Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Toketie in the Bundaberg Flood on the Burnett River

December 24, 2010

Burnett River, Bundaberg, Australia

Christmas Eve!

This is without a doubt one of the more difficult Christmases aboard Toketie. Being on the other side of the world, away from family and friends is hard enough but more bearable nowadays with email and skype to make you feel closer. No, this year it is the circumstance we find ourselves in!

As you know from previous entries, we were moored in the river in downtown Bundaberg in Australia. We were enjoying the luxury of hot showers, or cold when the humidity went into the 90s and the breeze stopped. Being able to walk into town and wander through air conditioned malls to buy groceries. And we have met some wonderful people here through contact with Fred and Lesley, the Ocean Cruising Club Port Officers.

But we are busy as well. There is always a list of maintenance chores on board, getting the new wind instrument repaired, trying to solve the main sail track rigging problem and of course the routine daily chores of cooking and cleaning. We have been out to restaurants a few times with moderate success. The fresh prawns and scallops from the fishing boats at the marina are a treat.

But last week, the heavy rains that have plagued the East coast of Queensland this year, causing much flooding, have finally reached us on our little moorings on the river. With a particularly high tide and a spill of water from the dams upstream, our buoys were submerged and the mooring lines were tense.

So we had them move us from the center of the stream to near the edge where the current, still powerful, was not quite as trying to get to the dock. Debris from the fields upstream floating down river and getting caught up in mooring lines lifted four boats, moorings and all and floated them downstream in a tangle of hulls and rigging. For the time we were safe at the edge. But the rains were relentless and three days before Christmas, the water was so high, they were moving boats out of the marina. The marina itself was flooded and the fuel dock and main wharf cut off. Again boats were breaking loose in the heavy flow and colliding with other boats downstream, breaking them from their moorings. It was a mess with more rain in the forecast and no one willing or able to say how high the waters will go.

One by one, the fishing boats and local pleasure boats were heading down the river to escape what might be coming.

December 23

1430 hours

So with the last two hours of falling tide, we dropped our stern lines and I motored forward into the five knot current to give Linda enough slack to let the bow lines go. Our $200 worth of heavy mooring lines are attached about two meters below the river surface and maybe we can retrieve them some day. We pointed the bow into mid channel and gunned the engine to give us steerage in the strong current. Huge clumps of grass, mud and branches floated everywhere on the surface.

To add to our distress, the marine radio had been reporting for days that many of the floating buoys marking the river channel were out of position due to the flooding. So we ran like smoke and oakum, blind, downstream, hoping the high water would get us over the shallow bars, and on a falling tide! Not the best of situations but our only option really was to get to the river's mouth.

1530 hours

It was a fast ride and we covered the eight miles in less than an hour. At a bend about ½ mile from where the river empties into the big shallow Hervey Bay, we pulled off into a corner that we thought was out of the mainstream, and with Toketie's 60HP straining against the current managed to get our anchor into the bottom.

We sat up all night taking shifts on anchor watch. Huge clumps of debris were coming down the river and could drag the boat if caught up in the anchor chain. With a boathook we cleared the bits as they wrapped around our anchor chain. But we were holding and safely out of the worst of the town basin. I watched a small sloop ghost by under the full moon as it dragged its anchor. With no one on board it made its way around a bend and likely lodged among some moored boats. Later a huge trimaran looking like a Klingon battleship drifted by, also deserted and not lit. Here it is caught up on a sailboat and small power boat. It would later break all of them free and the group was last seen going out to sea. We were lucky nothing ran into us.

Next day we called the marina at the river mouth but there was no room at the inn. So we are anchored along the side in the river with about twenty feet of water below us. No wifi signal, so no internet. No cell phone, just the VHF radio for emergency contact. There is nowhere to land the dinghy and the current is too strong for it anyway.

Christmas Eve for us, was not so bad, confined on board and exhausted from constant vigilance to the floating lumps coming down the river. More rain and strong wind warning are forecast over the next few days so we expect to be stuck here till the flooding subsides. The option of running out to sea is dangerous as we would be in the large shallow Hervey Bay with strong wind warnings turning from SE to NW so would be exposed. Not knowing the local hurricane holes did not help.

