March 2019


March has been a busy month for activations. In March last year we had a total of 4 activations whereas during this last month we were called out for 4 breakdowns, 1 EPIRB, 4 medical and 2 searches….bringing it up to a total of 11.   That’s not counting the 6 for patrol/training which is not included in this total. Read on for details.

Activation 3/3/19: Medivac from Hayman Island

It was the respectable time of 1330 when I (Ray) received the call from John Caldwell in the Radio Room. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and I had finished lunch…a very good time to be asked to be Skipper for a medivac. 🙂

A person had injured his shoulder and was located on a charter boat at Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.  By the time I arrived at Abell Point Marina VMR1, Ryan Cunningham was already completing the pre-start checks and QAS officer Damien was also on board.

With Rick Brown, Murray Story and Aaron Hemsley as crew we departed the Marina at 1400 and cruised across moderate waters to Hayman Island, easily spotting the vessel in question and carefully rafting up.  Damien clambered on board and attended to the patient before bringing him on board for more treatment before we could head back.

By the time we got back to Abell Point Marina, deposited our patient, refuelled and washed down, it was already 1615 and nearing the end of the afternoon.  My thanks to the crew for a great job.

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Rick Brown, Murray Story & Aaron Hemsley
Skipper: Ray Lewis

Activation 6/3/19: Search for Fishing Dory at Circular Quay Reef

The severe thunderstorm warning had been accurate and as the sound and fury moved East over Airlie beach and out toward the reef, I (Ron) settled down for dinner. That moment when I first hear the VMR emergency phone ring still makes my heart race. The thought “I hope people are okay” flashes into my brain, then the adrenaline level boosts as I find out the task to be faced.

With the permission of the skipper of the main fishing vessel at Circular Quay Reef, (on the new charts now called Black Reef East), a fishing dory had decided to go to Bowen… at night…during a severe storm warning. An EPIRB had later been activated in the vicinity of Bait Reef. Oh dear. :-0

Now the brain is racing. The journey from his approximate departure point to Bowen is about 80 nautical miles in a straight line but closer to 90 when you go around the Islands you can normally see, and the reefs you normally don’t see. Couple this with darkness in wind, heavy rain and lightening and you have a recipe for some serious hurt.

On board Abell Point Marina VMR1 we had the paper chart out and were drawing course lines, predicting wind and tide pressures, plotting estimated speed and possible courses for both the vessel with the EPIRB and our path to intersect it. We knew we will get more information as we head out to our search area, so as the final crew member arrives, we are ready to cast off.

Phone rings, more data? No….it was a “Stand Down”!  Our lost mariner (intrepid explorer?) was apparently 2 persons, and they were safe and well aboard the reef pontoon at Hardy Reef.

Thank you crew, for turning out on a very unpleasant night….lets put the boat to bed ready for next time. Nothing lost except some more grey hairs. 🙂

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Rick Brown, Kym Jolly and Aaron Hemsley
Skipper: Ron Roberts

Activation (1) 15/3/19: Triple Whammy..beginning with a cruiser aground

Three consecutive activations in a day….we could seriously use a second boat. 🙂

Activation 1: It began at 09.00 when Roger, the 24hr Emergency Phone Holder, rang me (Geoff S) to advise that a boat had run aground on the Causeway, Mid Mole, and the activation was a possible Search and Rescue.

Apparently another boat had reported a small cruiser aground on the Causeway between Mid and South Mole with nobody aboard. We were to take a police person to the vessel site and possibly do a search for the vessels crew.

We departed on Abell Point Marina VMR1 at 09.35 without the Police and headed for Mid Mole to search the Western shore of Mid Mole and South Mole. The weather was
perfect, with flat seas and a light northerly and we were halfway through a
falling tide. Not good for re-floating boats though.

At 09.50 we were notified by Police that the crewman had been located. Back to APM for 10.10 and straight into the pen.

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Rick Brown, Murray Story
Skipper: Geoff Smith

Activation 2: Roger rang me again at 15.00. This time it was a non- member broken down with 3 people on board at Mansell Island, and they were wanting help to return to Shute Harbour.

We had a bit of a scramble to check where Mansell Island was, then off we went at
15.33 with the conditions much the same as earlier except that the tide was
now well on its way to the top. We had a steady trip and on the way had a quick look at this morning’s vessel in Bauer Bay. It was a sad sight, firmly on the rocks with the sea lapping the gunwales.

