June 2018

Activation 2/6/18: Assist stranded non-member

I (Ray) was three quarters of the way through inducting a new member (Ryan Cunningham) on Abell Point Marina VMR1 when I received a call from our radio room that a non-member had broken down in the Whitsunday passage and was needing our assistance.
After crew members Rod, Michel and Tony arrived we departed the marina at 10.37am and headed out through Unsafe Passage. We found the boat halfway across the passage and spot on the coordinates that we had received…well done to their skipper for making that easy. 🙂
We hitched up and started the tow and as it was a beautiful sunny day and a flat sea we travelled at 17 knots and were back at the Abell Point Marina boat ramp, fuelled up and berthed again by 12.17pm. Thanks to the crew.
Crew: Rod Wilson, Michel del Aguila and Tony McNeill

Skipper: Ray Lewis

Training/Patrol – 11/6/18

With the number of activations being very low at the moment, we decided to do an extra training run for new crew and as a refresher for some crew that had not been on Abell Point Marina VMR1 for a while. We had the added bonus of nice weather – and that is not what we encounter all the time.

We left Abell Point a little after two and headed towards Hamilton Island, training and refamiliarising en route. A stop in the middle of the Whitsunday Passage to point out some of the islands and locations around us, then into Hamilton Marina for a quick look around. Nice to get that done in daylight as the last few visits to Hamilton have been at night for medivacs!

As we went past on the eastern side of Henning Island it was a bit busier than usual – the cruise ship Pacific Aria was anchored and transferring passengers to and from Hamilton using ferries and their own tenders, and just past Aria a magnificent sailing boat called Hetairos, just under 67 metres (218 feet) long, and only 7 years old, was at anchor while a couple of guests or crew sailed around it in dinghies.

Entering Cid Harbour a phone call – we had been tasked to assist a 36 foot yacht broken down near Roseric Shoal. Not quite what it seemed, though, as Captain Ron, one of our skippers, had offered to go out here in his own boat so we could throw in some towing and coming alongside practice –  and not all the crew cottoned on until we got closer. Thanks Ronnie!

Practice tow and coming alongside completed, it was back to Abell Point to refuel, hose down, and put the boat to bed after a good afternoon on the water.

Crew: Ray Lewis, Trevor James, John Caldwell, Keith Milliken, Rick Brown, Daniel Trethewey, Kym Jolly, Malcolm Asche
Skipper: Mal Priday

Activation 13/6/18: Assist non-member, broken down

I (Ron) had just finished Wednesday evening sailing. It had been a good yacht race….we didn’t win but my sailing crew were happily relaxing at the Sailing Club afterwards, when the VMR call came through.

A 21 foot power catamaran needed a tow from Sawmill Beach back to Abell Point Marina. The non-member had limited phone reception, no VHF radio and electrical problems. So off went the fearless VMR crew, on a night with no moon, a bit hazy so no stars, and dead flat calm.

There were 30 or more boats anchored in Sawmill, so at 8:00pm at night we were providing quite a floor-show with all our lights on going from boat to boat asking if they needed a tow.  😁 Hmmmmmmm!

Not finding our man there we proceeded to the next bay, Dugong inlet, where a flashing light from a 26 foot mono hull signaled we had found the right boat but with the wrong description. Okay. 😑

With the paper-work complete we began the tow home at a very comfortable 16 knots. A simple disconnect inside Abell Point Marina saw the vessel limp back to the boat ramp under its own power with a cheery wave and a big thank you from their Skipper. With VMR1 refuelled and hosed down I thanked the crew for another successful activation.

Crew: Rod Wilson, Tim Hearn, Trevor James, Kym Jolly
Skipper: Ron Roberts

Activation 15/6/18: Search for a couple with a small child

You have to love the colours of a sunrise over a smooth sea, especially from the steering chair on Abell Point Marina VMR 1 at 25 knots on a crisp morning. The crew of Michel, Chris, Clayton, Richard and myself had been alerted before dawn that a 3.4 meter tinny with 2 adults and a two-year old on board had not returned the day before from a day-trip. We had a start point and a probable destination of Whitehaven Beach so we were tasked to make all speed to Shute Harbour, and then search from
there by the shortest route to Whitehaven.

