How the Whitsunday Escape fleet of bareboats survived Cyclone Debbie
Some say we were lucky, but it was really all down to good planning and hard work.
We have been in operation in the Whitsundays for over 25 years, and in that time have had many a cyclone threaten the region. No doubt Cyclone Debbie was the biggest of the lot but we were very well prepared, with cyclone plans formulated from years of experience.
The cyclone eventually crossed the coast on Tuesday, and our plan was put into action early on Thursday afternoon.
- On Thursday we booked marina berthing in Abell Point Marina for all 36 boats in our charge. We did this 2 days before the Harbour Master closed the port and beat the rush.
- We recalled all boats on Saturday, before the port was closed at 3pm. All boats made their way safely home during the day and beat the rush.
- We purchased extra fenders and lines to secure our fleet, and set to work cutting to size the hundreds of lines we would need. Each vessel had over 20 lines on it, making up over 700 individual pieces of rope. At an average of 12m in length, that was around 8.5km in total!
- Sunday was tie-down and evacuation day.
- All jibs/headsails were removed and stored internally
- All lazy jacks (lines on mainsails) were dropped and used to lash the main sail to the boom for extra security
- All clears, shade cloths, biminis, dodgers, life rings, cushions, chairs and any other loose items were removed and stored internally
- Outboards and fuel containers were removed from dinghies
- Dinghies in davits were tied securely to their vessel
- Loose dinghies were taken out of the water on our private dock, filled with water and lashed together
- Gas bottles were disconnected, removed and stored safely away
- Bilge pumps were checked and switched on auto
- All boats were tied securely in the middle of their pens, away from the dock edges with approximately 20 lines on each. Boats were cross-tied to different cleats on all sides to distribute the load and maximise stability
- Monday afternoon the cyclone’s winds started impacting the Whitsunday Coast. The first night the winds were from the south, and blew up and over the Conway Range down into Airlie Beach.
- Tuesday day time saw the eye of the cyclone cross us directly overhead. We experienced a couple of hours of complete calm during the eye. Then on Tuesday afternoon the intense winds of the cyclone passed over us again, this time hitting us from the north, our most vulnerable angle. All Tuesday night the winds ranged, stronger than the night before, hitting the marina directly front-on.
- On Wednesday morning we awoke to survey the damage to our beautiful town and check all our vessels.
- Mother Nature wasn’t done with us yet though, and she delivered a cracker of a thunderstorm on Wednesday night with torrential rains! In Proserpine a recording was taken of over 750mm of rain at 9.30pm and the storm wasn’t even over yet. For another day or so afterwards, the marina was being lashed with 5m waves crashing over the marina rock wall right onto “A” arm.
- By the end of the 3-day event, we had 2 of our main marina arms in pieces, but our fleet was afloat, and unharmed. One vessel sustained damage to the transom, and has already been hauled out for repair. She will be back in the water in time for a school holiday charter in April.
- After the event, we assessed our fleet and determined that it would be possible to continue most of the charters within about a week of the cyclone. Great news for all our Easter holiday charterers! All the tying down and stripping of vessel we did though, had to be then conducted in reverse, as we put everything back on and up, and get all the boats cleaned, so that they were once again ready to go out.
This serves as a timely reminder of the importance of taking out travel insurance. The recommended insurance will cover so many big items, like the charter fee, lost or changed flights, extra emergency accommodation and more. The policy we recommend is tailored to a Whitsunday bareboat holiday and is very worthwhile.
A big thank you to all our customers for their patience and the well wishes we have received by phone, email and on Facebook.
Right after the event, our staff were at the marina selflessly with no power or water. They put their jobs and the boats first to get the boats up and running as soon as possible. We are eternally grateful for the dedication of the Whitsunday Escape staff.
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