December 2019

2019 – THE YEAR THAT WAS 😀

December activation reports are immediately below, but first let’s take a look at the whole year.  The total number of activations for 2019 was 125, up almost 8% on the 116 of 2018 and well above the 82 from 2017 and 94 from 2016.

The largest increase was in medivacs, which went up from 17 in 2017 to 33 in 2018 and higher still to 41 in 2019. Vessels aground went from 3 to 10, highlighting the need for careful navigation at all times. Total crew hours on the water last year was almost 2,093 hours compared to the prior year’s 2,038.

We assisted 355 people during 2019 and 340 in 2018. Fuel used during the year was 28,622 litres, more than 1300 litres higher than in 2018.

OK, that’s enough of the stats. 😀 Here’s what happened in December…….


Activation 1/12/19: Assist 65 ft yacht, 6 pob, aground and taking water

The call from Tim Hearn at the radio base came in to me (Mal) about 1020 – a 65 foot yacht was aground at the southern end of Black Island, was taking water, and had requested our assistance with pumps and a possible tow. Coral Sea Marina VMR1 was underway with Marti on the helm at 1100 and on site at Black Island about 45 minutes later after a choppy ride across in the 15-20 knot northerly.

We could see the yacht heeling well to port, with a rhib from Mars Charters in attendance – the situation did not look good. We could not get right up to the yacht so the rhib came over and transferred Marti and Shane across, together with our petrol and electric bilge pumps. Timing was paramount if we were to be able to get enough water out of the boat – there was lots – and get it refloated at the top of the next tide less than two hours away. A hole in the port side was partially blocked by pillows and cushions to reduce the inward flow.

Marti and Shane did a great job getting both pumps going in short order, and soon we could see that the boat was slowly coming more upright as more water was pumped out and the tide started to do its job – we could even see glimpses of the proper waterline. Water was high in the cabin and over the engine, so it was definitely going to be a tow. The rhib helped us transfer our towline across and it was secured to the stern of the yacht – that was the only way to get it off without running into another bommie. After what seemed like a long time holding position in the wind and the tide waiting for the pumps and the tide to do their jobs, we noticed the bow of the yacht move to starboard – it was time to go and very nearly full tide.

VMR1 took the strain and we detected movement almost straight away, and the yacht was dragged off stern first over the 6-10 metres of reef between them and deeper water. Once in deeper water we asked the rhib to go alongside to hold them in position while we got the yacht to drop the tow line so we could manoeuvre around to the sharp end and reconnect in preparation for the tow back to Coral Sea Marina, and we were underway around 1300.

About 2 ¼ hours later we were off the marina, shortened the tow and went alongside in preparation for the tow into the marina and the waiting travel lift at Hawkes Boatyard – thanks for the prompt response Chris Carter, it was much appreciated. Then it was a lot of slow and delicate manoeuvering to get the 38 tonne yacht (plus water) into the marina and lined up for the travel lift at just enough speed for us to let the lines go with enough way on the yacht to get onto the slings – there is no way we can do that side by side.

Thankfully, all went well, and we moved to the fuel dock to refuel before moving into our own berth to clean and secure VMR1 and do the necessary paperwork, finishing about 1610.

Great work by all of the crew in a high pressure situation, their professionalism was outstanding despite the extra effort required. All can be proud of a successful mission that could have had a very different ending. Thanks also to the crew from Mars Charters for their assistance.

Crew: Marti Davy, Paul Martin, Shane Gosselink
Skipper: Mal Priday


Activation 2/12/19 (1): Vessel broken anchor chain out from VMRW Base

It was just after 1100 and I (Fin) was tasked with doing some housework when the phone rang.  Whew! Got out of that one! 😋 Apparently a vessel had a broken anchor chain and was drifting dangerously close to the rock wall just outside VMRW base.

I rushed down to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 and together with crew Ken, Chris and Shane we quickly did the pre-checks then headed over, arriving at the rock wall at 1135 hrs. By then the vessel was on the rocks and the owner was in the Water Police Rib. The Water Police and owner took our towline with them to get closer to the vessel and try to get to the boat.

The owner did try to swim to his vessel the last few metres, but then he dropped our tow line….. and appeared to abandon any attempt at salvage! It was all a little strange. He walked over the rock wall and then continued walking to the grass area by Mirage. We hove to approx. 30 m away from the vessel and waited for approx. 15 minutes to see if we could offer any assistance.