The good news is that Linda did manage to find a ½ dozen bottles of an excellent Wolf Blass Silver Label Pinot Grigio and squirrel them away for the holidays.

So as we sit here in the torrential tropical downpours watching the river flow, we can raise a toast to family and friends far away but not forgotten!

December 25

0430 hours

Just as dawn was breaking or 'at first sparrow fart' as Captain Jack Wynters would say, a large raft of floating debris struck our anchor chain. The clump of sod and weeds and grass wrapped around the chain pulling the bow down and Toketie was dragging her anchor downstream. I frantically worked with an aluminum extending boathook to attempt to free us from the debris. After 45 minutes I managed to break it into pieces, taking the strain off the anchor chain enough so that we stopped our drift between two unoccupied boats anchored behind us. We raised the anchor and motored forward, re-anchoring where we had been.

1430 hours

When the tide changed, easing the flow downstream, we re-anchored in an area we thought might be free of the floating debris and out of the main current. In the process of lifting the anchor, the bow swung and put enough pressure on the chain to rip half of the windlass out of the foredeck. Fortunately it stilled turned and we got the gear up and reset closer to a row of pilings and rows of moorings, most with boats attached. Unfortunately when the tide turned to ebb and the current doubled, we dragged again. Michael on Eliza, which was hanging on two anchors close into shore, rowed over in his 'tinny', caught on to Toketie and climbed aboard. As we drifted slowly backwards, dragging our anchor, I motored again to ease the pressure. Brendan on 'Jorga', moored fore and aft behind us kindly tossed us one of his stern lines which we eased back on to hang off the mooring behind him.

Heavy rain continues to fall.

December 26

0330 hours

The tide is now half way through the ebb and the current is building. Brendan's one frayed mooring line is all that is holding us. So I start the engine and motor forward for three hours to ease the strain on the line.

1000 hours

The tide is rising and though the flow downstream is still strong, the tide slows it to about three knots and I launch the dinghy and motor forward with the 5HP to attach a line to 'Jorga' ahead of us. Using the line to hold me in place, Brendan eases me back downstream where I attach a second mooring line so that Toketie is now hanging off a two ton concrete block on double mooring lines. I then drop back down to Toketie and tie off her stern to attach another mooring line aft to the mooring behind us. We are now secured fore and aft and feel confident we can take the strain of the increasing current.

December 27

0330 hours

But the drama was just beginning. Two other yachts that have become entangled upstream of us are dragging down on us. One of them was an unmanned catamaran that broke loose upstream and crossed over a beautiful Hans Christian named 'Cloud Nine', locking them in a permanent embrace.

Ian on 'Cloud Nine' deployed every anchor he had and still the current pushed them back till they collided with 'Jorga' ahead of Toketie. They stabilized there temporarily till another unmanned steel boat, 'Wa Pe Ka', came loose and collided with them, moving Jorga's two ton mooring block back so that his stern was now in contact with our forward mooring buoy. The steel boat came free and scraped its way back outside of 'Cloud Nine' and floated off downstream. It was still dark so I could not see where it ended up. But with that pressure off, 'Cloud Nine' and the catamaran slowly drifted back down past 'Jorga' threatening to hook Toketie on the way by.

I cut our stern line and pushed the rudder hard over to keep us far enough to starboard to allow the tangled mess to clear us. The current was running strong again with the ebb tide and our mooring lines now led off the roller and under the bobstay. If we continued this for too long, it threatened to chaff through the lines holding us.

As daylight came, the strong wind forecast turned NW and without a stern line, Toketie started sailing on her hull surface upwind and into 'Jorga'. I could not leave the helm for a minute and had great difficulty keeping from running over 'Jorga' against the easing tide.

0800 hours

Meanwhile Linda got on the VHF and called the Port Bundaberg Marina at the mouth of the river to see if we could possibly haul the boat out or get into a slip. One fellow was in the office but no one was operating the travel lift. He called them for us and they said they could come in to work for double time on all charges! The marina told us that they had a slip possibly coming free as a boat was scheduled to leave and said he would let us know in an hour after contacting the owners. An hour later we called him back and he said they were not leaving but he had another he could put us in if we were willing to pay for the slip size which was longer than our boat. At this point, it did not seem like a good idea to quibble!