We arrived at our target at 17.09. After finding out that two of the crew were mechanics we passed over the Jump Starter and seconds later, their mighty Honda burst into life. After much muttering about having VMR membership (a 4 hour non-member call out is very expensive) and having a basic tool kit on board next time, off they went to Shute with us following, just in case.

Activation 3: We were nearly home when Roger called the third time at 18.12 to say that a member had broken down off Daydream and needed to get to Muddy Bay. We were alongside our member’s boat at 18.30 and heard that their motor had made a lot of horrible noises then decided not to play anymore. No easy fix here so we sorted the paperwork, then set off to Muddy Bay with our people in tow. We put them alongside us off the Cruise Whitsunday terminal then onto the ramp finger at 19.30.

Finally back to the Marina again by 19.50 where we fuelled up and put our reliable boat into the pen, all washed down by 20.00. VTS and Roger were informed of our return. Our crew did a magnificent job…top effort and a long day fellas. 4.5 hours plus
on the water then off to the annual VMR Whitsunday fundraiser hoping there
was some food left and a cold beer.

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, John Dalton, Terry Clarke,
Skipper: Geoff Smith

Activation  17/3/19: Breakdown off Edward Island

That’d be right. I (Ray) was just settling down in the air conditioning to watch the Grand Prix when the phone rang.  It was the radio room with operator Greg advising that a 6 metre Quintrex boat with 4 persons on board had broken down at Edward Island which is 8.5 nautical miles east of Whitehaven Beach.

That was the end of the Grand Prix for me, so I made my way to Abell Point Marina VMR1 where I met up with Ryan who was already getting started on the pre-start checks. Before long we had Murray and Ron aboard and we departed at 1500.

We had great conditions…clear sky and a flat sea…so we cruised at 23 knots before arriving at the scene at 1615 where we found the vessel anchored at a beach.  We launched the tender to bring the boat out into deeper water and then transferred the occupants onto VMR1 and completed the paperwork before departing Edward island at 1640.

An easy tow to Shute Harbour and then we returned to APM to refuel and wash down, before finishing at 1900.  Thanks to crew for a great effort.

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Murray Story and Ron McCall
Skipper: Ray Lewis

Activation 18/3/19: Medivac from Hammo

I (Ray) received a call late in the afternoon from Roger our 24/7 phone holder, that we were required for a medivac to Hamilton island where a person was experiencing severe pain and needed to be somewhere other than on an island!

I headed off to Abell Point Marina VMR to get the vessel ready and await the rest of our contingent.  Before long we had them all aboard….QAS officer Doug and our crew of Michel, Samantha and new volunteer Ann (Master IV).

We departed APM at 17:45 and headed out across the Whitsunday passage to find ourselves in the middle of a lovely ambiance and a stunning sight with the setting sun behind us and a rainbow in front. We might be volunteers but sometimes we get paid in other ways. 🙂

Arrived at Hamilton Island and picked up our patient without any issues, then headed back to APM in the dark where we delivered the patient, fuelled up, washed down and finished by 20:05. My thanks to the crew, and also to Ann for passing on her knowledge to Samantha on the helm. We were a good team.

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Samantha Collins and Ann Cleghorn
Skipper: Ray Lewis

Activation 24/3/19: Medivac from Hamilton Island

Every boat is a compromise, the result of a series of choices based on assumptions.

It was15.00 on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when I (Ron)… accompanied by 3 crew members plus 2 paramedics….was en-route to Hamilton Island on Abell Point Marina VMR1 to transport a very unwell patient with abdominal pain.

Residual swell from the South-Easterly breeze overlaid by a light Easterly made for a relatively smooth ride so we were entering Hamilton Harbour within an hour.

Communication during the trip told us to expect a second medical emergency for transport back to Abell Point Marina. A patient suffering from injuries after a fall had suspected damaged ribs, fractured arm and head injuries.

Now we get to the boat part. 😊

With the abdominal patient being made comfortable and propped up in the air-conditioned lower cabin and the fall patient being stabilized on land, we quickly set up and locked down the Stryker Stretcher in its purpose made bench position. Our side-gate access is wide enough to allow wheeled stretcher passage onboard to minimise patient movement. With both patients now aboard and settled, the wide passage-way between them gave good clear access for the Paramedics to do their job while the crew prepared for the trip back to Abell Point Marina.