The owner made no attempt to board his vessel, or try to help us in any way. We assumed he had given it up as a lost cause – so we proceeded back to our pen. We contacted the Water Police to ask if they requested any further action on our part – they didn’t. VMR1 was washed down and in our pen by 1225, and we informed our Phone holder of our return.

Crew: Ken Bryce, Chris Williamson and Shane Newell
Skipper: Fin Forbes


Activation 2/12/19 (2): Assist a 21 ft Power Boat, broken down

After the interesting morning (see above), I (Fin) left for home and had just walked in the door when the phone rang again.  Yep…another one! Raced back to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 only to meet up with the same crew.  Apparently they all felt the same as me – still wearing the VMR workshirt so might as well go out again. 😋

Our task this time was to assist a 21ft power boat that was drifting 2nm NW of South Molle Island with 4 POB. We left the marina at 1300 hrs. The weather was clear with 15-25 knot NNW winds and seas 1 ½ to 2 metres…a little lumpy.  We were travelling at approx. 2300 rpm due to the sea conditions.

It  took us a while to locate the target vessel as it turned out it was actually almost due east of South Molle Island on the other side of Whitsunday Passage. We eventually found it but was 1335 by the time we finally arrived and took it in tow.  The owner wanted us to tow them back to Port of Airlie boat ramp, and we arrived at 1530 hrs. Note – much of this was much easier said than done – the crew performed superbly – a absolute credit to them.

We were washed down and refuelled and safely in our pen by 1615 hrs.  Huge thanks to the crew for giving up their time as a community service – and their skills and calm, professional efficiency in, at times, very difficult conditions.

Crew: Ken Bryce, Chris Williamson and Shane Newell
Skipper: Fin Forbes


Activation 8/12/19: Members 5m tinny broken down near Hayman Island, 3 POB

The call came in at 06.06 from Bill, our 24hr Emergency Phone Holder. A member’s tinny had lost all electrics and was on a line between Hayman and North Mole, about 2-3 k’s from Hayman.  The conditions looked very favourable, and I (Geoff S) wanted to see how our new boat handled a tow, so it was decided that it would be a good run for Whale Song VMR2.

As the boat is still a little unfamiliar, we (well… I) 😋 fumbled our way through the pre-checks, but then got away at 06.40. It was a bit choppy crossing Pioneer Bay (for a little boat) with the tide almost at the bottom and a light N Wester blowing. Because of the chop and being unfamiliar with the instruments we found some aspects of the screen instrumentation a little challenging and maybe best to get set up properly before leaving port. It’s all about getting used to our new rescue vessel, and a bit more practice will help a lot. 😊

Anyway, we arrived at our target area and couldn’t see anything like the description we had been given, so a phone call to our target had us heading towards Hook Island then down its Western shore.

Off False Nara…and still nothing. Another call got us a Lat& Long because our member had managed to get his plotter working, The new position was over towards North Mole, so off we went again and found them nearby at 08.00. Whew! The conditions were now perfect so Marty got the paperwork done promptly whilst Shane organised the tow and 10 mins later, we were off to Muddy Bay with one of their crew on board VMR2 to lighten the tow.

We had them alongside the Muddy Bay ramp finger by 08.50 with no problems and returned to Coral Sea Marina at 09.10. What a nice easy 35 mile run with a calm, competent crew, and a great opportunity to put VMR2 through her paces. Thanks guys!

Crew: Shane Newell & Marty Davey
Skipper: Geoff Smith


Activation 13/12/19: Assist a 7.2 metre power boat with 4 POB. 

I (Ken) was with my wife and we were on our way to get a ute-load of soil …it was going to be my job to shovel it up the hill at home. We were going right past the VMR base and as I still had some left over spares from the new dry dock, I swung in to drop them off.  It’s all in the timing! I was informed that there was a pending activation for a vessel with engine issues out near Block reef and would I be willing to go out.

With a quick glance at my wife, I agreed to assist. I did offer the ute to her so as not to delay the soil pickup but I got a ‘look’ for my generosity. 😁

Off I went to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 where the crew were assembled and just finishing off the pre-checks. By 1300hrs we were away. The conditions were very favourable so the trip was comfortable for all on board. The vessel we were to assist was inside a lagoon on a falling tide so Paul contacted them and asked them to move into deep water and then report their position. Some time later we spotted the vessel and came along side for the paper work. Unfortunately they were not members of VMR Whitsunday.

