June 2019

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Activation 1/6/19: Assist a bareboat charter vessel that had dragged anchor

I (Mal) was about to get up anyway when John Magrin called from the radio base just on 0800 – a charter boat company was requesting our assistance to help a charter party of 4 on a 40 ft power cat that had dragged its anchor overnight from the top end of Hook Island, and was now drifting about 6 or 7 miles NW of Hayman Island.

charter boat in rough seasThey were unable to raise their anchor due to the rough conditions and they were all suffering from acute seasickness.

By the time we had the boat ready to go we had a skipper from the charter company on board, and Abell Point Marina VMR1 departed at 0835, heading up towards Pioneer Rocks before bearing away for the target’s reported position. Conditions were just a little less than perfect – overcast with seas well over a metre being pushed along by an outgoing tide and 20-25 knots of southeaster gusting well over 30 at times.

Getting the skipper across to the other boat safely and without damaging either boat was going to be challenging, to say the least, but we had about 45 minutes to think of the best way to do it.

We caught up with the target nearly 7 miles north-west of Hayman, and 20 miles from Airlie Beach. We were now in radio contact and they were moving slowly, but still with the anchor and bridle down. They were asked to bear away and run slowly square to the waves while we put a lot of fenders on our starboard bow. Moving at about the same speed and in the same direction put us in the same wave pattern as them, reducing the movement and rolling motion of both boats to the least we could manage.

Then it was just a matter of getting our starboard bow alongside their port quarter so the skipper could transfer at just the right moment! That sounds a lot easier than it was, but all went smoothly and we soon had the charter company skipper safely on the other boat. We stood by while he managed to raise the anchor before heading at 7 to 9.5 knots toward Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman, with them following in our wake. Even at that reduced speed I was getting a salt water wash as spray went over the flybridge and upper helm – it was not very pleasant for anyone on either boat.

Once in Blue Pearl Bay we transferred the two most seasick passengers to VMR1 so we could get them back to Abell Point as soon as possible, and we had been asked to have an ambulance there to meet them which was coordinated with the charter company. After picking our way along the shelter in the lee of Hook Island we entered Whitsunday Passage (supposedly Partially Smooth Waters – yeah, right!) and were forced to reduce speed in the very windy and rough conditions to make it easier for our passengers.

Speed picked up again once we got in the lee of North Molle Island, and we met the paramedics at the dock at about 1210, helped our passengers disembark with their new carers, then moved to the fuel dock to refuel before going back to our own berth to clean and secure the boat, finishing about 1235.

This was the roughest conditions that I had been out in for a number of years, but the crew handled it well, as did VMR1. Thanks fellas!

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Ken Bryce, Chris Williamson
Skipper: Mal Priday


Task: Medivac for QAS from Hamilton Island.

I (Mal) drew the short straw again with a call from phone holder Roger Wodson at 4:20 am – QAS had requested our assistance for a medivac from Hamilton Island. By the time Marti and I got to the boat (we carpooled) Michel and Chris had started getting Abell Point Marina VMR1 ready to go, and after finishing our checklist and dimming down all of the instrumentation – that takes a few minutes with all the equipment we have – we departed the Marina at 0500 with Paramedics Chris and Tim on board.

It was showing a chilly 16.9 degrees on the BOM site – but with the wind chill it was the same as 5.2 degrees! In the tropics! And I don’t do winter any more, or so I thought when I moved to the Whitsundays.

We had an outgoing tide – thank you God! – which was just as well as we had to reduce speed down to 15-16 knots punching in and across rough seas and S/SE winds gusting up to 38 knots at Hamilton – that is gale force! It was a very rough and rolly trip across the Whitsunday Passage (Partially Smooth Waters again, but we could not find that bit) before we pulled into the fuel dock at Hamilton at 0600.

Five minutes later we were on our way back to Abell Point with Marti at the helm, trying to keep the seas behind us at 16-20 knots. The sun was trying to make its presence felt as we approached South Molle, and we could see what may have been whale spouts in the distance – these turned out to be small water spouts or mini twisters lifting the water off the surface as they ripped past the eastern side of the island – it was very windy! We squeezed through Unsafe Passage into the smoother (relatively speaking) waters of the Molle Channel and eventually the lee of the mainland, by which time we were up to normal cruise speed of 23-24 knots.

