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Keppel Islands 2017 (Part 1) It was a beautiful clear Saturday morning 22/04/17. Myself, Dave, Bob and Lindsay had driven up from Brisbane the previous day in convoy along the A1. Cameron arrived later in the afternoon and Jimmy and Beatrice arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning 'burning the midnight oil'. On the previous day (Friday) both Dave and myself did our usual evaluation of the location and weather which included a drive to Rosslyn Bay harbour. There we stood at the base of the large rock mountain which overshadows the harbour looking out to sea. Conditions certainly looked windy with white caps sweeping off the rolling swell. The forecast on the Friday was much like that on Saturday being 15-20kts S/E with seas between 1-2 metres. Certainly nothing we hadn't sailed in before especially loaded with our camping gear for the week. But we would have preferred a nice northerly downwind run for our sail to Humpy Island. The photo attached was taken by Bob as we were about to set off on our great sail adventure. We had all raised our mainsails and knew that once we passed the large rock mountain outside the harbour we were in for a bumpy ride.
The swell here in Keppel Bay is very different to our Moreton Bay. Typically Moreton's swell is short but here it rolls through in large waves which makes it really hard to fly at speed between the waves. Our plans in discussion were to sheet in hard and point as high as we could into the S/E aiming for Great Keppel Island. We knew that once we reached closer to GKI that swell would minimize and tacking south to Humpy would be a piece of cake. We did a radio check amongst ourselves and set off. I was the last one to leave the boat ramp ensuing everybody had left safely, as at times the 15-20kts would round the large rock mountain and swing right into the harbour. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened when Dave and I tried to leave. So I assisted Dave to push off and waited myself until the gusts stopped so I could safely round the metal enclosure that protects the ramp.
Once I rounded the rock wall, I sheeted in hard and began to point into the S/E. To my disappointment I was only able to point towards Middle Island which is located N/W of GKI. In front of me was Dave on his H16 'Sledder' and Cameron on his H18 'Catchy'. I had only sailed once with Cameron before and seeing him solo, the H18 using those huge boards to point behind Dave was awe inspiring. Then, moving my scan north I saw Jimmy and Bea on their C16 'Rust Never Sleeps', Bob on his C16 'K9' and lastly Lindsay on his C16 pointing more towards North Keppel Island. I remember thinking how awesome it was to see Jimmy and Bea pointing their C16 so high with their new sails from Switch. Previously they would be sailing beside Lindsay who was flying an old pin top main kindly given to us by John Dooley.
In the next few hours nobody would have predicted the disasters that would befall our group knowing that two of our six beach cats would not even make sand in the Great Keppel Islands. Using the term 'disaster' is a bitter pill to swallow but in essence it does mean a natural catastrophe that causes great damage. In hindsight we should never have left the harbour that day. But our fates were sealed for what was to be an event none of us will forget. From here I'd like each member of our group to post their own journey if they feel comfortable to do so. We all see, feel and recall our experiences differently and I think its important that we share those. Sadly we have already experienced 'trial by media' which has been so inaccurate it's just plain funny. We have also experienced a great deal of judgement and negativity on another facebook page when in our darkest days what we really needed most was support and understanding. Trust me when I say that the harshest critic you will ever find on this earth is ourselves and we have learnt many lessons from our experiences from which we will continue to grow. The bonds we share will be forever guys and gals!!!! So I say this once ... anybody who chooses to post anything that can be construed as negative or of poor form will be removed. I'll post my part two shortly :)
Part 2 Sailing my H16 'Slingshot' laden with camping gear I pointed high into the S/E 15-20kts. Once I left the harbour the swell rolled towards me in large waves but as the mainland distance grew behind me the swell became larger and more frequent. I was itching to get out on trapeze and bear off to pickup more speed but I couldn't risk a capsize after losing my footing in the pounding swell. So I sat on the edge of my tramp, feet dug under the foot straps and continued to point high where on the occasional gust I would point dead up wind to safety on one hull. I recall watching my bows completely disappear under the swell at times but could feel the weight and momentum I had on 'Slingshot' wouldn't see me pitch polling that day. As time passed I began to gain on our fleet watching Cameron and Dave getting closer and closer to my bows. I could also see Lindsay almost directly to my port side as he was headed towards NKI. The direct swell was really hampering our efforts to gain any high speeds to cross the bay and I slowly began to notice the gathering of grey clouds forming out to sea off GKI. Whilst I had my concerns of what they might bring, I was sure we'd all be well on our way to Humpy Island before they passed.
