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Yacht Clubs and Marinas

Episode 18: Elise Currey Show Notes

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Hi Elise, it’s David Hows here, how are you doing?

Elise Currey: Good, how are you?

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Good, I spoke to you last week but you were in the middle of moving into your temporary office.

Elise Currey: New office.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It wasn’t a good time. Is now a good time to catch up?

Elise Currey: Sure.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Great. Thanks for agreeing to have a chat on the Ocean Sailing Podcast, I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a chat to you given so many of our listeners sail up and down the east coast and some of them do the Pittwater to Coffs race, and more recently some did the Coffs to Paradise race and I thought I’d have a chat given all the changes that have happened and all the setbacks you’ve have to deal with as a result of the storm about five or six weeks ago.

Elise Currey: Correct.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so I’ve kicked it in to gear recording wise, is there anything you want to ask me before we start? I’ve got a basic dozen questions but the idea is you can just chat about whatever you like really, and I’m sure that it will be really interesting for our listeners.

Elise Currey: Oh, I hope so.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, I’ll just kick off. So do you want to just explain what your role is at Coffs Harbour Marina and how long you’ve been there?

Elise Currey: I’m the marina manager, I’m the only full time employee. We have a maintenance manager and a casual admin assistance. I’ve been you’ve coming up to 10 years. Yeah, I started off as an admin assistant and I was the “last person standing” so to speak. Yeah, we’ve had lots of Ease Cost lows over the years and the marina has sustained damage. It really is an aging facilities, about 25 years old. This one in particular was, yeah, quite a different creature all together and we’ve faced a few challenges as a result.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so how many vessels, just explained for people listening from outside of Australia, how many vessels do you have normally berthed at the marina?

Elise Currey: The marina is at 145 berths and we usually are around 95% occupancy at anytime. Between 90-95. It’s a busy little spot. We have a lot of casuals that come and go, which is fantastic, you know, we’re half way between Sydney and Brisbane. It’s a very popular halfway point, you know? So yeah, we’re a busy little spot definitely.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so do you want to go back to the storm that hit you around the sixth of June. Was that an extremely unusual storm in your experience, based on what you’ve seen previously with these types of East Coast lows?

Elise Currey: It’s wasn’t anything unseen really, I think the thing that made the big difference was just the amount of water with the height and the volume of water coming over that northern break wall. I mean the worst damage was to our actual boardwalk. So as the swell breaks, well you have the concrete hand bars that make up the face of the break walls and when all that starts to get dislodged and it starts to [inaudible] in the marina. So by all accounts, it’s pretty hard to tell, but it looks like one of those has knocked over the boardwalk. So the marina is disconnected from the boardwalk at few points.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.

Elise Currey: Which makes it difficult. So we faced a whole new set of challenges with access and getting equipment down there, getting services down there. But we’re getting there.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. I saw a photo, which almost looked, with the marina and the break wall in the foreground and what looked like a 10 or 20 meter wave in the background. What sort of height swell of wave did you have to deal with?

Elise Currey: We have a wave forecast alert system that was [inaudible], directly 14 meter waves were reported.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow.

Elise Currey: So yeah, that’s pretty impressive and we have a wave forecast alert system with wave riders that alert us with the data through all the different agencies here, which is [inaudible], water police data, water rescue data. RNS, and we all talk and as the waves increase, we get more or these alerts, which is what we send out to our clients saying, “It’s coming, brace yourself, get ready, get all the ducks in a row so to speak.” So that recorded 14 metres.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s huge, that really is huge.

Elise Currey: It’s really hard to describe and it’s hard to imagine. I mean it’s a beautiful day here today. I mean it’s a bit overcast and it’s freezing, but it’s a lovely calm, all the fishing boats are nosing around on the [inaudible], everyone’s going about their business, and it’s hard to forget just what it’s like. When those swells come over that break wall, everything shakes and you can hear it before you see it, you know? And then suddenly there’s just this black mass. To think that it knocked over our office.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s unreal because its right at the back of the marina, isn’t it? It’s sort of two thirds the way down. The water’s got to come a long way.

Elise Currey: Yeah, it’s usually used as the sort of base where everybody, you know, we keep all our ropes and chain and everything there so when we have a weather event, everybody knows that’s where we are and that’s where we operate from. And of course this time, all those sort of systems were tested and we had to relocate, and communicating with people when there’s 60 knot winds and horizontal [inaudible] and the water and the volume of it all, communicating with people to relocate dour space and all that sort of stuff. It was certainly a challenge.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well t’s certainly state emergency material when you’ve got that kind of stuff going on and I know they mentioned people ended up and trying to secure boats.

Elise Currey: Yeah, and it’s been an interesting conversation that we’ve had this in different agencies down here, because we all work hand in hand. I mean the marinas, say there’s 145 boats here and there’s us to start. We have to work really closely with [inaudible] and RMS and Marina Rescue to get things done in a situation like that.

We’ve all done it for so many years and we all just go through the motions. We all know what to do, and can’t do it. So it’s hard sometimes when you’re having these conversations with outside agencies that understand how that all operates and it can look chaotic, it can look disorganized but it’s not on any level. The amount of people that refuse to leave their vessels and the water police are evacuating. That’s just mind boggling.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. 

Elise Currey: Yeah. I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman from work safety and I said to him, “You know, a lot of people abandoning around this duty of care,” and I said, “I’ve always been taught that duty of care is assist yourself first because then you can then go on and help other people.” If you’re compromised then that just snowballs. You have a domino effect.”

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.

Elise Currey: And he says, “That’s exactly right.” So it’s been a really, you know where are the lines? Do you force people to leave vessels? Do you put yourself at risk to do that? Well no, of course you don’t. Yeah, it’s been really interesting actually, dissecting the whole situation post-storm.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So question for you, how high is the wall that has to hold back 14 meter waves?

Elise Currey: It’s not a height issue. Coincidentally, the Monday that the storm basis was the day that they were supposed to start work on the break wall, rebuilding the break wall. So that is actually all on the go now but, it’s the design issues, planning, and expanding hydraulics, putting together models and testing different models and we went down and were party to the whole process. 

It’s not a matter of height, it’s a matter of [inaudible] and design. So the break wall is twice as wide but it has a burns at the toe of the north facing access, which takes the energy out of the water, out of the wave. So that design is more, better than just throwing up a massive straight wall, it doesn’t work. So yeah, this new design will hopefully do the trick. I can’t wait.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, well after what you’ve been through, I mean it’s the force of nature when you’re on the back foot where it’s just incredible, isn’t it?

Elise Currey: Yes, yes it is. It’s hard to impress upon people what it can be like, and how frightening. And you don’t realise it’s building and building and it’s incrementally getting worse and the people are sifting on, doing things that they really don’t need to doing and like the gentleman from work safety said, “I’ve never had to go in the coroners cooler for a sunken vessel.” You go there because somebody has died.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.

Elise Currey: And I said, “Yeah, yeah.” I said, “Boats can sink. You don’t want people sinking.”

Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, exactly. Exactly. So at what stage did you realize that the marina was going to take quite a brunt from this? Were you left with just a short amount of time or was it inevitable that it was going to build to that and obviously you knew people had plenty of time to prepare? Like what was the sort of timeframes you were working with?