Our patient and the paramedics disembarked at the fuel dock at 7:10 am and made their way up to the ambulance. We then refuelled, moved to our own berth, and got out the hose to clean the copious salt spray off the boat before finishing the paperwork and securing VMR1 for the next activation by 7:30 am. Hopefully the next activation will be in kinder and warmer conditions. Being warmer will be easy, it was b**** cold out there!

Many thanks to the crew. You have to be pretty dedicated to get up at 4:30 in the morning…. especially in those conditions.

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Marti Davy, Chris Williamson
Skipper: Mal Priday


Activation 8/6/19: Medical from Hayman. No, wait….a MayDay call!

I (Ron) removed my piece of fillet steak from the fry-pan. It had only been in there for about 10 seconds so was half done.  As I answered the VMR callout ring-tone at 19.15 I first asked “where are we going tonight”? I then looked out my kitchen window while Celia explained it was just a quick medivac from Hayman Island. Next I was picking up some wet weather gear as it was blowing hard from the South-East with rain squalls. Okay, two crew plus me is good to go for this medivac.

Ryan and Bill had the boat almost ready to depart as I assisted our Paramedic ‘Rosie’ down the ramp with her gear. VMR1 made the trip in lumpy seas and rain squalls seem easy and we were tied to the pontoon at Hayman Island and about to lift our patient aboard when someone’s nightmare began.

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!’ came over VHF16. Suddenly all the senses come to alert as I waited for other responses. Whitsunday VTS (Vessel Tracking Services) came on quickly and established that the call came from a vessel quite near us. They had broken free from a mooring and had drifted onto reef in gusty winds and onto a lee shore. The sound of panic was clearly heard in that voice.

Rapid consultation with the Paramedic confirmed that the patient was stable and would be better on the Island for a little while, rather than bouncing around during a rescue. That decision made, we advised VTS of our attendance within 15 minutes, cast off and headed for where we suspected the yacht had drifted within Stonehaven Anchorage. We asked the crew on the grounded vessel to set off a flare as it would improve our arrival time in the rainy conditions. They did well and I believe it was the first time that sailor had set off a red rocket for any reason.

Within 10 minutes of the first radio call we were approaching the aground vessel very cautiously. They were well into a field of bommies and fringing reef in very gusty winds with plenty of wave action accompanied by rain squalls, bow in to shore and jammed, and it was very near low tide.

Okay, this is too dangerous to send 2 crew out in the tender, it will have to be a stern to the seas bow in approach for us, heaving line and tow line to their vessels stern from our bow and try and hold ourselves off-shore and in line as we gently apply pressure to stop them from grounding further.

Communication with them was difficult in the wind, and panic and fear were obvious in their actions and voices, but we did well securing a tow line and then began the job of massaging a 42ft yacht out of the clutches of a reef on a lee shore. Wind bullets of possibly 40 knots and rain squalls didn’t help us maintain a steady pull in the desired direction, but with the help of the rising tide and a strong cleat on their stern, patience payed off and we eventually got them free.

Radio calls ensured that they were not taking water but were not wanting to remain on their vessel overnight. It must have sounded horrendous on board that boat as they ground into the rocks and coral.

Another quick decision and we informed them that we would secure their vessel to a mooring, take them on-board VMR1, make haste to pick up our patient from Hayman then proceed back to Abell Point Marina.

Some quick repositioning had the tow line removed and their yacht close-coupled as we motored them up to and then assisted them to secure their bow to a mooring. A transfer of passengers and some possessions and we headed back to resume our original task – a slower trip back to the waiting ambulance and now a charter company representative as well.

By 02.15am I was just closing up VMR1 after refuelling, wash-down and all the necessary paperwork when another VMR crew member walked up to the boat and said we now had a medivac from Hamilton Island.

Just another quiet night in paradise.  Some excellent seamanship and deck-work from the crew of Ryan and Bill in some not so friendly conditions has provided another successful outcome. Well done and thank you both.

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Bill Hopton
Skipper: Ron Roberts


Activation 9/6/19: Medivac from Hamilton Island in the wee small hours (again)

Abell Point Marina VMR had not even cooled down or been locked up from the previous medivac and mayday response, when 24/7 phone holder Celia Smith (a busy night for your return to the 24/7 phone, Celia!) called me (Mal) about 0140 to advise that we had been tasked for another medivac from Hamilton Island. Previous skipper Ronnie was told to go home and get some sleep, and by the time Ray, Michel , Ken and I had gone through our checklist and dimmed all the instrumentation again, we were ready when paramedics Peter and Rosie came on board, and we departed the marina at 0215.

