November 2019


Activation 9/11/19: Assist 42ft ketch with gearbox failure, Pioneer Point

I (Mal) was having a relaxing time, sitting on our boat and listening to the music from the main tent at the Airlie Beach Music Festival….but then the music was interrupted by sound of the Beatles and my “HELP” ringtone.  It was about 1400 and Gay at the base had received a phone call from the skipper on a 42 ft ketch that had suffered gearbox failure and was anchored off Pioneer Point.  He was requesting assistance to be towed to his mooring off Airlie Beach.

As I was car-less for the day, Kenny kindly agreed to come and pick me up at the Sailing Club, and by the time we arrived at Coral Sea Marina VMR1, crew personnel Chris and Terry had startup checks well under way.  After confirming details with Gay we departed at 1445 with Ken at the helm for the short trip to Pioneer Point in nice conditions with an easterly of about 10 knots on another beautiful day in paradise.

We located the vessel pretty easily as they had given Gay an accurate GPS position, so we thought it would be easy to just tie up alongside, do the paperwork, get the coordinates of their mooring, and Bob’s your uncle! That was not to be (naturally) as they had a solar panel hanging at 45 degrees out past the aft sides of the boat, effectively preventing that from happening. So the only way to manage this was to hang off a couple of metres while I threw our towline across.

I nailed it first time! I hope the crew were impressed! 😋

Then it was a tow at about 6 knots to their mooring for the delicate task of positioning them onto their mooring at a very slow speed so they could pick it up easily. All went well, and after sending Ken and Terry across in our tender to do the necessary paperwork it was back to Coral Sea Marina for a wash down (of VMR1), completion of log book and activation reports, and stepping off the boat at about 1600. Back to the music.

Thanks to the crew – a nice straightforward activation but with a couple of wrinkles to keep us on our toes. 🙂

Crew: Ken Bryce, Chris Williamson, Terry Brown
Skipper: Mal Priday

Activation 15/11/19: 8m power boat broken down in Pioneer Bay

It was Friday and I (Ken) was just delivering some bottled water to Coral Sea Marina VMR 1, when my emergency ring tone on my phone started ringing. Sure enough it was Roger, acting as 24/7 emergency phone holder . Great timing! 😄

Roger provided a briefing that a Bertram 8m power boat had broken down and although the owner was not a member, he had agreed to pay our hourly call out rate. I confirmed that I was ready and would get started on the pre-start checks while waiting for additional crew to arrive. Roger meanwhile organized a crew.

With Terry Clarke as Senior crew, Terry Brown on Communications and Shane Newell as crew member we were on our way. It was only a short trip into Pioneer Bay and with Roger’s vessel description we were alongside in quick time. While the paper work was being completed, the crew set up the tow line.

We towed the vessel to the ramp in Coral Sea Marina and then returned to our berth after a quick wash-down. Many thanks to the efficient crew, who made the rescue smooth.

Crew: Terry Clarke, Terry Brown and Shane Newell.
Skipper: Ken Bryce

Activation 16/11/19: Assist 51 foot yacht with engine problems

It was an early start to my day (Mal) to go to Funnel Bay and retrieve a yacht at anchor reporting engine difficulties. Coral Sea Marina VMR1 departed for the short trip to Funnel Bay at 0700 and we were all thinking that this was going to be an easy one. Wrong! 😫

As we prepared to go alongside to transfer crew, we saw that there was a dinghy hanging over their port side on a halyard.  Hmmm…okay, try the other side. After clearing the other dinghy hanging off the stern, we saw that Plan B was not going to work either as there was… of all things… a bicycle hanging over the side!!  Right, so that was out as well. Back to the other side around the dinghy off the stern, and we nosed alongside to allow Ken and Shane to jump ship so they could lift the dinghy on the halyard onto the deck. As we were going to be manoeuvering in the marina, they also raised the dinghy hanging astern onto the boat’s davits so it would be one thing less to worry about.

After about 15 minutes, the tow line was able to be passed across and we took the strain off their anchor while it was raised and started the tow at 0730 at about 7 knots.

Off Coral Sea Marina we rafted up, transferred Shane onto the other boat to help with dock lines, and after some delicate manoeuvering inside the marina, deposited the other vessel into its allocated berth at 0815. So glad we has the extra low speed grunt afforded by our big diesels and shaft drives, and this was a case of very low speed manoeuvering with about 25 tons or so hanging off the starboard side of VMR1 wanting to drag us in circles to the right!

VMR1 was taken back to be refuelled and prepared for its next activation…which was to be a trip to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island to retrieve a 55 foot yacht with drive problems, but luckily, they were able to get that sorted without us, and we were stood down.

Many thanks to the crew for the extra effort today, it was a job well done.