After having completed all the paperwork, Ron then moved on to the towing procedure. The crew soon had the vessel on our towline and we set off for Hamilton Island where the vessel had a berth for the next 3 days. We towed the vessel at 15 to 16 knots – she was riding nicely.

As we were approaching Hammo the light was starting to fade from the sky. The assisted vessel advised that they would proceed to their berth whilst we awaited the OK from them. All went well so we headed back to refuel and berth VMR1, arriving at approx 2045hrs.

Thank you to all the crew for a great job.

Crew: Ron Roberts, Paul Martin, Shane Newell
Skipper: Ken Bryce


Activation 15/12/19: Assist two vessels involved in a collision outside the Sailing Club. 

It was 0200hrs and I (Marti) was rudely awoken from a deep sleep by the phone shrilling next to me. It was Bill our 24/7 phone holder who quickly described the details of the task at hand. Apparently no less than an hour before we had had a storm with lots of wind and rain. I must have slept through it although it probably only lasted a few minutes.  I know the rain is welcome (particularly for my garden) but alas, the weather had also caused an anchored 31’ mono sailing vessel to drag its anchor and collide with another sailing vessel, a 40’ cat off the duck pond wall, in front of the sailing club.

Both vessels remained stuck together and that’s how we found them as we approached on Coral Sea Marina VMR1 at 0235hrs.  The task at hand looked simple enough and the wind was gentle but there was an annoying roll coming in from the north which slowed us down while we were securing the vessel for rafting to a mooring nearby.

Roger was the ‘rescuer of the day’ however and worked hard to get things right so we could manoeuvre the stricken vessels away from each other. One of them had a person living onboard and she didn’t look too happy about this middle-of-the-night pile-up.

Roger transferred himself onto the mono and got to work with the anchor, trying retrieve chain as much as possible whilst Fin and Chris secured lines fore and aft. With that we got away and set course for a mooring… but ended up rejecting that one as an option. Success on the second though so we secured the mono and returned to the cat, asking the person onboard if she required any further assistance.

“Thanks” she called “but all’s good now” so we headed back to berth, arriving at 0335hrs. Too early (late?) to go back to bed so we opted for a coffee instead. Some great work from a (very) dedicated crew [yawn].

Crew: Fin Forbes, Roger Wodson, Chris Williamson
Skipper: Marti Davy


Activation 23/12/19: Assist a broken down 21 ft runabout with 3 POB

It was 0835 hrs and I (Fin) was wondering what I was going to do with my day, when Celia (24/7 phone holder) rang to let me know that a VMR member was in trouble and drifting into the major shipping lane.  Eeek….OK, that’s given me something to do.  Off to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 to go and get them!

I met the rest of the crew at the marina and we headed off at 0900 hrs with Bill on the helm.  The weather was clear with ESE winds, 10 to 20 knots.  Nice day for getting out on the water. The information we had been given was that the runabout had broken down and was drifting in the middle of the shipping channel towards Hook Reef. Didn’t take too long to find them and by 1020 hrs we were arriving at the target.

The crew got to work quickly and set up a tow, so 5 minutes later we were towing them to safety with Ken and Michel sharing the responsibilities as helmsmen on the way back. Their Skipper/Owner wanted to be dropped off at the VMRW boat ramp but when we got there at 1245 hrs the tide was too (my depth sounder was reading at one point 0.1m outside the rockwall).

After a consultation we decided to drop him off at the Coral Sea Marina public jetty and one of our crew would take him back to VMR carpark to retrieve his car and trailer. Meanwhile the rest of us refuelled, washed down and advised Whitsunday VTS and Celia of our safe return to our pen (by 1315 hrs).

Superb teamwork and effort – Thanks all!

Crew: Michel del Aquila, Ken Bryce &Bill Hopton
Skipper: Fin Forbes


Activation 28/12/19: Medivac from Hammo

The call came in from Rocky QAS at 22.10 – a medivac from Hammo. Celia, the 24hr Emergency Phone Holder organised a crew to meet the Paramedic at Coral Sea Marina VMR1 so I (Geoff S) made my way down there to meet everyone.