Unfortunately this cell moved quite fast and was quick to bear down on us as it passed the northern end of GKI. As the cell approached the swell began to grow and I would often lose sight of Dave and Cameron who were little more than 200-300 metres in front of me. To gain a little more speed so that I could tack south quicker, I pointed between Miall Island and Middle Island right behind Jimmy and Bea on their C16 and quickly had one hull flying on a balance act. As Miall and Middle Islands got closer both Jimmy, Bea and Bob passed me on tack pushing their Calypso's south. I continued to sail with Middle Island almost directly to my starboard side when I observed the shadow of rain approaching quickly from GKI. I tacked south moving quickly to the other side of my tramp, grabbing the main sheet and tiller. I was relieved to have done this safely as the swell was easily 2-3 metres now and could have turned 'Slingshot' around to face east again in an instant.
As I began to pass Middle Island to my port side, I recall hearing my VHF radio and something about a mast down. It wasn't completely clear as the rain began to fall, losing all viability around me. At this moment I felt my port hull lift higher and higher so I began to sheet off as the gusts became more frequent. I wanted to pull my VHF out and return call but felt that I couldn't do so safely at this moment. I was beside myself in knowing that somebody needed help but also that I was powerless to do anything until the cell passed. I quickly thought that if I could make landfall on GKI I would double up with another cat and head out to assist the caller. I adjusted my traveler to de-power from the gusts but continued to make speed over the large swell. I recall hearing another voice I believe was Bob talking on the VHF when all of a sudden my H16 was picked up and thrown sideways into the water. I let my mainsheet out completely but the gust was too strong. It was as though I capsized under jib alone. I landed on my mainsail and yelled a number of expletives to the sky. The swell then pushed my starboard hull around to face west as I watched my mast fall deep into the water.
As 'Slingshot' turtled my angst grew to the feeling of complete helplessness. Knowing my gear was completely submerged I jumped into the port hull and pushed 'Slingshot' back to capsize. I took a few moments to breathe and began unraveling my righting line, setting it up with purchase from my trap hook and back around the hull. I tried several times with all my weight and even using the swell at its highest point on the mast to no avail. I kicked into plan B with my righting pole walking right out to the end when to my relief 'Slingshot' came up. I hit the water fast and quickly grabbed my dolphin striker only to watch 'Slingshot' go over again and straight into turtle.The frustration was killing me. I again rushed to the port hull and pushed 'Slingshot' to capsize where I then watched helplessly as my three water bags floated away in the swell.
I began to panic as I knew they were tied to the same line as my phone/wallet and snorkel bags. Sure enough, I turned around to see my bright blue phone/wallet bag floating beside the boom. I have run to the aft end of 'Slingshot' and jumped in past the rudders. Instantly as I came up I was pushed under by the swell. I have grabbed the rear beam and reached out to grab this bag. I couldn't reach no matter how hard I reached out. I let go of the beam, grabbed the bag and turned to be hit yet again by the huge swell. As I came up 'Slingshot' was now three metres away. I began swimming for my life only to watch 'Slingshot' move further and further away. I then swam my heart out towards the mast which I knew was the closest part of the boat. I came within a inch of grabbing the mast only to watch the swell drag it further and further away. I recall swimming hopelessly for 10-15 minutes but it was no use, 'Slingshot' continued to drift north away from me.