Travelling at a reasonable speed and with a couple of stops to get a closer look at possible sightings on occasion, we motored through Solway Passage and around to the southern end of Whitehaven, with nothing seen. As we turned to go across to Chalkies Beach we were approached by a vessel which fitted the description we had been given. A brief conversation followed and we were advised that they had got caught by the tide and grounded in Tongue Bay without radio or phone until after dark, had then stayed overnight on a nearby yacht and were travelling back to Shute Harbour now, at about 08.00.To ensure their safety, VMR 1 followed the vessel back to Shute Harbour boat ramp where they were met by a couple of Police Officers.

Then, just when we thought it was all clear to return to base at Abell Point Marina, we were tasked to begin a search for another over-due vessel. A quick check that the crew were all happy to go out again, and the rest of the day is recorded in the next report.

Crew: Michel de Aguila, Chris Williamson, Clayton Earl and Richard Atkinson
Skipper: Ron Roberts

Activation 15/6/18: Search for a dinghy with 1 person on board

After the successful completion of our pre-dawn search for the couple and small child, the team on Abell Point Marina VMR 1 were tasked to stay in our current location and begin a new search for an overdue vessel….this time a 10 foot white inflatable with a 15 hp outboard …..missing on a journey leaving from Shute Harbour to Hamilton Island at 8.00pm the previous evening.
A beautiful clear morning with flat seas and great visibility meant we could cover a lot of area quite quickly, but not knowing when the tender had got into difficulty, we had to consider the results of several tide changes and a shifting wind overnight. This meant that we had several islands and a lot of coast-line to cover.
Searching South between the mainland and Long Island, then up along the shore between Long and Pine, across to the Southern end of South Molle then across to and around Henning. Very scenic but no success.
Then we received a change to our information, which meant we changed direction to search through Cid Harbour out through Hook passage and back into Macona and Nara Inlets. You don’t normally get this on a day trip. No success and the search was now escalating.
Helicopters and VMR vessels from Midge Point and Bowen were called in, and we were asked to return to base at Abell Point Marina to refuel and pick up a fresh crew to recommence the search, as a full search and rescue was being controlled from the VMR radio base at Whisper Bay.
A great effort by the crew of Michel, Richard, Clayton and Chris with 8 hours of intensive searching on the day, and more to come from the continuing search with a fresh crew.
Crew: Michel de Aguila, Chris Williamson, Clayton Earl and Richard Atkinson
Skipper: Ron Roberts

Activation 15/6/18: New crew for continuation of search for dinghy with 1 pob.

Other units involved: 2 helicopters, Water Police, Land Police, MSQ, VMR Bowen, VMR Midge Point, Tom Manning at VMR Radio Base, phone holder Fin Forbes, Whitsunday VTS, Search and Rescue Coordination Centre Canberra, and all vessels in the vicinity asked to keep a lookout – a cast of hundreds!

The story behind the activation – a guy (let’s call him ‘dinghy man’) with friends on a yacht chuck out the pick in Cid Harbour and run out of beer. Dinghy man goes to get more beer, decides that Airlie Beach (14 miles each way) is closer than Hamilton Island (7 miles each way – really!) and sets off alone, with no means of communication, no EPIRB, no life jacket, no shirt, no VMR membership… and heads across the glassy seas to beautiful Airlie and buys more beer and heads back to the yacht. Just another day in Paradise.

In the meantime his mates wonder why he is taking so long to go around the corner of Whitsunday island to Hammo, so they pull up the pick and go looking for him.

Dinghy Man gets back to Cid Harbour but the yacht is gone.  Another yacht tells him that they have gone to Hammo and give him enough fuel to get there.   Dinghy Man somehow goes past Hammo, presumably thru Fitzalan Passage  (Hamilton is the island on the right with lots of big buildings and lights!) and splutter splutter, runs out of fuel.  It gets dark but with his sunburn to keep him warm he drifts off to sleep, whilst the dinghy drifts out into the Coral Sea.

