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Rescuers kept busy in challenging conditions

By Ray White Whitsunday

VOLUNTEER Marine Rescue was kept busy on Saturday with three activations in one day.

The organisation’s primary rescue boat Coral Sea Marina VMR1 was temporarily out of service, which left all the work to their smaller boat Whale Song VMR2.

“Our big boat is out of service at the moment but our small boat did three activations, all on Saturday, back-to-back,” VMR president Mal Priday said.

The first activation was a ‘simple’ tow, with the call received at 5am reporting that a vessel was stranded just north of Pioneer Rocks and needed to be towed.

Whale Song VMR2 departed Coral Sea Marina at 5.18am and, after some initial confusion as to the target vessel’s whereabouts, it was towing them back to Port of Airlie, returning to Coral Sea Marina at 6.37am.

The second activation, on Saturday, was a power boat that had broken down in Hook Passage.

Whale Song VMR2 had only just come back when the call came at 7am to assist a 10-metre, Black Watch power boat.

They set off and before long, crews could see the target vessel in the distance and soon had the tow line attached, towing them back at 7.8 to 8.2 knots, making good time over the 33.7 n.m. distance.

They headed to Port of Airlie to dock the power boat into its SeaPen, and it all went off without a hitch, returning to the VMR berth and fuelling up by 10.45am.

The third and final activation for the day was to assist a 6.5-metre vessel broken down near Rattray Island and requesting assistance to get back to Dingo Beach.

VMR president Mal Priday got the call from the radio room about 2.45pm.

“The weather was taking a major turn for the worst, with storm cells and thunderstorms closing in,” he said.

“Whale Song VMR2 left the marina at 3.20pm heading for a set of coordinates that was about 10 miles past Rattray.

“Conditions had changed from about 10 knots easterly on a pretty flat sea, to an initial 10-15 knots from the south on a choppy sea. As we got near Rattray, conditions had worsened to a 15-20 knots south to south wester, with a building wind swell.

“We were alongside the boat at 4.40pm, and we took mum and one child onto VMR2, and started the 13 to 14-mile tow back to Dingo. It was very choppy and there was a lot of weight with a total of eight people on the two boats.”

As they passed Gloucester Passage, another ‘gnarly squall’ came towards them with a lot of rain, so wet weather coats were handed out.

“Soon we had gone from a 6.5 knots tow speed to 2-3 knots, as we were hit by a steady 30 knots and very short, sharp seas that at times had waves going right over VMR2,” Mr Priday said.

“After what seemed like an eternity, conditions began to ease, and finally we were approaching the ramp, which is poorly marked and with reefs either side. We edged our way in but I soon aborted the attempt – it was too dark and we could not see any obstructions until we were almost on top of them.

“The only option to get them to shore was to take them into the passage, near to Monte’s resort, anchor their boat for recovery in the morning and take them to shore to be picked up. This was finally completed at 8.40pm, nearly five hours after we started the activation.

“We headed back to Coral Sea Marina, arriving at the fuel berth about 9.30pm. By the time we refuelled, put the boat on the dry dock, did the soggy paperwork and washed and secured the boat, it was 10pm and well past knock-off and dinner and (well-earned) beer time. It was a great job by the crew in very arduous conditions.”

Source: Whitsunday Times

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