.

“I got a children’s car seat and bolted it into the boat so he could come fishing,” Eatts said.

“I would put a lifejacket on him, strap him in and off we would go. As soon as he could stand up, he would hold a line at the back of the boat.”

All hands are now on deck as the father-son business has been asked to supply all the calamari for next year’s Tasting Australia, so the next wave of work is only just beginning.

Kevin and son Nathan catch their seafood individually and to a government quota for sustainability. Photo: Kevin Eatts.

More Regional stories

Loading next article