Speed to Hamilton was of the essence, as the patient had suffered chest and possible spinal injuries in a fall down some stairs. Conditions were the usual SE trade winds of 25-30 knots on the top of the tide – translated that means a rougher and slower trip than otherwise possible or desirable. We went along the Molle Channel almost to Long Island before heading across the supposedly Partially Smooth Waters of the Whitsunday Passage, aiming for the northern end of Henning to get the best angle on the uncomfortable seas. Once inside Henning we took the speed up, and docked at Hamilton at about 0310. Under those conditions a 55 minute trip was very good going.

Transferring the now stabilised patient on board took a bit of planning, as he was confined to a QAS stretcher. With instructions from the paramedics, we helped to carefully transfer him to our backboard, strapped him on, then carried him on board where the process was reversed as we transferred him carefully to our older model QAS stretcher for the trip back to Abell Point, departing Hamilton about 0335.

At the request of the paramedics, the return trip was to be as smooth as possible at a reduced speed. Ray was on the helm for the return, running as square to the seas as possible at 13-18 knots as we made our way through Unsafe Passage before docking at Abell Point just before 0500 – the paramedics were grateful for the careful ride back.

Track from 8/6 and 9/6 activations

We assisted the paramedics to transfer the patient to their own stretcher on the dock using the same backboard technique, then got into the paperwork, refuelling, moving to our own berth, cleaning and securing the vessel so it was ready for its next activation.

Nice job by all concerned even if it involved a bit more lifting than usual. (This was our 21st medivac this year, compared to 9 for the same period last year!)

Crew: Ray Lewis, Michel del Aguila, Ken Bryce
Skipper: Mal Priday


Activation 19/6/19: Transport 4 QPS personnel to Whitehaven Beach

24/7 Phone holder Claudia rang me (Mal) to advise that we had been asked to standby for the possible transfer of 4 Queensland Police Service personnel to Whitehaven Beach to investigate alleged harassment at the campground. The Police boat was away up north in Townsville or Cairns, so we were the best backup option.

Soon it was all systems go and with 4 Police officers on board, Abell Point Marina VMR1 departed at 2115 into a moonlit 13-18 knot southeaster and a somewhat choppy sea on an incoming tide.  VMR1 anchored at Whitehaven by 2230 and Steve transported all four officers to the beach in two trips.

Then it was a matter of waiting for further instructions to pick them up. That call came about an hour later and all 4 were soon back on board, with the situation at Whitehaven now apparently under control.

We had them alongside at Abell Point Marina around 0100, and we then refuelled, moved to our own berth and cleaned and secured VMR1, finishing at 0130. Then it was (thankfully!) home to a warm bed for everyone.

Crew: Steve Norton, Terry Brown, Shane Gosselink
Skipper: Mal Priday


Task/Activation: Attend Whitehaven Beach Fun Run Community Event

With our silver sponsor Hamilton Island hosting and organising the annual Great Whitehaven Beach Run it was a good opportunity to support Hamilton and to use the day as a training run to get familiar with our Satphone, and to be on location in the event of any emergency or injury.

Abell Point Marina VMR1 departed at 0745 and by 0900 we had anchored off beautiful Whitehaven Beach in nice sunlight but with a chilly southerly  blowing at 10-15 knots. There was a lot of activity on the beach in preparation for the runs of differing distances to cater for all levels of fitness. Many runners were involved, and well done to Hamilton.

At 1130 we received a VHF call from the Hamilton Marina Rescue vessel, a competitor had what was thought to be a fractured leg – were we able to transport him back to Airlie Beach so he could get a late afternoon flight? Sure, not a problem, that was what we were there for. Who says there is no such thing as clairvoyance?

The Hamilton tender brought our patient out to VMR1 around noon. He was assisted from the tender backwards up onto our deck, then taken inside and made comfortable and we set off for home at 1205. As we entered Pioneer Bay we called Abell Point Marina to see if they had a wheelchair we could use to get our patient up to the roadside – of course they did, and Amber had it waiting for us by the time we berthed.

We unloaded our passenger and had him taken to his accommodation to get his things and get to the airport, then by the time we refuelled  and washed and cleaned the boat, it was just after 1330.  Thanks to the crew.

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Ryan Cunningham, Bill Hopton, Murray Story, Shane Gosselink
Skipper: Mal Priday


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