The Sydney Hobart Race, the Brisbane to Gladstone event and the Whitsunday’s Hamilton Island Race Week are just a few examples of the ever popular racing events that Australia has to offer.
But what happens when these events are threatened by a potentially devastating cyclone?
During sudden storms, security in winter anchorages is less than perfect and only mangrove creeks can offer a degree of certainty that your yacht will survive in-tact. Fortunately, the winter racing season in Queensland usually accompanies the southeast trade wind, but unseasonal events can occur and when they do, Queensland’s numerous winter anchorages are not suited to defend from destructive winds.
Further challenges must be considered during the wet season, as during cyclones marinas can be significantly more dangerous than mangroves; the latter not being available to absent owners. To complicate things further, the government in Queensland require that all marina berthed vessels are abandoned during Category 3 winds, forcing sailors to leave them unattended during the crucial period. Admittedly, yachts in a marina during a cyclone can be dangerous themselves, with large waves and strong winds causing collisions between yachts and berths alike.
It is a common assumption that cyclones are exclusively found during the wet season (November – March) however this must not be taken for granted. A relevant example is Cyclone Emily of April 2nd, 1972 which struck just past the expected season but caught many experienced, local sailors by surprise – Yacht “Istria” was lost and at least 4 men lost their lives.
Modern cyclone tracking technology means that the chances of being taken completely by surprise are vastly decreased, but one should always be prepared for any eventuality so it is wise to have a contingency plan in place. Below is a basic round-up of possible anchorages which will offer protection during dangerous weather, devised by Alan Lucas.
Great Sandy Strait: Garrys Anchorage is easily accessed from the south on all tides with good holding. There are numerous other creeks that are snug but most depend on a tide for keelboats to enter.
Pancake Creek: Deep draft needs a high tide to cross its bar of 1.5m LWS to enter the inner, deeper, part of this popular creek, 30 mile southeast of Gladstone.
Gladstone and The Narrows: In this busy harbour Gladstone Marina is mandatory. North of Gladstone, in the southern end of The Narrows there are a few mangrove creeks with good holding in mud. North of The Narrows, best approached through Keppel Bay, there are abundant cyclone anchorages, albeit, a few with poor holding.
Port Clinton and Island Head Creek: North of Keppel Bay, promise good holding and all-round protection although severe windward-tide can cause considerable discomfort.
Whitsunday Islands: Except for Gulnare, Nara and Macona inlets, all with good holding mud but open to the south, there are no secure cyclone anchorages in this, the most popular area on the Queensland coast, and it needs emphasizing that its main centre, Airlie Beach, commonly becomes a boat graveyard in strong northerlies.
Bowen: Has pile berths and fore and aft moorings making it potentially safer than a marina, depending on circumstances. There is no secure anchorage here.
Hinchinbrook Channel: Has the greatest selection of mangrove creek cyclone havens on the entire east coast of Australia. The mid-channel creeks offer the best protection whilst the island’s fringe creeks, being against lofty Hinchinbrook Island, are subject to more vicious gusts and flash flooding.
Cairns Harbour: Has the next best collection of mangrove creeks but there is an official pecking order involved. The Port Authority must be contacted for an allocation. If Port Douglas is the goal, similar rules apply regarding its mangrove creeks. There are no racing events north of Port Douglas.
General Advice: Mangrove forests produce a filtering effect on the strongest of winds, thus taking much of the sting out of extreme gusts. They offer the ultimate protection from destructive winds and usually compliment it with good holding in mud. Visitors leaving their vessels in marinas during the cyclone season can be confident that management will be as responsible as humanly possible, but once a wind becomes destructive there is very little mere humans can do.