Elise Currey: It’s, on the Saturday, it was building but the whole storm arrived about 12 hours early. Maybe it was about nine hours early? So when I came into work on the Saturday morning, we had planned, we have storm gates here that we close and their closure is tipped by the forecast alert. So we were going to have a relatively normal day at work and the closure was going to happen, we were going to close those gates in the afternoon, before we left to go home. 

But of course I was woken up on Saturday morning, and it was already pear shaped. And it was almost too late for us to go up on the boat before it closed the gate, it was almost too dangerous. But we did and then it was just all hands on deck, and we have a lot of locals that volunteered to help out, water police was here at night, and they were trying to evacuate and that’s all you can do, is just get people out of harm’s way and hang on. Just rope things down and hand on. So it was the Saturday night when evacuations began.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. Then in terms of the end result, what was the damage to pontoons or to vessels? Did you have vessels that actually sunk or did you have damage to vessels? What happened?

Elise Currey: We had a trimaran that was moored up next to the boardwalk. With any incoming weather, anybody who has vessels moored up against the boardwalk we will relocate, away from the break wall and that was one gentleman who thought he had the Saturday to come down and do it, and of course by the time he came down it was all too late. His vessel was a multi hull. So it had holes in two of the hulls but it was still afloat. 

A lot of vessels got scrapes and dings and all that sort of thing. There was one vessel on the southern break wall that just out of the blue on the very calm Monday, the weather was perfectly calm and I had a phone call saying a vessel in Siberia is looking a bit heavy in the bow, as I walked down the boardwalk to go and take a look, it just sank. Right in front of my eyes.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh wow.

Elise Currey: It sank within, it must have been between my receiving the phone call and walking around there would have been 15 minutes, and it just went down so quickly. It’s getting [inaudible] tomorrow, so we’ll find out what that actually was. That was post storm. No idea what happened there.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. Slowly been filling up and then just reached an industry, it’s your tipping point.

Elise Currey: Yeah, yeah. So it’ll be interesting to see what happened to the hull and what’s going on underneath it, but yeah. But considering, we’ve been pretty lucky, very lucky.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that is very fortunate because some of the photos and some of the descriptions of the storm hitting the marina, I thought, “Gosh, there must have been half a dozen or dozen boats lost with this force of that water sweeping through there.” So you’ve done well for that not to be the case.

Elise Currey: Yeah, well there’s lots of running around and relocating vessels. We’ve still got a couple of vessels sitting up on the main wall, but they’re happy to stay there for the minute. Yeah, and the marina’s looks pretty bad because when those pontoons start disconnecting, they’re top heavy, they start to slip and they look pretty bad, but it’s very quickly to rectify that. So the marina is all completely straight and back in order. But it’s still disconnected if the boardwalk hadn’t been compromised, if the boardwalk was working, we’d be up and running. 

So essentially it’s just the boardwalk and most of the arms have got power and water back again. I take my hat off to the electricians, I called the guys out, now I have no idea how they get the power working. When it looks like the entire infrastructure has been destroyed, they’re like, “Ah now, we’ll just do this, that, and the other.” It just fascinates me. Yeah, it’s good to go here, but we need more people to leave so the contractors will be coming in the next week or so to rebuild and we still don’t who that is yet. The insurers are working that out. Yeah, so there will be a lot of changes in the next few weeks.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and what’s the nature of what needs rebuilding and how long do you expect it to take?

Elise Currey: Whoever gets the contract, they have all estimated at the end of September. What’s written into our insurance is our obligations and what they will pay for is to repair and secure. So that’s what will happen. The issue of us having a brand new marina is that project is still reliant on the waiting for an outcome regarding our lease extension. Not our lease extension, sorry our new lease, which is the tenure has informally been agreed upon but we’re still waiting for that. The complete rebuild is a different project for what this is.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.

Elise Currey: Our obligation with our insurance and all of that. It’s a shame but we’ll still have a fantastic, relatively new facility. It’s just not going to be the end product that we want to do and what we have said we have committee ourselves to doing since 2006. So yeah, hopefully the need for a new marina will become more urgent having seen what can happen. So that’s what. We’ve been holding pattern waiting for the tenure on a low spirit. The importance is it’s completely rebuilt.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so this is the marina renewing the lease as the local council.

Elise Currey: Crown land

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Crown land, right. Just to give an idea, what sort of period of renewal do you have a lease like that? What is it, 50 year lease or hundred year lease? Or what sort of terms do you deal on?

Elise Currey: It will be a 50 year lease. A financial model won’t back up anything less than 50 years.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Not if you’re going to build something new, no.

Elise Currey: No, that’s exactly right. I was at a workshop that was run in Brisbane this week about fire safety systems and all that sort of thing. All the marinas that were there are inland marinas on rivers and they have their own set of challenges with flooding and all that. We don’t have issues with flooding, we have issues with between tides and over toping and all that. It’s very interesting to talking to them about how they manage themselves. It’s a completely different creatures and you forget sometimes but where we are, right on the ocean, it gets pretty hairy at times as we’ve seen. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.

Elise Currey: Yeah, marina that are in rivers and stuff don’t have that, but the surge and just that sense that you are right there, on the ocean.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and it’s the Tasman Sea, right? Big systems can come from hundreds of miles away in the sea. The sea state can be quite large by the time it gets to you, as you know better than I do. It’s not, like you say, it’s not just the height, it’s the sheer force of what’s behind that. The depth of it.

Elise Currey: Yeah and strangely enough, this east coast low was relatively short in duration. We’ve had three-four days and we’ve slept. Asked if we slept in the office? Yeah, and had extra things, the 24 hours three-four days in a row. It was quite interesting. There was no chance in the beginning that you could have [inaudible] in that office.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and it was spread, it was as high as kind of central Queensland as low as Tasmania. It covered thousands of kilometres at storm, didn’t it? I mean it was a big storm and we had, I’m in the Gold Coast in Queensland and we had a huge amount of rain in the space of eight or 10 hours.

Elise Currey: Yeah.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Then the sun came out a day later and you wouldn’t have known there’s been a storm, it came and went that quickly, it was unreal.

Elise Currey: That’s like the Monday here. I’m standing there, and you’re just looking at this total devastation in front of you and it’s a beautiful sunny day. It was that sort of weather. It was really quite surreal yeah, and it was funny because that storm was so widespread, normally people that would ring me and say, “Hey darling, how’s it all going there?” Weren’t, because they were all busy too.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.

Elise Currey: That was a sure indicator that it was not good.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and has it had any effect on the commercial boats that are based there in terms of their ability to carry on going out fishing and stuff like that? Is it just business as usual for them?

Elise Currey: Yeah, yeah. Well the fisherman’s [inaudible], there was only one vessel that had some issues with the mooring. But they were all still up and running and that. Commercial guys were up and running within a couple of days. So all that has been unaffected. There was only one commercial vessel damaged, so he’s getting repaired. But the [inaudible] fishing and all that stuff, is still on and was.

The arm that they were on was one that was relatively unaffected. We managed to get them all up and running. It was all about making access to those vessels secure and safe for general public, so that was our priority from pretty much from day one for those guys and yeah, for any people that were staying on their vessels, getting them sorted.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay.

Elise Currey: The commercial side is okay. They’re all okay.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And they’re got big tough steel boats too so they probably stand out for a little bit. A little bit better than the fibreglass boats.