Crew: Ken Bryce, Chris Williamson, Shane Gosselink
Skipper: Mal Priday

Activation 20/11/19: Respond to EPIRB activation near Georges Point

There goes the ‘Help!’ ringtone again! Our 24/7 phone holder Roger called me (Mal) at about 2020 to advise that the local Police had been asked by the Search and Rescue Centre in Canberra to investigate an EPIRB activation, and that we had in turn been tasked with the job. We initially had very little detail.

While Roger put together a crew, I made my way in to Coral Sea Marina VMR1, and together we prepared the boat for night operation, dimming all instrumentation. After getting details and coordinates from Roger, we departed just before 2100 and headed out into an E/NE wind of 10-15 knots and a choppy sea,  travelling at 27 knots – this was not a drill. And it was as black as the inside of a cow with its tail down – zero moon to help us.

En route we were given more details by the Police coordinator (SARMAC), so we now knew that we were looking for a 34 foot yacht, 1 POB, aground near George Point and Hydeaway Bay, and with updated coordinates very close to the original set given to us. His boat was aground, and apparently taking water, on a dropping tide. We were also advised that the Rescue 412 chopper from Mackay has been tasked to assist, and a nearby fishing boat was also heading to the area. We were going to be there first.
We passed the fishing boat a couple of miles before the Point, and at 2140 we were able to locate the distressed vessel where he said he was. Terry and Shane got into our tender to go and extricate the solo sailor, as well as see if they could assess the damage to the boat.

It was very choppy, with backwash off the steep rocks coming from one direction and the chop from the easterly coming from another. As they moved in Rescue 412 arrived and was asked to illuminate the area using their very powerful flood light to assist. After dodging rocks on the way in – the boat was a long way in – Terry and Shane were able to pick up the very grateful sailor and transfer him out to Coral Sea Marina VMR1.

We set course for Airlie at 2200 after recovering and securing our tender as Rescue 412 and our fishing boat helper both headed away.  VMR1 was back on the fuel dock at 2250 to offload our passenger so he could give more details to the waiting Police, and by the time we refuelled, cleaned and secured the boat it was 2330 before we headed home. A good result, but a pity about the boat.

Tony did a nice job handling communications, and Terry and Shane handled the extraction of the sailor well in a very bouncy sea.

Crew: Tony McNeill, Terry Brown, Shane Newell
Skipper: Mal Priday

Activation 23/11/19: A simple tow which turned into a search and rescue

The weather was too hot to do much outside and I (Geoff F) was just debating whether I should turn on the air-con and opt for a relaxing afternoon inside, when the phone rang. It was Mal with a question….”Are you able to take a local hire boat operator to Whitehaven beach to retrieve a vessel aground?”  Why not. A few hours on the water is more interesting than watching TV. 😁

We needed a full tide and this was expected at 20:17, so I arrived on board Coral Sea Marina VMR1 at 17:30 to get going with the pre-start checks. I was soon joined by crew, Mitch, Paul, and Peter… plus the hireboat owner. We left the marina at 18:00 for the trip to Whitehaven beach. Winds were SE 10/15knots with moderate seas.

It was dark by the time we arrived,  with a sky full of beautiful stars. We located the vessel on the beach, just above water level. Mitch took the boat’s owner to shore in our tender to assess the vessel. After some discussion, it was decided that we would take the towline ashore and pull the vessel into the water. Only took a couple of pulls and the vessel was afloat.

We took the vessel hirer on board VMR1. The owner was ready to drive his boat back to Coral Sea Marina, but when he tried to get on the plane, he found that the prop was damaged. “No worries” I said,  “we will just tow it back.” And that should have been that! But life is often not simple for a VMR volunteer. 😋

While towing back across the passage, our Comms Officer received a call from Roger (24/7 phone holder) that we were being tasked by Police for a Search and Rescue near Gloucester Passage. The report was that a phone call had been received by a Monte’s Resort staff member that a vessel was sinking and needed assistance. Unfortunately the call dropped out before an accurate position could be given.

OK, so we needed to get onto that but we had a boat on a tow line! We continued the tow to the leads into the marina  where we dropped the tow at 21:15. The vessel owner had said he was happy to take the hirer and his vessel safely into the marina which was great, as this allowed us to proceed at top speed to George’s point where we started a coastline search towards Dingo Beach.

The Water Police SARCO (Search & Rescue Coordinator) tasked us with searching the area between Georges point and Gloucester  Passage. Meanwhile VMR  Bowen were searching the Sinclair Bay area . We were assisted by a rescue helicopter, plus a fixed wing aircraft. It was all GO out there!

About 23:20 I received a call from the Police SARCO telling us to head towards the Dingo Beach boat ramp and then continue searching on the eastern side of Gloucester Island. This we did…until midnight, when we were stood down and told to return to CSM and organise another crew to begin the search again in the morning.