The Paramedic requested a fast but smooth ride back to the waiting ambulances, and that is exactly what VMR1 was able to provide. Under 40 minutes for the trip, and the roughest part was when our bow-wave overtook us as we slowed for the entry into the marina.

The crew work was excellent, the Paramedics were exceptional, and the boat…well….I think we have made the right choices.

Thanks to the crew of Ryan, Murray and Mitchell, and our Paramedics Taylor and Keely

Crew: Ryan Cunningham, Murray Story and Mitchell Edwards
Skipper: Ron Roberts

Activation 26/3/19: Medivac from Hayman Island

The Emergency Phone went at 1.05 AM. I (Geoff S) was dead to the world so my wife and the barking dog went to answer the phone. Capt Ron was doing his best to be cheerful and positive which can be a challenge at that time of the morning.  He reported that VMR had a medivac (male with back pain) to attend to, and the crew were on the way down to Abell Point Marina VMR1. Woohoo! Well, I’d better wake up properly and get going.

By the time I got to APM, Rhiannon, the Paramedic, was unloading her gear from the Ambulance onto the pavement. Then Michel arrived so we helped cart all the gear down to the boat. Steve was waiting at the gate and started running the checks with Michel.

We got away at 01.35 into a flat sea, a bright half-moon and very little wind. Whilst on the way we found out that the patient now had abdominal pains and may need a stretcher. The trip over was uneventful and we arrived at 02.30.

The Hayman Island Nurse, Cassie, had our patient on the dock waiting so it was a very quick turn round then off back to APM arriving at 03.30. Ross, APM security, was waiting to help with our lines.  Rhiannon had organised another Paramedic to meet her at the dock and give her a hand to load the Patient into an Ambulance and off to Proserpine Hospital.

That gave us chance to re-fuel, get in the pen, complete the paperwork, wash down the boat and notify Whitsunday VTS and Capt Ron of our safe return. Thanks to a great crew working together, it was a quick trip and off home to bed for 04.00 and hopefully a little more shut-eye.

Crew: Michel del Aguila and Steve Norton
Skipper: Geoff Smith

Activation 29/3/19: SAR response to EPIRB at Knuckle Reef

24/7 phone holder Roger Wodson called me at around 20:00 – an EPIRB had been set off at Knuckle Reef, about 60 nautical miles from Airlie Beach, and we had been activated to proceed to the area to search and assist as necessary. An AMSA search aircraft from Cairns had also been activated and was on its way.

Sea conditions were a slight sea with some chop, and a north to north-east wind of about 10 knots. The idea of doing a retrieval or search at night on the outer reef was rather formidable to say the least, but we had to respond to what may have been a genuine emergency with lives at risk, so away we went.

Abell Point Marina VMR1 departed the marina at 2035 into a black night, with little assistance from a sliver of moon frequently hidden by cloud. We sat on 27 knots most of the way to the edge of Knuckle, and we had heard the AMSA aircraft talking to our target but did not hear from our target until we got closer. With no visible reference to steer to it was all concentration on the plotter and FLIR – even when we got close enough to see the circling aircraft it gave no real target to steer to as it was orbiting in a large circle over our target.

The target vessel indicated to the aircraft that the people on the boat were okay, and that it had safely anchored in about 18 metres of water. As we approached the edge of the reef at 2235 caution was the name of the game, and while in 45 metres of water we came upon the edge of the reef only 10 metres in front of us, and clearly visible in the now rapidly shallowing  water, on a dropping tide. Time to play safe!

At that stage it was a case of reversing course back to safer water, and confirming with the target that they would be okay and were safe until we (or another crew) could have another go at the high tide in daylight in the morning. Plan B if they required evacuation in an emergency was to use our tender.

After confirming all details and the return plan with the Police SAR officer via Whitsunday VTS radio, we considered our options – either go to the Cruise Whitsundays Pontoon at Hardy Reef for the night, or return to Abell Point for another crew to head out at 0600  for the retrieval.  Consensus of the crew was to take the return to base option, so we started to retrace our track back at 2300.

We were alongside the fuel dock for a refill at 0110 before returning to our own berth, cleaning and completing of the necessary  paperwork before securing the boat at 0145, and then it was off to bed for some well-earned sleep. 😴

Thanks to the crew  – great commitment to what could well have turned into an all-nighter – luckily the target and it’s crew were safe.