Elise Currey: Well the club was quite protected because they’re sort of around the corner a little bit so to speak. Yeah, they were okay. We actually had some commercial vessels that relocating like the fishing commercial vessels were relocated into the marina because of the works that are happening at the slipway.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right.

Elise Currey: As the storm sort of intensified they just went, “Stop this,” and went back to their regular berths that they were in in the [inaudible]. And so they all go, “No, this is too hairy for us,” which was good because the less vessels the better.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and with your new marina plans, sorry to just sort of jump sideways, but your new marina plans, when they come to fruition, does that mean an increase in berth numbers? Does that mean a change to the layout of the marina, does it mean there’s any other new commercial or retail spaces being created? Like what’s the sort of big picture?

Elise Currey: We would like to, we have a commercial block here. It has 10 tenancies in it. Restaurants and [inaudible] and all that sort of stuff. We would love to redo that building. There are plans for that, sort of loose plans. Their priority is the marina because of the age of the facility. It will be pretty much similar berths. Because of the shape of the inner harbour, we’re really restricted with what we can do. So the water ways will be increased. They will be wider. 

So the whole marine will move westwards a bit, and we’ll get rid of the moorings that are on the southern break wall and extend the arms a bit. It will be more user friendly for the modern style of boats, you’ve got multihulls, you got a lot of people living on big cruisers like Flemings and travelling around on big vessels like that. This marina, things like access to power. The needs that modern boats have are completely different to what they were when this marina was build. So just tweaking all those sorts of utilities and the design of the actual fingers and arms is, it’s not going to be anything out of the bag but it’s going to be more user friendly for the modern boat user.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. And there’s no plans to move the yacht club any closer to the marina so we don’t have to walk so far?

Elise Currey: Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It would be. 

Elise Currey: My argument has always been, I think they should but the yacht club where the slipway is, and incorporate the slipway into the yacht club to you’ve got them all as one unit and have it all at one. So you have a yacht club that’s actually on the water and closer to the marina. But yeah, interesting. We need someone that’s clever to come up with a plan and with lots of money to do it.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well, that’s right, that’s like they say, you have got some restrictions graphically with how it’s laid out and with the break waters and stuff. So I guess it’s the cost equation is one of these things. It’s nothing’s, especially when it comes to marinas, nothing is easy or cheap to build that’s for sure. Okay.

So the Pittwater to Coffs race is run I think for 35 years now and then Southport Yacht Club resurrected the Coffs to Paradise race in January this year, which I competed in as well which is a lot of fun. So I got to experience your marina for the first time in January. It’s a great stop off place for sure, on the way north or south. 

So those races are now bypassing Coffs in January next year, is that out of concerns that you have about being really being sure you can be back to where you need to be? Is that sort of the primary driver? 

Elise Currey: Well most definitely by January. Yeah, most definitely by January. End of September is our start up date.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah.

Elise Currey: To be up and running again. Yeah, I’m not too sure why that has happens but yeah, it’s a shame to end the whole relationship on a race like last year where there was loss of life and loss of vessels and all of that. Yeah, very sad.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well and that, just to clarify, that in those two vessels that were leaving Coffs and returning to Sydney in quite nasty weather.

Elise Currey: Yeah.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. Okay, so then you expect that those races will just resume in 2018 as per normal and you’ll be able to pick up where you left of? 

Elise Currey: Oh, I’m not sure. That’s a decision for the yacht club to make.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay.

Elise Currey: I know they are looking at options for this year. We’ve found another club, so whether they forge a whole new series.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Temporarily for January this year, the Pittwater to Coffs and Coffs to Paradise, the Gold Coast races, have essentially been combined and just made a Pittwater to paradise, twice as long single race because obviously Coffs is the ideal starting point but with that not available, there’s no other now the ideal point. So that’s what they’ve got planned for January as a couple of weeks ago.

So I guess in terms of being able to plan, logistics and crews and accommodations, sponsors and all that stuff, I guess they have to put a stake in the ground if they’re unsure of anything around this, I guess for whatever reason they’ve done that.

Elise Currey: I’m not sure. Our commodores had all those conversations with our [inaudible], so yeah.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Just means you have a few extra available berths for other visiting boats at that time of the year.

Elise Currey: It’s just such a nice change in the year and everything just goes perfect. There’s nothing better, I just love it when there’s, you know, you got boats on sky hooks almost. It’s so much fun.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. It creates a real festive atmosphere?

Elise Currey: Yeah, yeah. When I first started working here, that was close to a hundred yachts coming. It was massive. We had boats tied down all along all the walls along the boardwalk. But now it gets, the numbers are so huge, you're fitting into all the berths and you don't quite get that abundance you know? There’s people and boats and festivities, it’s almost like it’s just a busy day. But we’d love to get back to all the chaos.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Do you know, have you got any ideas to why the numbers have declined? Because it’s a shame that they have.

Elise Currey: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not okay with all the racing regulations. I would assume that we’re only getting nearer to being part of lots of races. A lot of the boats we get here, their average size is 12 meters and I would assume that those sorts of mom and dad teams and all that sort of stuff. I guess it gets to a point where you’re thinking, “Jeez, is it Christmas time?” All that, having to fork out and prepare for all those sorts of things, those expenses. But I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ve sort of, the two clubs sort of knock everything out but the feedback I get is, generally comes down to expense.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: I think you’re right. I spoke to a guy last week who does marine training all over the country, Jerry Geraldson and he said there’s been a decline over the last 20 years and partly it’s the rising safety standards and then the cost of compliance with those. It’s a big time cost and big financial cost, so the bar gets higher and higher and the average cruising boat doesn’t comply with all those extra regulations now. That does start to rule, some of those people out, that’s for sure.

Elise Currey: Yeah, you could imagine that kind of our twilight sailors here, they have to be a certain category and affording all that stuff it just takes years.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and it’s one thing to buy it, it’s another thing to keep it all certified each year and inspected and checked, and it’s not just a one off cost for these things unfortunately.

Elise Currey: No, no, no. It’s an annual thing. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: I was going to say, did you get some good photos or video footage of what was happening in the middle of all that chaos with those big 14 meter surges?

Elise Currey: I’ve got a couple of shots, there’s one of the office being sort of enveloped in a massive surge. It’s a great little full frame shot and there’s one that is a great shot of the swell. Somebody must have taken it from the hill up high in the marina rescue, looking down at the harbour and you can see the swell coming up behind the break wall and you’re looking at it, and you sort of see, “Ah it’s a cloud. Oh no, no, that’s water.” Then when you look into the foreground to the boats and the boats are so tiny, and it takes you a few seconds to actually absorb what you’re looking at, and you go, “Oh, dear lord, that’s not good.”

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s like looking at the movie clip and with special effects and thinking, “This isn’t real, it can’t be real.”

Elise Currey: “That can’t be right. They’ve done something to that.” But the other one is a gentleman whose a coastal engineer for [inaudible] and he’s got this new drone, and he took a heap of aerial shots post the storm, looking down at everything, and that is just amazing.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow. So what I’ll do with the podcast interview, I get it typed up as well and posted dedicated podcast show notes page on the website. So what I’ll do is I’ll email you a drop box link if that’s okay, and any photos or videos you have to share, I’ll post those because people who listen to this think, “Well that’s really fascinating, it would be amazing to see it.” And then the fact that they can see that by photo or video.

