Volunteer crews from Marine Rescue units were working non-stop in last weekend’s appalling conditions. Their marine radios were alive with an unprecedented number of calls for help, reports of vessels adrift from moorings and grounded vessels. The popular Pittwater-Broken Bay-Brisbane Water and Hawkesbury region proved to be very risky for many who ventured out, including several houseboats that experienced very rough conditions.
Commander David White from Marine Rescue Cottage Point said, 'I have not seen wind conditions in Broken Bay of this magnitude in over 45 years of boating in the area. They were infrequently less than 30kts during this period and exceeded 55kts at the peak with a short sharp sea in Broken Bay and even most sheltered bays.'
Andrew Ward from Marine Rescue Hawkesbury said 'Conditions were as bad as I’ve ever seen them.'
The calls began at 0220 on Saturday morning with Marine Rescue Hawkesbury searching for a dinghy with 2 POB missing from a houseboat in America Bay. They were found sheltering on shore and re-united with their friends on the houseboat – who hadn’t noticed them missing!
But Sunday was the busiest day. At 0315, the Cottage Point crew were called to the aid of an 18ft cruiser that was only just being kept from breaking up on rocks by 4 tired, cold and wet young men. They and their boat were taken to the Akuna Bay fuel wharf. Immediately after this came a race to prevent a 53ft yacht from going aground in Coal and Candle Creek. A fouled propeller had left it with no engine power. The Cottage Point team towed this 12 tonner to join the cruiser at the Akuna Bay wharf.
While at Akuna Bay they noticed a 42ft yacht had broken all but one mooring line in its berth and was smashing into a smaller boat next to it. They secured this vessel intending to come back later in the morning to retrieve the lines they had used. They returned to Cottage Point base by 0630 where they barely had time for a coffee when a call for help at 0800 sent them to America Bay where a 43ft yacht had lost its mooring, fouled its propellor and was close to grounding. This resulted in a demanding tow job back to Bayview through extremely choppy seas and winds gusting to 55kts.
There was barely time to place this yacht on a spare mooring near Scotland Island when an urgent call came in from Marine Rescue Hawkesbury to assist them with a houseboat with 10 people on board and one motor out of action, in danger of going ashore at Hungry Beach back on the other side of West Head. A second houseboat in the same area was heading for Lion Island but was advised by the Marine Rescue crew to go back to less dangerous waters. This boat took the advice and began a very slow return journey, but the first and much larger houseboat was making no progress and it was too large for the Hawkesbury rescue vessel to tow.
The Hawkesbury skipper coached the houseboat skipper by marine radio and he was able to stay off the rocks until the larger, more powerful Cottage Point vessel arrived. A tow line was attached with extreme skill in the difficult conditions and the houseboat taken back at barely 3kts to safety at Parsley Bay.
After returning to the base for a late lunch, the Cottage Point crew had barely taken a couple of mouthfuls before they were again called for assistance. This time it was three kayakers in Smiths Creek who were unable to make way against the very strong winds and needed help to get back to Apple Tree Bay.
Then, a few minutes after returning to base, a call for help was received from a private houseboat in Mooney Mooney Bay. This vessel had broken from its mooring when its deck cleat and supporting deck had been ripped from the vessel and it had been driven ashore. The Cottage Point team secured a line to the bow of the houseboat and dragged it safely back to its mooring.
The crew went to Akuna Bay to retrieve the lines left there 12 hours earlier and finally returned to base after 1700. They had clocked up over 8 hours underway on the day, used around $450 in fuel and received donations of $220. The value of vessels assisted on the day was well over $900,000.
Commander White said, 'Full credit goes to the sturdy and capable vessels CG31 and CG32 which performed faultlessly in these extreme conditions. But my greatest admiration goes to the team on the day, Joanne Dickson, Terry Watai, Peter Liccioni and John Bensley whose professionalism, calmness and can do attitude made me a very proud team leader.'