Friday, 7 April 2017

Cyclone Debbie does Disaster and it will cost all of us.

7 April 2017

Cyclone Debbie crossed the Australian coast on March 28 at Airlie Beach smack bang in the centre of the Whitsunday Islands as a Category 4 destructive storm. Peak winds recorded topped 140 knots (260kph). Located on the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are the country's most popular cruising area. It is Karen's hometown where she grew up, learned to love the sea and is certainly one of our favourite places on earth. It is also  home to three major marinas, Abell Point, Port of Airlie and Hammilton Island.  All three are 'cyclone rated'. As such most insurance companies provide cover for vessels moored within even in the event of cyclonic storm damage. This has made it a very popular place to leave boats during the storm season.
Very few boats survived Cyclone Debbie in Shute Harbour. - Image from the web.

When Cyclone Debbie struck the region, boats outside the marinas suffered most with over seventy reported lost in Shute Harbour alone. Almost all of those will be uninsured. However the marinas were not spared either as all three suffered dock failures with fingers breaking up, capsizing and even floating away with vessels attached. Scores of boats were sunk or blown aground and many hundreds more damaged. Debbie will prove to be very, very expensive for marine insurance companies. Unfortunately that expense will flow through to all of us who own boats in the form of more expensive premiums. Once they go up, they never come down.
Hamilton Island - Image from web

Hamilton Island - Image from web
What really is disappointing is that much of the damage was unnecessary. Thanks to the wonders of modern weather forecasting there were FIVE DAYS warning that Cyclone Debbie was on the way and likely to strike in the vicinity it did. Yet as we sat hundreds of miles away watching the whole drama unfold live on TV we were amazed at how many boats we were seeing that clearly had not been prepared in even the most basic ways for the onslaught of such a serious storm.
Surely step one is to take everything possible off the decks to reduce windage. All sails, canvas and anything possible should be removed and stowed below.Yet our television screen was filled with sails being shredded, biminis tearing and inflatable dinks taking flight from the decks they had been left on.  Much of the serious hull damage suffered was as a result of the docks breaking up. Who's to say how many of these would have held together if not for the additional loads generated by these unprepared boats. How about those owners who had done the right thing and fully prepped their pride and joy with extra lines and everything stowed away only to have their boats bashed to bits by  these unprepped loose canons.
Yes, many of the owners who leave their boats in the marinas for the cyclone season live far, far away but sorry, that's no justification. If you're leaving your boat for an extended period in a cyclone zone prepare it properly before you go home. If you had taken the risk and not prepped your boat, with five days warning, why not get on the phone to the marina or any of the numerous marine businesses in the area and find someone to pay to do the job for you. Sitting back with the "It's insured so I'm fine" attitude is both irresponsible and extremely selfish.
We really feel badly for anyone who lost or had a boat damaged by Cyclone Debbie but our greatest sympathy goes to those who did all they could to protect their vessel and suffered at the hands of those that didn't.
When our insurance renewal arrives you can be sure we will be thinking of those lax owners in not too kindly terms.
There's an absolutely excellent article on the subject by John Curnow published by Sail World with lots of photographic examples of unprepped boats and how Cyclone Debbie punished them. Have a look at it HERE
Hamilton Island - image from web

Fortunately Our Dreamtime was safely moored in Raby Bay in Brisbane and far from the Whitsundays.


  1. I think you are spot on with this article. There were so many trying to justify it by saying, "well we thought it was heading further north". It takes maybe 2-3 hours to get your sails and bimini of and clear the decks. Just lots of lazy people. I left my boat in Bowen Harbour in October and made sure windage was reduced as much as possible. She came through with zero damage. I also think a boat on pile mooring is better off in a storm as there is some movement allowed, the boat can swing a few degrees into the wind.

    1. Thanks Vernon. We're so glad to hear your boat fared well on the pile moorings in Bowen. We share your thoughts about their advantages over being tied to a finger that can break.

  2. Hello Karen and Rob.
    Hope that you get to make the big trip this year.
    The photo with the boat with half the headsail remaining is at Abel Point.
    Your comments are so true about people not apparently caring about the welfare of their vessels.
    Shute Harbour is a bit like Jacobs Well of the north where boats are left unattended for indefinite periods of time.
    Looking forward to upcoming adventures.

  3. Hi Brett, We're unsure of our plans for this year at the moment. Our various boat problems last year put a big hole in our cruising kitty so we're trying to rectify that at the moment. You're right about Shute Harbour. Last time we anchored in there it was full of derelict boats. Debbie has at least cleaned them out but we're so sad for the owners of the well maintained ones that also got hammered. Cheers!


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