Elise Currey: They can see it. Yeah for sure.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, they love it.

Elise Currey: There’s actually a woman who is a photographer in the marina and she took a heap of photos. So I can talk to her first. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well as many as you’ve got will be fantastic because what we’ve, you know, with some of our episodes we’ve published even 50 or 60 photos to go with the story and the interview. So we’ve had thousands of views of the pages. So people really get to see and feel. And if you haven’t been to Coffs before, it will give them a, obviously a good appreciation of the lay of the land and how open it is to the coastline there as well.

Elise Currey: Yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, that will be good. I guess a couple of final questions. I guess, in these types of situations, as tough as it is, it always seems to bring out the best in people and particularly community spirit and people working together and I guess what are some of the memories or example you have of that, of just people mucking in and working together to make the best of the situation?

Elise Currey: We have always had a great community down here that just gets the job done. You know, people who are getting their own boats in the water, we’ve got a local guy who uses the marina on a casual basis for his fishing boat, he’s president of the fishing club, a he just got the yacht club [inaudible] in the water and just, I think he’s had three days off. He just goes. He just keeps going and helping to get the marina back in order and we’ve got other people that through the night are just, they just don’t stop. They just do not stop doing things and they just become, you all just become one team. 

It’s like I say, I’m the only full time staff member, but I fee like I’ve got this whole crew of people that I think it’s really quiet unique. I’ve never worked in an environment like it where everybody feels a sense of ownership for the marina and works accordingly and it’s non-stop. People turning up and giving us gifts. We’ve been getting cases of wine, people ringing us saying, “Are you okay?” Not only do they care about the marina and what’s happening down here, I think our shed, we had a fridge, a bar fridge that we had to close our temporary office, that was full with bottles of champagne and everything. 

The guy had just been giving gifts, constantly and it’s just the spirit down here is really quite remarkable and it’s something that we’re just everyday blown away by what people will do and the lengths they go to fix and offer, and local businesses as well. Plus, I’ve had guys like The Boat Shed up in Brisbane, Gold Coast Marine, they’re all ringing and saying, “What do you need? We’ll be down there. We’ll bring boats, we’ll bring men, whatever you need.” So I say, “Ah, thanks,” you know? It’s a really nice environment to be part of and to see that people can be really nice. They can be pretty ordinary as well, but we’re lucky here.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s pretty special and it’s quite amazing. Instead of people saying, “When you going to fix it, and what about me?” When they say, “Are you okay and how can we help?” It’s just such a different environment to live in and work in. It’s so much more typical of smaller regional locations as opposed to the cities that we live in, where nobody even talks to their neighbours sometimes. So it’s something special to be valued, that’s for sure. Coffs Barbour, is a magic stopping off point for cruising sailors and for racing sailors. So it’s nice to hear you’ve got people contributing like that to help you get back on your feet and get back to full working order as soon as possible.

Elise Currey: Oh absolutely. People say to me, when you sort of run through what it was like in the storm and everything, and I’ll say, “You know, the one thing,” because we’ve been doing a lot of talking about procedures and manuals and all that sort of thing and what we can do better, why weren’t some people informed? Maybe they don’t get emails, they’re not email readers. Maybe people don’t open their mail and doing different ways of communicating with that different, that really diverse demographic we have here.

But this human elements post storm, people are in shock and dealing with that, and I had a woman from my RMS yesterday asking me that what it was like, and I said, “Well the reality of the situation is it’s nothing that comes in a manual or a “how to” book, and having to manage people, people in distress, has been a really steep learning curve.” But the thing, the events down here, and this is what I say, “My job’s all about births, deaths, and marriages.” We’ve been through everything with everyone down here and it has been all of those things, and it’s almost like, you hate to say it but it’s just like we’re one big family and that’s how people operate, which is fantastic.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well and in times like this, it’s worth it tenfold isn’t it? When you’ve got people working together like that, instead of like you say, sometimes it brings out people who don’t work well together anyway, it usually brings out the worst in them as opposed to the best in them. So it’s nice when you’ve got that tight knit community foundation. So that’s really, really good. Other than making sure that our cruising and racing sailors continue to visit your marina and sort of keep occupancy levels up, is there anything else that our listeners can do to help in any way?

Elise Currey: Oh no, but definitely keep in touch. Because our timelines might change if you’re coming up and down the coast. Our website will have information, we’ll have updates. Don’t hesitate to ring. If you’re driving past, by all means pop in. Happy to show you what’s happened. Yeah, just keep in touch and everybody that rings up and wants to come in hasn’t realized that we’re not actually open, the first thing I say to them is just, “Don’t feel like you’re harassing us, just keep ringing, keep in touch, look at the website,” because, you know, things might happen a lot more quickly than what they’ve anticipated. We’ll be up and running sooner rather than later. So that’s the best way you can help is to get people coming back.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, yeah absolutely. Okay, so officially right now, other than people you’ve already got on berths, you are now taking new bookings, locations at the moment? So that September timeframe somewhere there, really that’s the likely earliest stage once that’s completed that you’ll be able to start doing that? Is it at the end of that process?

Elise Currey: Yes. Absolutely. They give me those time frames and they’re sort of taking into that you might have a couple of weeks of bad weather. That’s worst case scenario. So potentially, we could be earlier than that. So I keep saying to everybody, “Keep in touch, happy to chat, happy to have you pop in the office, chat about what’s happening.” You know? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and they can continue to just visit the Coffs Harbour Marina website as well for updates.

Elise Currey: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, hopefully we’ll be up and running.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, well that’s fantastic Elise. Is there anything else you want to share at all before we wrap up, anything else you wanted to tell me about?

Elise Currey: No, I don’t think so. I think that covers it. If I think of anything I’ll respond in an email.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. Well that’s great. I really appreciate that you took 45 minutes out of your busy schedule to have a chat and we’ve got thousands of listeners across Australia and across the world now. So this will be online in the next couple of weeks and I’ll follow you up with an email and some details of how to drop some stuff into Dropbox folder. Because it would be great to be able to share those photos and any videos or anything else you have there, that would be fantastic.

Elise Currey: Absolutely.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: All the best with the great job you’re doing, rallying your volunteer army and getting the marina back in its feet.

Elise Currey: Yeah, no it’s a challenge and it’s a fun one though. It’s better than being stuck in an office somewhere.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well, like they say with these things, they’re character building, but you wouldn’t want to do it every year once you’ve got enough character, enough is enough right?

Elise Currey: Yeah, no we’ve ticked that box. We can move onto something else exciting.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, absolutely. Okay well that’s great. Thanks for appearing on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and take care and I’ll drop you a note in the next day or so and then I’ll send you the details when the podcast goes online and the link to the webpage as well so you can check all that out, and we’ll link to your marina as well so our listeners can link straight to your website for updates and stuff too.

Elise Currey: Lovely, thank you so much.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Great. Thanks Elise, have a great day.

Elise Currey: Bye.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Bye now.

Elise Currey: You too. 