Crew: Michel del Aguila, Bill Hopton and Tim Hearn
Skipper: Mal Priday

Editor’s note: During the activation our phone holder was contacted by the wife of one of those on board.  She was relieved and delighted to know that VMR Whitsunday were on their way to the EPIRB position.  Following this she messaged us “Thank you to all of the VMR Rescue Team for all their hard work and efforts. It is hugely appreciated.  Kind regards, Tracey.”

Activation 30/3/19 (2): Recover 24ft Power boat from Knuckle Reef. 2 POB.

The 24hr Emergency Phone Holder, Roger, rang at 5.06am. Abell Point Marina VMR1 had been activated the night before by the Water Police responding to an EPIRB call at Knuckle Reef. When VMR1 arrived the tide was low and they weren’t able to approach
the target so they returned to base. (see report above) Now read on….

We were able to get away at 06.00 and after a totally uneventful trip in little wind and no seas we arrived at the southern end of knuckle reef at 08.30. Looking at the chart there were a couple of possible entrances to the area where the target was. We flipped a coin and decided to use the Eastern one. It was marginally closer to the target as well.

We had been warned that the reef shelved very quickly so preceded very cautiously into the channel. We were in approx. 60-70m of water in the channel and then headed up the eastern side of the main reef at idle speed but still 60-70m. Feeling our way, we closed the target at 08.40 using their directions for the last few meters to avoid a couple of large bommies.

The poor guys had been in trouble since the previous afternoon and had tried to repair their engine for a couple of hours, then tried to raise anyone on Ch 16 before finally giving up and activating their EPIRB. They were anchored in 10m but had coral close by.

Although the tide was running, there was still little wind and we got alongside to transfer the tow quite easily, then reversed our track to escape. Phew. 😅 Once we were out of the reef area, we headed for APM for another uneventful trip home. We transferred the boat alongside us outside the marina and had them alongside an unmanned vessel, (which was blocking the ramp finger 🤐) at 11.50. Round the corner to the fuel dock then over to our pen for a washdown at 12.10.

Thanks to a great crew for making it all so easy.

Crew: Tony McNeill, Jon Bulmer, Geoff Fitzsimmons
Skipper: Geoff Smith

Editors Note: We received a message of gratitude from the owner of the boat involved:

“From the moment I was contacted by Police Search & Rescue (within minutes of the EPIRB being activated) to the time radio contact was made with Tony, I was kept up to date via phone of events as they unfolded.   

The benefit of such clear lines of direct communication is priceless as thousands of possible scenarios (none of them good!) ran through my head of what “could” be happening.

 As a family we would like to take this opportunity to thank the VMR crew directly involved in the callout and also (and just as importantly) the team that support that crew. With many sincere  thanks for all your effort.”
Tony and Carol Brooks

Activation 31/03/19 (1): Assist Police with vessel at Hill Inlet

It should be a surprise when VMR calls at 03.03 in the morning but it’s starting to feel normal! 😁 This time it was a Police call out to assist a vessel at Hill Inlet, Northern end of Whitehaven Beach, and a set of GPS coordinates were given. Excellent.

As the fearless (but yawning) crew were preparing Abell Point Marina VMR 1, we put the position on the chart to find out that the coordinates pinpointed a spot South of Pentecost Island, some 30 miles away. Okay…we’ll need to check this. Communication was in progress when our Water Police person arrived with a different set of GPS numbers, and this time they pointed to Hill Inlet or Tongue Bay. All good!

We set off under a Cheshire moon, flat sea and clear sky, making good time, and were searching the shoreline of Tongue Bay and then around the point to Hill inlet before dawn. As it was too dark to use the tender for a search into the shallow inlet, we did a quick shoreline search along Whitehaven Beach as far as Lagoon Rock and returned to launch our tender at dawn.

We had spotted a beached vessel at about the second GPS fix so the Police officer and 2 crew headed up the inlet to investigate in the tender. Just as they reached the shore we received a radio call to stand down and return to base, so transmitted this to the shore-party via our hand-held VHF radio.

Our party spent some time on the beach and on return to VMR 1 at about 06.30, advised us that the injured party had been airlifted out by helicopter. So….we headed home under a beautiful rising sun with an impressive cloudscape.  It was a lovely morning for a boat ride. 😉

Thanks to our early risers and water police officer Christian.

Crew: Chris Williamson, Ken Bryce, Terry Clarke
Skipper: Ron Roberts