We had made a promise to our son that we would keep him notified of our progress on our round-the-world trip either daily by email via a Pactor Modem connected to our Single Sideband Radio (in the middle of a passage) or by email when we had an internet connection (once arrived at a marina or anchorage). In addition, when leaving on a multi-day passage, we would provide a float plan with departure and estimated arrival dates. Virginia was so diligent with this process that it became a source of comfort for our son.
Before leaving New Caledonia for Australia, a four to five day passage, she sent the float plan as usual with our approximate arrival date. One day out from our landfall we sent an email update.
After five days we did arrive at Bundaberg, Australia. We knew that the cyclone season was closing in on us and we would have put the boat up on the hard for that foul season. There were two marinas at Bundaberg to choose from and for several days we were singularly focused on investigating the options. Speaking to the marina that was most convenient being only a short walk into town on the banks of the Bundaberg River, we discovered that their equipment could not haul our size boat. We were, to some extent, thankful for that rejection because their method of laying up a boat was to tie them to the local trees that grew along the river bank. So we proceeded to make arrangements with the alternative marina that was at least five miles out of town but they had a modern concrete boatyard with eyebolt anchors in the concrete to tie down the boats.
That night, having arrived back at the boat, we had the VHF radio on, as it was common to have the boats in the marina report to each other their next day activities. You can imagine our surprise when we heard the Australian Coast Guard hailing Libertad. Of course I answered the call dreading what crime we had committed and what the fine was going to be. To our wonderment, the Coast Guard asked our position (Lat & Long) to which we advised our slip number in the marina that we were at. They responded that they were happy to hear that but we had better send a message to our son about our successful arrival as three days had passed from our approximate arrival date and he had contacted the US Coast Guard to advise them of our last location and communication. Embarrassingly, we immediately sent a message with our apologies and our thanks that he followed up with his concern. We learned two valuable lessons 1) How effective the concept of a float plan can be and 2) Best to not deviate from an established procedure.
So we laid up Libertad and left for the US for a few months. The last serious cyclone season they had had was 20 years ago and it was noted as a 100 year storm which caused the river to flood. While in the US we monitored the Australian weather regularly. To our shock and dread, the cyclone season for that year was designated as another 100 year storm, causing the river to flood again. Worried about the conditions at the boatyard, we tried to contact the marina office. They didn’t respond to our inquiries for several days which had us expecting the worst. Eventually they contacted us advising us to not try to contact them any further. Our boat was fine and they would contact us if anything further needed to be advised. As you can imagine, we were relieved to say the least.
Eventually we returned to Bundaberg to get Libertad ready for the next leg of the journey. We were overwhelmed by the destruction caused by the cyclone and the river flooding. The marina upriver was completely washed away, every boat breaking loose and either sinking or being washed out to sea. The Coast Guard was still tracking down some of the missing vessels. The boatyard that we were in was virtually untouched but their marina was in shambles. Many of the boats that had broken loose from the marina upriver had collided with the marina docks before careening out to sea. The most disturbing scene we encountered was a sunken boat in one of the marina slips –see attached photo.