Interviewer: David Hows

Episode 16: Mark Stephenson Show Notes

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Thanks for agreeing to have a chat to me. I was hoping to chat to you for about 30 minutes, it might be a little bit longer but I publish the Ocean Sailing Podcast and we’ve got thousands of listeners across Australia and clearly, a lot of people were quiet dismayed to see the video that was on YouTube that showed some pretty horrific stuff happening. So I wanted to have a chat with you about that. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes, pretty impressive videos I suppose. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And the sound as much as the pictures was horrendous, so we’ll just back it up, so what’s your role at Mersey Yacht Club? 

Mark Stephenson: I’m the commodore.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and how long have you been in that role? 

Mark Stephenson: A year. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, well that’s good timing. 

Mark Stephenson: It is, yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And so how long have you been involved in the club itself? 

Mark Stephenson: Well I’ve been in the committee for about 10 years and a member for about 18, 19 I think. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and how old is the club? 

Mark Stephenson: I think we had our 83rd or 82nd AGM just last week, or a couple of weeks ago. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow. 

Mark Stephenson: It’s about that old yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, I’m based in Southport Yacht Club and that’s just having it’s 70th birthday and we thought that was a lot, so 83 is right up there.

Mark Stephenson: Yes. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and how many members do you have in the club and how many yachts normally sail out of there? 

Mark Stephenson: Hang on, I’ve got the members here. We’ve got about 200 members about 50 of those are just sort of social members. So that’s 150 senior and active members. We’ve got about 50 boats I suppose without counting them, but then there’s all sorts of everything from trimarans, racing trimarans, down to, you know, there’s motor boats and everything between, trailer sailors. Racing wise, we don’t get a huge fleet. Have half a dozen boats. So we still have races and we have combined races with other clubs up and down the coast to build up the race fleet. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and how many clubs are there along the coast within sort of sailing reach of where you are? 

Mark Stephenson: Well there’s Leeuwin Yacht Club about 10 miles west and then there’s another one about another 30 miles on. They just send trailer sailors up to the races there and then the Tamar River is about 20 nautical miles east and there’s — up there that that river is about 30 miles long and there’s about three clubs up there. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay so for our — we’ve got listeners across Australia and about 59 countries now around the world, so do you want to explain geographically where you’re located if you’re explaining to a lay person? 

Mark Stephenson: Yes well Tasmania’s sort of shaped like a triangle and we’re in the middle of the top section. There’s a slight V on the northern edge of Tasmania, we’re about in the middle where the ferry boats from Melbourne to Tasmania ties up. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so you face north and I guess you’re exposed to what happens in Bass Strait sometimes depending on weather direction. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, once you get outside the river, you’re just in Southern Bass Strait and there’s almost always a swell. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and what sort of racing do you do there? Do you have just sort of twilight racing in the river, or do you do ocean racing as well? Or what sort of racing is sort of popular there? 

Mark Stephenson: Mainly just around the buoys, we just set up the standard Olympic course up, the old triangle, sausage, triangle and then we have a few races up or down the coast, one way or the other depending on things and then there’s the Melbourne to Devonport race once a year held in conjunction with the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria. So that’s sort of the 180 nautical miles across from Port Philip Bay and then there’s a couple of races that are sort of between us and the Tamar River, there is one going that way and one coming back. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and how long are those races? 

Mark Stephenson: Oh that’s just your 20 something miles. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay great and so if we can go back to that storm that sort of hit you around the 6th of June, what stage did you realised that the marina might be in trouble? 

Mark Stephenson: That’s a good question. We had moorings dragging all over the place and we’ve had to happen about five years before. Yeah, five years. We lost 11 moorings and we just recovered the boats and sorted all that out without much problem. This one that was happening but on a much greater level and to be honest, I was on the other side of the river on the commercial wharf helping to tie up boats and you look up and there’s the pontoon going past. 

But everyone says they have never seen the river like that. People that have worked on the river for 50 plus years, they’re all going they have never seen it like that. The water was just flowing so fast and upriver, there was a railway bridge that got knocked out. They say three road bridges got knocked out. But I was talking to a guy from the council up stream, and he said they’ve got 14 bridges to replace. 

So they’re obviously smaller bridges but there was all of that and some of those bridges were just the old timber ones, you know that are made out of logs essentially but a bit more modern than that. So all that rubble was coming down with all the trees and cows and containers and so on. So the water wasn't just flowing fast, it was full of stuff. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and often the debris in the river from that kind of stuff does more damage than everything else going on to everything it hits on the way past. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, it’s like in Bundaberg a few years ago, you see someone and you think, “Yeah, you could probably just stem that,” but then you get clobbered by a container and it’s all over. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Exactly. Yeah exactly. I mean I watched that YouTube video and the sight was pretty sickening but the sound was even worse. 

Mark Stephenson: It was like a waterfall, wasn’t it? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh it was horrendous and then you could hear people’s gasps in the background as well. 

Mark Stephenson: And all the — when it went and it started pealing boats off the pontoon and all that crunching noises and yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So are there any estimates to how fast the river was actually flowing? 

Mark Stephenson: There’s been a few estimates and our sort of race boats, it’s got twin 60 horse power outboards. It was up on the plane and sort of being essentially stationary, so what’s that, 15-20 knots? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. So there’s incredible force and I think when the Brisbane River broke a few years back when they have to release the dam, I think that floated about 12 knots and that carried hundreds of meters of piers and pontoons out the river out into the open sea. So if you are talking about 15 to 20 knots potentially, that’s a hell of a lot of speed and a lot of force. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah and that would have been in spots as well. There was a bit where it was like being in the rapids. When I was on a boat that we were towing back in and it felt like being in the rapids. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow and how many people were out in the water trying to salvage or save or secure boats when you had that going on because that’s pretty dangerous stuff. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, we had our race boat out there and our work boat. But this was sort of a big diesel job. It’s not really up — it doesn’t have the speed but it’s got more pull. So they were out doing what they could and the port, the commercial port has a 300 horsepower workboat and it was doing a few things as well until it got too much hay in the sea water coolant and it had to stop. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. So hay in river that had been washed down. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, it was just grass and the hay bales going past and just stuff, yeah, sticks. But it would have been the hay getting into the coolant I would imagine or grass. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it was not really designed for all that stuff floating on the surface. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So which direction was the river flowing? Is it flowing from land out to sea or where was it? 

Mark Stephenson: It is, yeah because it rained a lot the night before or the day before as well and it obviously did — the catchment area picked up a lot of water and it was just all running back out into sea. In hindsight, you could take your boat out the river and you would just anchor a mile up the coast and you’d be fine because it was all normal out there. It was just this torrent of water. The catchment areas is where it can be large and the dams have been low and they picked up about 10% water levels in that one weekend, even though it wasn’t really in the catchment area. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. So those images of those boats and marina pontoons breaking free, I mean what happened next and where did that all end up? 

Mark Stephenson: Actually with the people on them, there were people on the pontoons and some of the safety issues, at some point we should have said, “You can’t go on there anymore,” but people still did and then when it started to go, there were people just trying to save their boats and a lot of those get carried out and some of them got picked up by the tug boat, the port’s tug boat, which was out there and some managed to sort o get their engines going and get their boat out of trouble and tied up to the wharf. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow. That’s pretty significant in river flowing at that speed with all the debris in it. 

