Whitsunday Islands cyclone.

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With the recent cyclones in the Whitsunday Islands, I did this post about one I experienced there in about 1982 for a sailing site. For a change of speed I thought you may be interested. So here it is, especially for our southern members who’s ideas of a cyclone are coloured by media hype.
I had returned to Oz from 8 years cruising my Morgan Giles 40 Footer, Alyth through the Pacific Islands. I was living on her & running a little fleet of tourist boats out of Shute Harbour, in the Whitsunday Islands. This is close to a mangrove creek where I holed up with the Long Island boats previously. The skippers looked after the smaller boats, leaving me with the larger one. It was a WW11 Fairmile, a UK navy gun/torpedo type boat, 112Ft by 19'10" converted for daytrip passenger use.

The props on these things were lower than the boat, & very exposed. You could never take them into shallow water as just touching a mud bank would bend a prop or prop shaft. No going up creaks here. I loved this boat. With twin 8 92 GM diesels of about 550 BHP each she did a bit over 20 knots, & had such sweet handling that you had stuffed up your approach if you could feel when you came alongside a jetty.

Cyclones generate south easterly winds as they approach the Oz east coast, so I layed out our 2 large anchors on their 3/4" stud link chain, one to the south of our mooring, & one to the east, with the V joining over the mooring. The boat thus lay to all three. This was it for her, I then went to look after my yacht.

It was too late to get into that creek, as the tide was falling, so I headed for Gulnare inlet on Whitsunday Island, near Hamilton Island, yet to become a major resort.

I was a bit late for this too, as I was crossing Whitsunday passage the wind got up gusting over 40 knots, with squalls reducing the visibility from a mile or so, to a hundred yards at times. There were too many outlying reefs to get in there with that visibility.

The sea was getting nasty too. Only a bit over 4 or 5 Ft, the waves were very steep, almost square, & were braking over the foredeck continually. I got very wet putting an extra lashing over the dingy, lashed down upside down on the foredeck. Even in the big nasty open ocean, I don't think I'd had as much water over the foredeck.

My yacht, Alyth was great in these conditions. With just the triple reefed main up, she balanced beautifully, & was scooting across the passage at about 8 knots. Still I was running out of options. I could reverse course & get back into Shute harbour easily enough, it had a safe entry but it was pretty open to the south east, & with a 150 boats moored in there, I expected some chaos. In the event quite a few boats were damaged, some sunk & others washed ashore..

Then out of a break in the squalls Cid Island appeared to the north, our left. The area between Cid Island & Whitsunday is a moderately sheltered area known as Cid Harbour. It was the anchorage where the US & Oz fleets combined before going out to meet the Jap fleet in the battle of the Coral Sea, the first ever major aircraft carrier battle, before Midway.

It is a better aircraft carrier anchorage than yacht anchorage, but I was running out of choices, & the approach was steep too, with no reefs to have to avoid. It was our best option.

We sailed into the most sheltered South East corner of the bay, Dropped our big 45Lb CQR anchor, in about 60Ft of water & about 50 fathoms, [300 Ft] of chain, dropped sail, & lashed everything down. Damn we were dragging anchor out of the bay. This was strange as this part of the bay was known good holding ground.

I Started the little 6 HP Petter diesel which struggled to push us back in. The wind even in here was now a steady 25/30 gusting in the bullets to about 55 knots. My wife steered us in as I hauled the anchor up. As it cleared water I saw the point of the anchor had gone through the centre of a large, 8" diameter shell. No wonder we'd dragged.

The rain was really pouring down now, & the wind was now above 40 knots, with gusts to about 60. These came in anywhere from south west to east, catching the boat, with its tall mast at anything up to beam on, as she sailed around the end of the long chain. She was getting healed to about 20 degrees in the stronger ones.

I was worried about windage, as the wind increased, so decided to get the dingy off the foredeck, & launched it on a long doubled painter. It sheared around wildly in the wind gusts, but in 15 minutes the rain had filled it, with only the buoyancy keeping it semi afloat.

After night fall the wind really got up, but I can only guess what it was blowing. The yachts rigging was shrieking, much louder than it did in 70 knots in the Solomons. There was a constant roar of wind through the trees & constant sound of rain water cascading through the deck scuppers into the sea. South Mole Island, the nearest resort about 8 miles away, received 26 inches of rain between 4.00 PM, & midnight, & it rained until about 4.30 AM.

It was hard to hear the radio, to get any weather information so we went to bed, not to sleep, but we dozed a bit.

Next morning at first light, about 5.00 AM or so, we could still hear the roaring, but realised the sun was coming in through the skylight, the boat was not rolling to 20 degrees in the gusts, as it had all night, & then we realised it was not raining.

On deck we found a beautiful clear sunny day, with not a breath of wind, it had all gone. The roaring was still there, but now it was water, about 3Ft deep, cascading down the side of the island, & this continued for another hour or so.

We had no interest in doing anything. I emptied the dingy & we just sat in the cockpit with a coffee, watching the water rush off the island, & marvelling at how clean everything was after such a washing. We noted that the trees still had leaves, so the wind had not got to 90 knots, where most trees are stripped.

The area is totally wild, no human habitation, but we had seen flashes of a light during the night. Now we saw another yacht about a mile along the bay. The couple came rowing down to compare notes on our experience. Their anchorage had been a bit rougher than ours.

Suddenly we saw their boat dragging out into the bay. They were anchored off a creek, & the huge run coming down it had washed the sand away from their anchor. The thing had sat through a huge gale, but was drifting away in total calm, with the flow of water.

I threw the outboard on our dingy, & we went & fetched their boat. We were somehow totally washed out. The 4 of us did nothing all day, not even turning on a radio.

Next day it was back to port, to help in the clean up. Within a few days the tourists were appearing again, & it was back to carrying them around gods own country.

I've been through a few cyclones. This was not the strongest, biggest or most dangerous, but somehow it was the most exhausting I've

The photos are Alyth anchored at Nugerria Atoll, about 130 nautical miles north of Bougainville,
& racing on Pittwater.
2 months ago