Tropical Cyclone!

In the Eye of a Tropical Cyclone!

Paradise one day and sheer hell the next like a freight train Tropical Cyclone Ului with a deafening roar and horrific winds made landfall in the tropical islands of the Whitsundays in far north Queensland Australia on March 20th 2010.  

With reported winds of 250 kph it caused mayor havoc and destruction amidst the hundreds of cruising yachts moored in the area.  

Most boat owners had sort refuse in Abel Point Marina rated to a ‘Cat 3’ cyclone but the sailors of the area were having debates on the Sailing Club veranda as whether they should stay on a mooring or at the marina if it progresses into a ‘cat 4’ they’ll all be buggered. 

The theory being on a swing mooring you’ll always point into the wind and at a marina you have no choice and you are going to be hit.  

  • Is there a right answer?  
  • So how can you prepare for something like this? 

Docking Lines: 

Peter Ryan of Club Marine maintains, “Everybody with a boat needs to ensure their docking lines are of adequate size,” he says then get a set stronger.  “Remember to double up, prepare an extra set of docking lines for the cyclone season and make sure your second set of ropes is a higher breaking strain. 

He also says “Always attach a second set of lines to a different cleat or anchor point, if one of those lines fails, you don’t want two lines being useless.” 

Peter Ryan also recommends the use of chafe guards but he says chains are the best option because it never chafes and adds weight to the boat.  “Never leave any chain in the locker when a cyclone is coming,” he says.  “Put down everything you’ve got.” 

Swing Moorings or Anchor: 

If you are on a swing mooring or at anchor in extreme weather there are three things to remember: 

  • Check your insurance policy
  • Ensure that your mooring is serviced
  • Make sure the mooring is the right size for your boat.

Peter Ryan also states that “You can be doing everything right and your boat can get seriously damaged.  What we’ve seen is that it’s often the other guy’s boat that breaks away from its mooring and drifts about the harbour, colliding into and damaging even the best-prepared boats. 

Prepare for the worst and hope your neighboring boat owners are doing the same.”  

If you are anchoring things to remember: 

  • Locate a good site, many go deep into the mangroves.
  • Notify the authorities where your boat is.
  • Use everything you’ve got, put down a second anchor.
  • Double your mooring attachments to different points.
  • If you have an option never stay on board.

My Experience :

When the extreme storm, tropical cyclone Ului hit with its full fury on the Whitsunday Islands my yacht Levitation was on a charter swing mooring in Shute Harbour a usually protected bay. 

The mooring was serviced and designed for a bigger boat than mine.  I had left for the Gold Coast two days drive away a couple of months earlier, and before going secured her sails with a couple of extra turns on the genoa and made sure the mooring line was decently attached around several cleats.  

My eyes were glued to the weather station BOM as the cyclone aimed its wicked eye straight for Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach, my heart in my mouth and feeling quite sick that I couldn’t get there to make sure once again that she would be safe through her 2nd tropical cyclone. 

I rang the charter company to be assured everything was looking good and all would be safe.  I rang a friend Carmen but she wasn’t so sure and was busy securing her boat and helping others. 

I watched BOM helplessly seeing the eye of the tropical cyclone with over 200kph winds take a path right through Shute Harbour and all the cruising yachts, tears rolling down my face having seen the carnage from other cyclones before this one.

I rang around and finally got Carmen on her mobile phone in the early morning…. “Sorry Christine, we’ve been out there we couldn’t see it…. Levitation’s gone!”  

I couldn’t…. wouldn’t believe it!!

By lunch time I was in my car on the two day drive back to find out for myself.  There were road blocks and flooded roads and as I got close found out power was down and I couldn’t top up with fuel.  I went straight to the hill overlooking the bay the rain stung my eyes as I strained through fading light to spot Levitation… but no I couldn’t see her.  

I retreated to Club Crocodile where the SES were staying and was asked if I wanted a room with or without power…. Exhausted and wet.... I didn’t care!!

At first light I was back to the small jetty at Shute Harbour, it was a total disaster zone with boats damaged and destroyed, mast tips sticking out of the water and others on rocks.  Dazed sailors walking round... pain etched on their faces.

I did find Levitation, her bow rail almost ripped off but still holding the mooring line, she was holed above waterline and fittings buckled and bent, it seems she had been rammed by other boats.  Tears ran down my face with the stinging rain, she was going to be OK, she could be restored.  This time!

Ragamuffin a charter sailing yacht that had been moored close to me had dragged a 70 ton mooring through the fleet and ended up on the rocks.  They say about 70 boats were destroyed or damaged.  The ones that stayed in the marina were mostly fine and escaped damage.

What is a Tropical Cyclone? 

It is a low pressure system sufficiently intense to produce sustained gale force winds of at least 118kmh.  The most common features are destructive winds, heavy rainfall and flooding, also storm surge. 

A tropical cyclone is characterized by spinning... warm water heats the air causing it to rise really quickly, then it gets pushed aside as it cools.

This pushing causes the clouds to spin. The storms have a central area of calm known as the "eye", which is the funnel through which the warm air rises.

Although the strongest winds are near the eye, damaging winds can extend hundreds of kilometres from the centre.

Where do Cyclones Occur? 

In an average season tropical cyclones occur in Northwest Australia… Western Australia and Northeast Queensland.

Tropical cyclones run from 1 November to 30 April with an average of about 10 cyclones developing over Australian waters each year and around 6 crossing the coast. 

In other parts of the world they are called hurricanes or typhoons.

  • Hurricanes in the North Atlantic Ocean
  • Cyclones over the Indian Ocean
  • Typhoons over the Pacific Ocean

  Over the sea, a hurricane, cyclone or typhoon can cause the level to rise by several metres. This rise in water causes massive waves to hit the shores near the storm.          

The Whitsunday Islands are amazing sailing waters... Lets just like any other time when on the water be very aware of weather patterns and have a plan on what to do in the cyclone season!

Safety at Sea               Whitsunday Islands         Levitation my Story

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