Before attempting to extricate ourselves from the moorings, I offered to help 'Cloud Nine' and the catamaran entangled immediately behind us attach to the mooring behind us. This was easier said than done as the current was stronger than our outboard could handle. Someone on the VHF heard us and offered to come down from the marina area in a power boat to assist. Well we waited for this Steve guy on 'Azur' and finally he cruised by to assess the situation and after leaning out his side window and giving each of us his opinion decided it was too risky for him and left, wasting an hour of our precious time. His opinions, by the way, were crap! At this point the owner of the catamaran arrived with a better dinghy and 9HP outboard which he was barely able to hold into the current. While steering Toketie back and forth in the wind and current, I dropped a line back to them and he hung off his dinghy attaching mooring lines to the catamaran, stopping their downstream drag.

In the attempt to leave our mooring, we sailed over our lines and managed to wrap them around the keel. The wind gusts were now hitting 30 knots against the current. I cut one mooring line, put the helm hard over to Port and Linda cut the second line freeing us and putting us out into the channel away from 'Jorga' and the 'Cloud Nine' debacle. With full throttle and the strong tail wind, I could just make headway upstream to get around the row of pilings and into the main channel of the river. As I turned to run downstream with the current I was doing 6 ½ knots, slowed by the strong headwind. The marina was about a mile and in no time we were alongside it and getting directions to the slip. Out of the main flow of the river, there was less current but we still had to dock downstream into the slip. With help on the dock, we secured Toketie in the slip and breathed a huge sigh of relief to be safely out of the river channel.

December 29

For us, we hope, the worst is over! But even as I write this our friends and many others are still out on the river tucked into any nook or cranny or hanging off their moorings. The flood waters continue to rise, more heavy rain has fallen, and boats upstream continue to break loose and fly downstream like loose cannons. The entire MidTown Marina we were in is under water and the main jetties and fuel dock have broken loose and are floating downstream. These huge heavy pieces along with the large clumps of floating debris are striking boats hanging on to whatever they can. Although we had the Harbour Authority tug come by several times while we were on the moorings, they were not willing to come to anyone's assistance. They made a feeble attempt to separate the catamaran from 'Cloud Nine' but gave up quickly. They were also unwilling to do anything with another unmanned, anchored boat that was drifting back on us. No other official presence was on the river assisting anyone in any way. I suppose if someone asked to be lifted off and abandon their boat, they would have sent someone out to pick them up. But only the other boat owners, and some real heroes among them, were active on the river trying to catch runaway boats and throw off whatever ground tackle they had on board to minimize the risk of them colliding with boats further downstream. We have heard of no deaths so far in this area. The closest was when two men took a dinghy out to one of the stranded boats to give them food. The dinghy overturned and they managed to get both out of the water but one man was elderly and needed medical treatment. Another boat got him to shore to a waiting ambulance.

The flood has apparently broken water level records now back to the 40's and is still rising. La Nina has been very cruel to Australia this year!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well at least you are safe and well now after that harrowing experience and we had no idea that you were in that situation. We hope it has not put you off sailing for good and you must now have degrees in hindsight. Wish you had come south with us, it's not too late yet!!

Love to both, D&A&S

greg said...

PLease could you let me know if you happen to see SV suseaQ? 50' foot cutter rig that looks like a west sail. we just found out about the flooding and have no idea if our boat is ok. hope all is working out well for you. aloha, Eric

Linda said...

Hello, good to hear that you guys are safe after the floods.
Have you seen a 27 foot boat ISIS, she was on a mooring in midtown. And it is very hard to get any information. we are in the usa, and need to know if we still have a boat!! you can contact me on
linda13p@yahoo.com.au.
Kind regards

Linda

Nelia said...

This is a pretty intense story, haven't read your more recent update yet. Hope you guys are safe! The flooding sounds crazy.
Good luck,
The Caledonians