We were exhausted and relieved to head back to the marina. By the time we cleaned up and shut down, it was already 01:30 and everyone was yawning.  Thanks to my crew for a great effort on a long, and tiring activation.

Crew: Mitch Edwards, Paul Martin and Peter Beaumont
Skipper: Geoff Fitzsimmons

Activation 24/11/19: Search at first light for possible sunk or sinking vessel

After the search the previous night was called off, 24/7 phone holder Roger called me (Mal) around 0520 to advise me that VMR Whitsunday had been activated again to go out at first light to resume the search for what was reported to be a sinking or sunk vessel in the Gloucester Island Area.

Coral Sea Marina VMR1 departed just before 0600 for the search area, and we had been tasked to search the shoreline area from George Point to Gloucester Passage including Saddleback Island, and then possibly join forces with VMR Bowen for a search around Gloucester Island. Not an easy area to cover, with lots of reef and shallow areas, so we would have to be on our toes.

By 0645 we had started our search, and just after 0800 we deployed our tender to pick up some debris on the shore. Closer examination showed it had been there for some time, so not our target.

Other search assets involved include a helicopter and the AMSA Jet SAR aircraft Rescue 550. After checking out some more debris we noticed the helicopter circling in two areas on the eastern side of the island, so went over to investigate some items in the water that turned out to be a rubbish bag and a piece of red plastic that had been in the sea for some time.

We were asked to wait on the south-western corner of the island pending more aerial searches but then received information from 550 that a helicopter had sighted some flotsam south of us. We proceeded to the coordinates provided and as we neared the coordinates, 550 again contacted us to advise that the white object had moved and was now 150 metres away at 3 o’clock – and 550 was at an altitude of 16,000 feet (!) according to the Flight Aware app we had.

Finally they reported that it was now 50 metres away at 2 o’clock…..and we retrieved a piece of foam packing less than 1 metre square. Amazing that 550 could see it from that altitude better than we could down among the whitecaps! I want one of those cameras! 😁

At that stage we were stood down and asked to proceed back to base as further information had been received indicating that the vessel we were looking for was indeed safe – good news. On the way back we passed the grounded yacht that we had retrieved the solo sailor from a couple of nights earlier at George Point, and all that was showing was about 3 metres of mast and a bit of sail as it had succumbed to the action of the sea and waves – not so good news for the owner.

By the time we got back to Coral Sea Marina, refuelled, got back to our own berth and cleaned and secured VMR1 it was 1330 – a long morning after a very early start. Well done to the crew, great commitment and dedication.

Crew: Chris Williamson, Shane Newell
Skippers: Mal Priday, Ron Roberts, Ken Bryce

Activation 25/11/19: Medivac to Stonehaven

I (Ken) heard the phone ringing from another room and had to make a run for it! It was Roger the 24/7 phone holder who quickly said “We have a QAS activation to Stonehaven. If you can do this one I will organjse three crew for you.”  Of course I could! 😊

I made my way down to Coral Sea Marina VMR1 and the crew arrived soon after me, quickly completing all the pre checks and start up procedures. The QAS Officer arrived next and Shane went through the passenger briefing while we stowed his equipment.

We departed CSM at 1715 on route to Stonehaven to collect our patient. On arrival we transferred her to VMR 1 and the Ambulance Officer did his medical checks and announced all was OK to depart immediately. The crew settled the patient in her life jacket and we where off to get back to the mainland.

On arrival, our patient was transferred to the waiting ambulance and VMR 1 was fuelled up and returned to her berth ready for the next activation. Everything had run like clockwork. With Chris Williamson on Comms, Tony Mc Neill with Senior crew responsibilities and Shane Newell as crew, everyone worked as a team and it was a pleasure working with them.

Crew: Tony McNeill, Chris Williamson, Shane Newell
Skipper: Ken Bryce

Activation 27-11-19:  Medivac from Hamilton Island

Time of initial contact – 2349 hrs. Conditions – Weather – clear, Seas – less than half a metre, Wind – ENE 5 to 10 knots,

We left our berth at 0025 hrs with one paramedic on board. We arrived at Hamilton Island Marina at 0125 hrs. The patient was transferred to VMR1 and we left there at 0140 hrs. We were unloaded, refuelled and washed down and in our pen by 0255 hrs. Whitsunday VTS and Roger were informed of our completed task.

Thanks crew, for your skills, professionalism and community spirit fellas.

Crew: Ron Roberts, Chris Williamson and Shane Newell
Skipper: Fin Forbes

Read about these activations soon after they happen….and see more photos taken from VMR1… PLUS read other people’s comments on the incident (or comment yourself).