When he awakens, no land is in sight, but after the perfect Whitsunday winter SE zephyr comes up he drifts slowly towards land and starts rowing.  He sees only 2 boats all day until 24 hours later, Cruise Whitsundays vessel Seaquest sights him, still in the dinghy, still shirtless, and takes his dinghy in tow, back to the waiting constabulary at Hammo.

All of the above meant that VMR Whitsunday crew had to spend a total of 9.5 hours on the water plus time involved attending the Search and Rescue Brief, VMR Bowen had to travel by water to Airlie and back, and VMR Midge Point had to travel by land to launch at Abell Point and back – total VMR man hours for this search was probably in excess of 100 hours.

Please, please, please, think safety out there. The last thing we want to have to do is come looking for you because you made some bad decisions.

Still, it was a beautiful day on the water in paradise. 🙂

Crew: Ray Lewis, Ron Roberts, Roger Wodson, Kym Jolly, Stephen Raine
Skipper: Mal Priday

Activation 26/6/18: Medivac transfer from charter yacht

One reasonable apology for not going to a VMR meeting is to go out on a call-out. 😉 So there we were at 17.45 headed for Nara Inlet in the rain, to medivac a yacht crewman who had been injured in a fall on the rocks. One para-medic, two trainee para-medics who are also VMR boat crew, two other boat crew and me (Ron). I like to use our upper deck steering station for night activations because of the extra visibility so getting a companion up with me in the rain was a short straw job I think, as below in the dry was the preferred option.
We had a swift trip from Abell Point Marina across to Nara and located the vessel we needed with no difficulty as the GPS position they had given us was exact. Thank you…so easy when we know where to go.
The injured man was the elected skipper of the charter yacht and needed to be transferred to Proserpine Hospital, so agreement was reached that the entire crew would transfer back to Airlie with us. With air-conditioning on for a fairly slow, rough trip home with a full boat below and breeze of 20 knots plus we managed to avoid the use of those bags with the plastic mouth-pieces. 😊
As a point of interest we spotted a yellow flashing light on the shore just North-West of the Nara entrance, not a usual thing so with a brief stop we identified it as a local navigation mark which had come adrift from Henning Island and beached itself. With its position logged for notification to Whitsunday VTS we continued back to base at Abell Point and discharged our passengers safely.
Commendations to Cumberland Charter Yachts Whitsundays who had their manager on constant radio and phone duty throughout, organising on land accommodation, transfers and boat pick-ups as well as being on the dock to assist on our return. A job well done.
My thanks to the crew and our new para-medic Rhiannon, as well as Matthew from Cumberland for his onshore work throughout.
With Abell Point Marina VMR 1 home and hosed by 20.45, I signed off…until next time.
Crew: Roger Wodson, Karoliina Kunnari, Graeme Jay and Samantha Collins.

Skipper: Ron Roberts

Trials and Tribulations of VMR Radio Room Volunteers (and SARCOS)

It was a Sunday, and I (Tom) handed the radio watch at the VMR base over to Bernard at 12 noon & went grocery shopping with my wife.  Half an hour later Bernard phones…a lady cannot drag her dingy into the water because it is too heavy, the tide is going out and she would like VMR to come to her aid.

Bernard informed her that as a non-member she would incur a fee, giving the amount as per our schedule.  Bernard’s next call. She wants a quote for the job.

I said to tell her that VMR does not give quotes given the many variables & also the given location was very vague – it may take quite a while to find her and the sea state could be different between the base and the location she had given. Bernard had checked on the chart (as per her instructions) her location was Pentecost Island.

Next call. I suggested Bernard ask her to call her yacht & advise her predicament. Reply was that she couldn’t do that because she has the phone and ‘He’ does not. And no, she doesn’t have a hand held radio with her.

At Bernard’s next call I suggested to him that she give us the yacht’s name and VMR will contact it directly.  Bernard did this.

Next call from Bernard… “yacht says no drama, they will wait till the tide turns & float it off in an hour or so.”  Oh, she was sorry about her location she was a tad confused.  Location was ‘Woodwark Bay’. 😖

Well at least this incident broke the monotony for the radio operator and the SARCO, but it could have been a life threatening situation. It pays to know where you are, & have all the safety gear with you. It may save your life.