Mark Stephenson: Once it — so where the Yacht Club is the shallow section, it’s a bit narrow and it’s only about about 200 meters across. It’s a big shallow. It’s only about probably five meters at sort of high water springs but once you get out into the shipping the turning basin, that stretches to 12 meters. So the water slowed down a bit when it hit that area. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: All right, okay. 

Mark Stephenson: It still had the debris of course but yeah, so that would have been just a little bit slower there. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So in terms of your members, did you have anybody that was injured or that ended up in even in a worse position? 

Mark Stephenson: No, we were lucky. There was a couple that were on boats that they got picked up that we were quite worried about, but they got — one was on the pontoon that sort of as it went, he got on the biggest boat that was there even though it was locked up and then the pontoon sections all got caught on the Spirit of Tasmania and then the tug boat tried to pull the pontoons free but that didn’t worked and so the tug boat picked up him. 

And the club race boat picked up another guy out there somewhere. There was just so much going on. It was sort of — I was sort of, you know, you’re there tying up a couple of boats because they’ve broken loose and come over your way and then you could see the race boats buzzing to and fro and you think, I was thinking, “How do you prioritise what you’re doing?” And he said, “I’m just picking up people.” Fair enough. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow and when you’re in a landscape that’s just moving and changing by the minute, it’s not like you can just tick everything off one after the other, can you? 

Mark Stephenson: Yes, you can’t objectively sit back and think about it and do the priorities. You just sort of do something, do what’s next that you can see and hope that it’s not the wrong thing to do. And I know it’s a bit easy to dwell on that. The guy driving the club’s race boat. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So do you have volunteer marine rescue or coast guard type facilities down there for this type of situation or is this a just a once in 50 years event type of scenario? 

Mark Stephenson: There is a volunteer coast guard but they’re over in the Leven River, which had problems of their own and they’re just volunteers and they wouldn’t have a boat that would be up to it. They used to have a big RNLI life boat, but they couldn’t afford to run that so they had to sell it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh, yeah it’s unfortunate. 

Mark Stephenson: That’s the kind of thing you’d need really. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, well especially something that’s robust where you’ve got the force of the water as well as the debris, it’s got to be able to handle bouncing off every so often. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So what was different about this particular storm to what you normally get? 

Mark Stephenson: There’s just more of it I think. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Just a lot of rain? 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah just a huge amount of water. It’s been classified as a national emergency, which hasn’t helped a lot of the farmers and that with their insurance yet. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. Does that categorisation change how insurance is handed out?

Mark Stephenson: I think so, I hope so. I’m not sure. You sort of don’t pay a lot of attention to how these things actually work until you are in the middle of them. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, they’re hard to plan for and to put into perspective for our listeners, that covered a massive area of the country. I don’t recall on my time seeing a front that sat all the way from probably south of Tasmania all the way up to north of the Sunshine Coast. I mean you’re talking about, I don’t know what that is, maybe two and a half thousand kilometres. 

It was a massive, massive area of rain and the rain that fell was just as incredible in Queensland. Not as extreme as you had but certainly the rivers were brown for days afterwards by the time the hills emptied out of all the water that fell. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah. We’ve got — the river is still not clear enough for divers to go down. We’re sort of just waiting for that to happen and the ports raking the channel, the fairway, on low tide, on out going tide to try and get some of the silt to move out because they reckon there’s next half a meter of silt in the channel. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh right. Well and then if you end up with any sunken debris, you’ve got suddenly all these high spots that you didn’t used to have in the bottom of your river. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes, I think someone said there was a couple of boats in the river, so like sunken boats, but we’re not — there’s not exactly word of that.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So how many boats were lost, do you know? 

Mark Stephenson: It was about 15. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow. 

Mark Stephenson: That includes three that are sort of on the hard, but written off but so some — one’s still one of the beach outside on northern Tasmania. This ferro-cement yacht just lying there and one sail people decided to burn because it was an old timber fishing boat. They couldn’t get it back in the water and couldn’t get it onto a hard road or anything like that and there’s a handful that are still missing. 

They’re just missing and there’s some we saw sink. We had a short section of pontoon that was sort of across the current so you could walk from one arm to the other and two boats sort of just went under that and popped up on the other side and just went down again and then another boat broke off and just went off with it’s bow pointing in the air. So we know those ones sank and others are just not about. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So they’re either on the bottom somewhere or they’re out in the Tasman Ocean right now heading somewhere. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, there was one that we kept getting reported on every few days someone would report it. And you think, “That must be that one still out there.” It’s an old knotting 23 Huon pine yacht, not worth a huge amount of money and not insured that was on one of the moorings and I think it still had its mooring hanging off the bow because it would have come up and been blown onto the beach a lot sooner. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh because it’s dragging with all the weight kind of thing. 

Mark Stephenson: Well once it got out into the deep water, it would have just been hanging there. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Adding a bit of a weight to the bow no doubt. 

Mark Stevenson: Yes and we just thought that won’t last long because it’s an old strip planked boat and the seams above the water line won’t have been taken up. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh right and then the weight on the bow just starting to drag them down and it’ll also start to fill pretty quick, bow first I guess. 

Mark StephensonStephenson: Yes, I heard a security about a sunken boat off the low head light, at the most of the Tamar River, a yacht with a mast. I thought, “I reckon that’s that one,” because she was the one they’d been reporting and anyone else with a mast has been accounted for or is gone sooner than that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So how would you describe the impact on your club and obviously on the yachts and on people’s lives with what’s happened? 

Mark Stephenson: I think we’re bouncing back fairly well. Virtually everybody has got damage, broken pulpit, or a stanchion’s missing and things like that. So we’ve all got jobs to do to fix them and quite a few of the ones their insurance has paid out, so they’re looking at buying another boat. Some already have and also I’d want to think about it for a while myself, but anyway. Yeah so most are bouncing back without too much grief. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, well that’s good. I guess what’s been physically involved in the initial clean up that you had to do so far in and around the club itself or in and around the local area? 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, because of all the — we lost a lot of moorings and most of the moorings are privately owned so everybody sort of had to sort out their own mooring and we had 13 boats on the western wharf and 19 boats on the eastern wharf. Wo we had to sort — and the port was going to want the western wharf area fairly quickly. 

So we just had to start moving them back and without a marina or with more than half our marina gone, you’re there — some people had to come out straight away on the slip way because they hulled under the water or just on the water line so that meant you put another boat in their spot on what’s left of the marina and a neighbouring, one of the Tamar Yacht Clubs, actually Tamar Yacht Club, they’ve got a large marina. They’ve said that anyone who wanted to go over there there, they had three months free to stay in their marina. So I think only one person took them up on that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well that’s a kind offer. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, it was good and they’re just sort of coming back and being on the slip or being taken, one’s been taken home to get to be repaired. It’s just one boat at a time and there’s only one still, ewe haven’t contacted the owner yet to find out but it is still sitting in the port area but no one seems to be minding so it can stay there at the moment and lots of moorings were lost. 

A lot of them were just dragged off and we manage to, there was a big tangle of four moorings with boats attached and we took the boats off and then the port used their crane to pick them up and put them on the wharf and said, “You come and get them.” So we didn’t lose those four moorings, so there’s four boats that are happy. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: That’s good, and how much does a mooring typically weigh? 