I arrived at the same time as the paramedic and helped him cart his stuff down to the boat. Paul arrived as we were finalising the checks and we were able to get away at 23.00. The sea conditions were OK, but it was as black as the inside of a cow and pelting down with rain.

The rain was so heavy, it was coming through where the windscreen should be, hitting my chest then running down and creating a puddle in my lap. Those of us on the flybridge were totally soaked by the time we got to Hammo at 00.05! Windscreens would be much nicer. Oh well.  One of the joys of living in the Whitsundays is that even soaked, you are unlikely to catch pneumonia. 😀

Our patient was waiting for us on the dock so after a quick Paramedic conference and hand over we set off at 00.12. The showers were even heavier now and showing up clearly on the radar. We arrived at CSM at 01.30 and unloaded our passengers then attempted to fuel up. After several attempts, including changing pumps, it appeared the fuel dock tank compressor wasn’t firing up so we gave it away.

Back in the pen for 01.35 and we packed up the boat but didn’t bother with a wash down as there was 25mm plus of rainwater across the aft deck, suggesting someone upstairs had already done it for us. 😋

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Paul Martin & Bill Hopton
Skipper: Geoff Smith


Activation 29/12/19: Assist a 21 ft power boat with engine problems, 2 POB

It was 11am and I (Fin) was ready for a morning cuppa so I boiled the kettle. Had it literally poised over the coffee cup when the phone rang. [sigh] The report was quickly relayed to me….”We have a 21 ft power boat with engine problems. They said “it just stopped”. They are floating West of Daydream Island in Molle Passage.” I grabbed a small thermos and poured my coffee into that, and headed out the door.

Got down to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 to find Mitchell, Roger and Bill just finishing off the pre-checks, so we were away by 1130. The weather was overcast but at least it wasn’t pouring bucket-loads of rain onto us. 🙂

Located the vessel at 1150 hrs. and with some quick rope work, we had it in tow by 1155 hrs. The boat owner wanted to go to the VMR boat ramp but this proved a little rough to raft him alongside, so we took him to CSM so we could do the necessary paper work in calm waters inside the Marina .

We dropped him off at the public jetty, then refuelled and washed down. The assisted skipper was then transported to the VMR carpark so he could get his vehicle and trailer. Whitsunday VTS and our Radio Operator (at the base) were informed of our safe return.

As per usual the crew performed superbly. My thanks. They make it look easy.

Crew: Mitchell Edwards, Roger Wodson & Bill Hopton
Skipper: Fin Forbes


Activation 31/12/19: Assist a half-cabin out of fuel in the bay

Celia (24/7 phone holder) rang me (Ron) just after 16.00. A 5.5m half-cabin had ‘run out of fuel’ in the bay, straight out from the leads at Port of Airlie. Okay, a quick easy one to finish off the year.

I checked with one of our SARCO officers and we were good to go with our new vessel ‘Whale Song VMR2’ This is getting better and better with a mild S/E breeze, flat water and a clear sky. Bill and Shane N entered the coordinates into the plotter as we left Coral Sea Marina. That was when it started to get tricky as it showed our target vessel out near Chance Bay….some 16 miles away from the reported position!

So, back to basics. We did a quick search of the general area with no sightings, so we tried to make phone contact on the number provided but that went to message-bank. Contacted VMR base and the updated position was given as ‘just off the leads on the Mandalay side’. Hmmm….no sign of our stricken vessel in that area so we continued right up to the boat launching ramp but still no joy.  At this point I am starting to wonder.

Then we get a phone call from the vessel with a new GPS position which put them just North of Pioneer Rock, so off we go….and there they are. Woohoo!  As the paper-work was being done the owner explained the situation. Brand new boat, first run after picking it up from the dealer and the fuel gauge went from half full to empty without any of the steps in between. Whole family on board, almost enough life-jackets the VHF radio wouldn’t work and his phone was almost out of battery.

The quick tow back to Port of Airlie and drop off went without a hitch and my jaunty shout of “Happy New Year” as we motored away drew a wry smile but a big “Thank-you“. We were soon back on our floating dock ready to go again.

Thanks to the crew for another smooth effort, and to all our sea-faring mates, all the best in the new boating year.

Crew: Bill Hopton & Shane Newell
Skipper: Ron Roberts


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