At this moment I caught my breath, becalmed myself and activated my PLB and called Yeppoon Coast Guard for assistance. Unfortunately, the swell continued to wash over the top of me so my transmission was somewhat broken and the operator continued to ask for me to slow down and speak clearly. I don't recall speaking fast but I do recall continually sucking all the salt water out of my radio speaker/microphone area after each wash of swell to ensure clarity. At this time (1.43pm) my wife Susan received a call from MSQ detailing the activation of my registered PLB and asking for further details about my trip, craft and company (My poor wife). I recall watching in horror as 'Slingshot' drifted further and further away from me to a point I would only see him every 5-6th wave until completely loosing sight. I remained calm and gave Yeppoon Coast Guard as many sit-reps as possible advising of my location and also my southern distance to 'Slingshot' and Middle Island which at the time I was calling Halfway Island. Some time later I would see the top sail of Lindsay's cat passing to my north and also a bright orange flag I believed to be the coast guard. I gave a further sit-rep that I could see the flag and my approximate distance to it at which point they realized I was in the water and not Cameron on his H18.
Some time later the coast guard turned towards me, getting closer and closer to my relief. I was pulled from the water at 2:30pm. The four chaps on board were all very friendly as we spoke briefly offering water and a blanket. They informed me that they were in the process of rescuing a Hobie 18 that had broken in half before realizing I was in the water and separated from my H16. All details I had given over the radio to the operator but lost in transmission. The CG headed north where I observed Cameron bobbing up and down as he sat on the bows of his H18 'Catchy' watching the hulls rubbing against one another. The weather at this time began to get a lot calmer as the rain cleared. Cameron had tied his H18 together as much as possible, most of his equipment on board and attached a tow line to the bridals for the CG to tow. He swam aboard and I got him to sit down and take a breath. I wanted to comfort him but knew this wasn't the end of my journey that day. The CG captain asked about my cat which I said I'd like to recover. We could see 'Slingshot' approximately 2 miles away north bobbing up and down on its side.
With the H18 in tow we headed north where as we got closer I could make out that my gear was still attached to the trampoline. I gave another huge sigh of relief as they asked what I wanted to do. I told them I would try to right it and join the others wherever they may be in the Keppels. The CG Captain unwillingly agreed and drew closer to 'Slingshot'. I headed back into the water but again, the swell was so strong 'Slingshot' just kept heading north and I really didn't have the strength to swim hard. I've pushed towards Cameron's H18 in tow and hung on as the CG pulled across in front of 'Slingshot'. Finally back on board I have assembled my righting pole and righted 'Slingshot' out of the water. Another huge 'sigh' of relief I have slumbered on board and began putting lines and bags in place only to observe the jib to have a huge tear under the 3rd batten.
I have given the CG a thumbs up, sheeted in and headed again towards GKI. Tired, cold, sore and wet I have sailed for what felt like forever. I couldn't see anybody in the distance but observed yet another system moving towards me from the same direction as the last one. I looked on in horror and said to myself that if it picked up like the last one I would turn downwind and head for the harbour. It didn't and some time later I limped my way south past the Hideaway Resort on GKI as the skies began to clear. Sailing along Monkey Beach I could see what I thought were two beach cat masts. As I drew closer I soon observed the colours of Bob and Jimmy/Bea's jibs plus the black mast of Dave. I have tacked towards their location and beached on the white sands of Monkey Beach were I was greeted by Dave, Bob, Jimmy and Beatrice. All their faces told of a million words - something I will never forget as we stood in a circle and embraced each other in a huge moment of relief. There were even some tears shared as we talked about what had happened. Dave de-rigged 'Slingshot' for me and Beatrice gave me a drink of coconut water which helped wash away the salt from my mouth. Jimmy advised the CG of my arrival and I called my poor wife to let her know i was ok. I unpacked and began setting up camp over the sand dune. This would be a day I will never forget.
Part 3 https://youtu.be/2-vCNuWfwwo
At this moment I caught my breath, becalmed myself and activated my PLB and called Yeppoon Coast Guard for assistance.
Thank you ACR!
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