Mark Stephenson: They’re usually railway wheels, so there’s one wheel is 300 kilograms and two wheels are 600 and sometimes people use crusher jaws that are about 800 kilograms. One 800 kilogram dragged down the river. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, that’s a lot of weight to drag across the river bottom. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah but it’s sort of not much more than what say 12 to 15 people put them on a yacht, the yacht’s not going to sink is it? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah but it’s got a yacht attached to it, it’s got all that extra surface area, yeah. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, I think the old one that was bobbing around probably only had one railway wheel and that’s enough to hold in most situations. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Most, except the situation. 

Mark Stephenson: If you had two tons down there, it just would have sunk your boat. The force couldn’t break the line or drag the mooring, the boat would have gone under with the weight of trees and 12 to 15 to 20 knots of water. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it would just drag, just drag, just drag and the sheer force would have pulled it under. I guess it’s good to have a bit of a governor like that that’s got a little bit of give.

Mark Stephenson: We had a couple of boats that were their noses are just under water and water was lapping on the bow and that was earlier in the day and the work boat went over and cut them off and brought them on the pontoon. Actually one of them was on a spot that his wife said, “I don’t like it there.” So we moved it on the shore wood side of the other pontoon and where it was. Yeah, it would have been crushed or carried away if it hadn’t stayed there. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well tat’s pretty fortunate, a big treasure to be saved the first time and then lost the second time in a different location. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah there was one guy who's like that. His boat had dragged and it was out of sea and we would be doing what we could. So he got the surf club to take him back to his boat and they thought it was only a couple of kilometres out so off they went and then they saw the boat, which was probably this other one that we’re talking about. 

We know because that’s another two kilometres out? No that’s not it. Oh no there it is out there. So I reckon it was about six kilometres out and he doesn’t think the surf club would have normally gone six kilometres out. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right, they got they got there faster though, they’re committed so they kept going looking further. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, anyway he bought that back in and he tied it on our courtesy pontoon which is in front of the club and downstream of the marina and when the marina went, it was the third boat, there were three boats in a row on the pontoon and the first boat, a yellow one got sunk, the second one got scooped off and then it just gave a little glancing blow to this boat, and you thinking, “Well he could have lost his boat twice in the one day.”

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Oh, what are the chances? Oh my goodness, that’s a stroke of luck. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah and then his boat’s fine. It’s got a bit of paint missing on the bow.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s like a cat with nine lives almost. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So what’s required to repair the damage completely in terms of cost and time with what you’ve got to do? I mean obviously replacing. Do you need to replace all of the marina in terms of the pontoons? 

Mark Stephenson: Well, the pontoons were made out of steel section that was used to a crane and there’s about 90 meters of them and there’ve sort of been 15 to 20 sections and they’re scattered up and down the coast and we’re having trouble with the insurer to either salvage them or whatever but you’d think even if we could salvage them and then you redo all the joints. 

That’s sort of welded with hinges and stuff like that so they could pivot a bit, all engine here and quite up to normal stresses but I think we’ll have trouble getting an engineer to sign off on the design because it’s happened once, they won’t sign off to say how strong it has to be. I imagine — but you’re sort of saying, “Oh you just upgrade that”. 

Instead of having 300 mill poles you have, you’ll have 350 mill poles in the steel ones or even 450. Like for the main ones. I’m sure it can be done but how much that would cost is anybody’s guess and then if we can recover the infrastructure, buying it from the scratch that’s another matter. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And have you got an obligation to clean it up or does insurance take care of that with it being a national disaster in terms of where it sits right now?

Mark Stephenson: I imagine the insurance will have to be involved if we’re ordered to remove them and I think one of them is still afloat but it’s anchored by a couple of sunken yachts near an island that’s just off the North Coast here but I haven’t actually seen that one, that’s what hearsay and you think, “Well if that got lose, that could be then the hazard.”

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and is there anything else other than the marina that you need to do repair or damage wise? 

Mark Stephenson: No, not really. Now there’s a couple of poles. There’s — the poles that were in this marina section were some timber and some steel and the steel were the older design that you don’t use them anymore. A couple of H beams welded together, and you look at them and you think, “That’s one inch steel, it’s one inch thick for these beams.”

So there were three of them and we know where one of them is. It’s sort of sticking up at low water so we’ve sort of marked that with a float, but we don’t know whether the other one is bent over and it’s just waiting for someone to catch it low tide. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Which would be nasty. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, the timber piles are probably broken off where they came out of the bottom or got plucked out. But again, you have to wait till it clears and there’s a couple of divers in the club and they’ll go down and have a look. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. 

Mark Stephenson: But that’s just getting that pile out really, or any others as well. Not a huge jobs but just all those things that need to be thought of and worked towards. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So has your racing come to a standstill in the meantime? 

Mark Stephenson: No, we raced a couple of weeks ago because there’s only one boat that raced regularly sunk — actually no two. And another two have damage but they’re okay. One of them just lost his pulpit in his life lines, another one has been hulled above the water line. So they’re being repaired, but apart from that the racing schedule is still going on. 

Mind you, I think there’s only two races left in our winter series and so then there’s a bit of a break until October/November. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well it’s the fact that you even have a winter series is pretty admirable. I mean it’s pretty cold in that part of the country on a cold day right? 

Mark Stephenson: Well, the winter sailing is actually very nice. You just try not to get wet because the wind is often steadier and it’s — and there are nice sunny days and it’s not that bad but yeah, you wouldn’t want to be getting wet. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, the water would be pretty cold. I guess so with what you saw, what are the images that are etched on your mind the most? What really stuck with you? 

Mark Stephenson: Well, when I got that call at 5 o’clock in the morning, I went down there and I couldn’t find my boat and so I had that gut feeling of anxiety and whatever and then when the sun came up, when it got light and you go, “Oh no, there she is just sitting in the turning basin,” and the port took her and moved her out of the way. 

I sort of think, I thought that was good for — because one of the guys who lost his boat just disappeared and he hired a plane and flew up and down the coast. A big 44 footer or so. He looked terrible and then a pilot took a photo and we worked out that that shape next to the pontoon section was his boat and then bits of wreckage started showing up on the shore including one of the name boards and then he looked better after that. The uncertainty must really chew away at you and you go, “Okay, now it’s lost now,” and you know it’s lost. You don’t think it’s lost or scared it’s lost or something like that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well, and a yacht is like a member of your family isn’t it? It’s hard to explain to somebody, and even though you’ve got insurance you’re still personally attached in lots of different ways and the hours that you pour into it and some of the things you keep on it. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes, well that’s some of the things you sort of think about. The stuff you’ve got on board that’s probably not insured and not really insurable, but it’s all the mementoes or so. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s right. 

Mark Stephenson: But you have to take things, the perspective of the few people still lost their houses and so on and it’s just a big toy, keep that in mind. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s right because people lost their lives in Tasmania in the storm and there was a lot of livestock lost as well. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, there were two deaths. One death in Latrobe and two further east I think. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So you’re right, you have to keep it in perspective. I guess often you see in these situations is amazing how people just sort of muck and get together and help get all sorts of things sorted out and tidied up and what sort of examples have you seen of communities team spirit or club members team spirit with getting in and helping this sort of stuff tidied up and sorted out and helping people out?

Mark Stephenson: Well, yes. It has been a remarkable attendance of people there a lot of the time but yeah a lot of it’s — we’re just there sort of waiting to help people who are already loosing and there’s still on the day there was a lot of that and even a few days after that as we were sort of getting boats sorted out. People were quite willing to help and things like that and it’s still just there. We’re very much a — there’s quite a few members that are just sort of hands on ready to help and do things. They just need to be asked really and not too difficult. You work out which ones they are. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and is there anything else you want to — I mean what would be good to get, and I will e-mail you afterwards, but if you’ve got any photos or any links or any other videos what I will do is I’ll get the interview typed up into what I call show notes and I’ll publish those online on the website as well and with some of the interviews we have added photos of all sorts of things and people love when they see the photos. 

It’s great to hear your story, but I will e-mail you and get you to send me any photos or images or links of those or what have you because that really gives people an appreciation and I’ll dig some stuff out too and obviously that YouTube video online, I will put into the show notes page for the interview as well. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, absolutely. There’s one of the guys at the club trawled the internet and got a hold of every movie that he could find and then he sort of spliced them together. So get this chronological and geographical progression and you can watch it several times because you’ll watch it for each different boat but I’ve got to get a copy of that yet. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and has he put that online anywhere or on YouTube or has he just got that on a computer at the moment? 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, it’ll just be on a flash drive. So I’ll work out what we can do if I can have it. I will find out if it’s online, he’s more of a computer person than I am. I’ll find out if he’s got it anywhere that you can access or put a link to. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah or I can send a Dropbox invite and he can drop it into a Dropbox folder, which will just upload to my computer automatically without him having to try and send it or anything like that. So we’ll work that out. That would be great. That would be fantastic. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And so when do you hope to get your, I mean obviously you’re playing a bit of a waiting game, but when do you hope your marina will be back in working order? Is that sort of before Christmas or do you see that sort of dragging on past Christmas? 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, I can see it going on past Christmas yeah. Because you sort of think, everything just takes longer than you expect. If we can get those sections back, the port is happy to lend us or rent us a bit of land for a dollar a month or something like that so we can put them there and even then you get welders on to re-weld all the bits. But then getting the plans I don’t think will be — I think we’ll have to drive some piles. Getting the boat here to drive the piles. Everything just takes a long time. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well especially if there’s council permits or marine permits or anything like that involved. It does take time. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, well we’ve got the land, the water area, we’ve got that at least all sorted out and we could argue that we should be able to put back what we had before. It’s just how much beefing up we’d need to do to have an engineer happy to sign off on it because without that on the drawings you can’t start. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, on a different note, I’ve got a large wooden retaining wall that I need to replace at home and I want to replace it with rocks this time because the termites have eaten it and I have to go through council permits because they said, “But I don’t care if you’re replacing it. You are starting all over again so you’ve got to start from scratch whether you’re replacing something existing or not.”

So suddenly you have an extra two months that have been added to the process, so I can only imagine what you have to go through given the extra complexities. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah and we’ve got a sub-committee that’s sort of — one of the guys that’s lost his boat is on that. Yeah, we’ve only have one meeting so I don’t know how much has been going on yet with that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. 

Mark Stephenson: Because otherwise we’ll just end up, every committee meeting we’ll just be talking about it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah well and the months go by if they are only monthly meetings too. Okay, so Mark is there anything our listeners can do to help in any way or contribute in any way? Is there anything that you need or is there anything they can help with? 

Mark Stephenson: Not that I can think of, no. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Other than visiting the area again this summer and spending money in the local economy? 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, well there’s always that. Well, we’ve still got the, what we call the courtesy pontoon or the visitor’s pontoon and that’s often said that’s about 60 meters long and that’s where most people who just come in to drop in and visit, where they tie up. So yeah, we’re still open for business and the club rooms were not affected. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well that’s great. 

Mark Stephenson: So yeah, all of that, the camaraderie or whatever from that side of it is still perfectly intact. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. Oh that’s excellent. Well that’s one saving grace. I know the Vaucluse Yacht Club in Sydney Harbour, their club rooms were literally smashed to pieces. The waves, you know the extra height of the see, of the tides, and then the swell behind it literally took out the front of their club rooms, which is unbelievable. It was just a mess. 

Mark Stephenson: So Vaucluse, they’re in the southern side of harbour up getting out towards the heads, are they? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: I don’t know exactly where they’re located but they are inside the harbour, that’s correct and then Coffs Harbour had 14 metre high sea surges come over their massive boulder wall and literally wipe out their marina and there’s some amazing photos of — there’s a swell that’s coming over the top so yeah, the same storm affected different clubs in different ways. So it’s great that you’re — certainly it’s great that your club rooms are still intact because that would be tough if you also had nowhere to congregate. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah and I know just looking, they’re near down on the water, just near the heads, yeah. But then you’d think that’s still quite sheltered, really. It’s around the other side but yeah, they’re close to the water, looking at the photo, yeah. We had — the water was just on the grass at its’ peak and that’s still 20 meters back to the club rooms and downstairs is storage sort of thing so yeah, that wasn’t an issue where we were. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well, that’s pretty lucky. Did anywhere any along the river, did it break the banks and flood any of the local areas? 

Mark Stephenson: Upstream it did, yeah. If you sort of drive around there, there’s sort of fences with bits of grass all stuck on the barbed wire and yeah, it broke the banks pretty much because it’s narrower where it has the main highway bridge and then it sort of opens out and then further up, it narrows off when it comes through Latrobe and that bit was all flooded. Essentially it’s a flood line and so that was flooded and then you go down a bit further up. It often breaks the banks up in that area, but obviously not as bad as it did this time. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well, it’s just lucky there…

Mark Stephenson: Because we’re only — we’re less than two kilometres from Bass Strait. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Which is pretty close, I mean when you think of that. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah, so for the water level to rise too much there it’s pretty impossible because it can just run out. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah because the way that… 

Mark Stephenson: But if does get to speed up. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well it’s fortunate all those 83 years ago and I am not sure if that’s the original location of the yacht club, but when they made those decisions, that you weren’t lower and closer to the river given this ability to rise like that, especially in these one off events. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah and as I said, we’ve got a pretty three meter tide range that’s sort of — you always take that into account. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, well those are quite big tides especially if you get a high tide and then a flat on top of a high tide. 

Mark Stephenson: Yes. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Wow, okay. Well Mark that’s been great and thank you for taking the time to talk with me on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and I will drop you a line and we’ll work out how to get some of the other material to post for everybody to view. I’m sure there will be lots of interest in that, and I will send you a link to the podcast when we publish that as well and works with you on that detail but that’s really, really great. 

And thank you. Thank you for appearing and thanks for sharing this story because again, it’s one thing to see a little bit of a tidbit in the media, it’s another thing to hear it first hand from a — especially form a sailing point of view when boat owners are affected quite differently than the people living on the land in these types of situations. 

Mark Stephenson: Yeah. All right, okay? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So that’s excellent, thank you very much. 

Mark Stephenson: All right David, thank you. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, take care and good luck with getting your marina back and back into shape and everything you got ahead of you. 

Mark Stephenson: All right, thanks.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, that’s great. Thanks Mark. 

Mark Stephenson: All right, bye. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Bye. 

Interviewer: David Hows