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The yellow boats, radio towers and squadrons of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard are a reassuring presence on the coastlines and waterways of Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Between January 2016 and January 2017, the 3,000 Coast Guard volunteers were kept busy undertaking over 7,700 ‘activations’ but, like many of the boaties who are lucky enough not to have required the Coast Guard’s services, I’ve been blissfully unaware of exactly how the Coast Guard go about providing their search and rescue services.
So, in an effort to learn a little more about the volunteers who keep a watchful eye on us, I caught up with electronics technician Marcus Grinblat at the Sandringham Coast Guard squadron and asked him how he got involved.
‘My family had a boat and went out in that fairly often,’ he explains, ‘but I wasn’t particularly interested in fishing. We just happened to be off Mt Eliza and saw a Coast Guard boat go past. I was probably 8 or 9, and I thought that might be something interesting to do.’
Marcus signed up as a cadet in 1971 and has been involved for nearly 50 years since, working his way up to his current role, in charge of communication for Coast Guard Victoria.
He explains that Coast Guard volunteers are expected to undertake significant industry-based training and serve a 6-month provisional term before becoming full members. Many of the land-bound radio operators even undertake sea survival courses so they understand what it might be like on the other end of the radio.
As for a typical day on the water, well, ‘you come on at 8 am and head off at sunset,’ says Marcus. ‘You do a bit of housekeeping, check the weather, then on the boat, really the training starts there.
Crew members run through the opening up procedure, double check, triple check, do an inventory of the equipment, check that it’s all working, which also reinforces where it all is if they’ve got to get it quickly.
By that time, you probably have a cup of coffee, then head out and do some training. Each member has a task book, so they’ll run through it, note the drills undertaken.
October is the busiest month because people get their boats out, they haven’t used them for a long time. The footy is finished, they think about going boating, and they get them out and they’ve got bad batteries and stale fuel.’
I’m happy to hear that the majority of call outs are not for yachts, who Marcus says are typically pretty good at getting themselves out of trouble. Although when a yacht does call for help, it is often for a serious incident such as a medical emergency.
In fact, Marcus goes on to tell me that the Coast Guard is sometimes required to retrieve dead bodies from the water. ‘You don’t get used to it, but you do accept it,’ he tells me. ‘If the police boat is in the area, we just stand by and let them do it, it saves a lot of paperwork, and having to take time off to appear in the Coroner’s Court.’
I ask Marcus what boaties should be doing to make the lives of Coast Guard volunteers easier, and he urges boaties to check their batteries and fuel, telling me that bad batteries, bad fuel or insufficient fuel are the most common causes of breakdowns.
For those boaties who don’t have time to volunteer, a great way to support the Coast Guard is to make use of the radio or marine license courses they operate.
Marcus also encourages boaties to download the Coast Guard’s SafeTrx App, an easy way for boaties to log and have their trips monitored within phone range.
The Australian Volunteer Coast Guard operates in Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Victoria, while Marine Rescue looks after New South Wales. A number of other independent marine rescue services also operate around the country.
After many years of preparation, endless challenges (including a dismasting in the depths of the Southern Ocean) and 104 days at sea, Lisa last week arrived back in Albany, becoming the first woman to circumnavigate Antarctica solo, below 45 degrees. I can’t wait to hear her story in more detail, but for now, here are the 10 most pressing questions I had for Lisa:
Lisa: Surfing waves in the Southern Ocean, and finishing.
Jess: In that order?
Lisa: A lot of people would probably think the dismasting, but I actually think that it was the container ship collision [as they attempted to transfer fuel to Lisa after the dismasting, see Lisa’s blog about the incident here]. It just simply shouldn’t have happened. That would probably be the lowest lowlight.
Jess: What about the voyage surprised you?
Lisa: The amount of time that I would spend inside the boat. I thought I’d spend on deck but given the cold, I was indoors about 23 hours a day, I’d spend maybe an hour on deck, and that was broken up. I was surprised by how much my world shrunk to about 10 square meters.
Jess: At what point did you feel the coldest?
Lisa: When I sailed across the demisting track after the repairs had been completed in Cape Town, I got hit with a blizzard. I had about 2 inches of snow on the deck in a couple of minutes.
Jess: Was there anything you’d wished you’d packed?
Lisa: For the first half of the trip, a hard drive with all the DVDs that were left behind in Albany. That would have been really, really nice. I wish I’d had more variety in the meals I liked. Then just a few spares for the boat such as electrical switches, some heat shrink, electrical tape; I wish I’d packed more of stuff like that.
Jess: What was your favorite food while at sea?
Lisa: A freeze-dried dinner which was a bare burrito, and porridge. Love porridge; the way to my heart it through a nice hot bowl of porridge.
Jess: What did you crave most while at sea?
Lisa: I use to get really excited when I’d do radio interviews and things like that because I’d have a conversation with someone new. Good conversation was the biggest thing I craved. It really makes you aware of how much you rely on conversation.
Jess: What will you miss most about life at sea?
Lisa: Just the peace, even in a storm; sailing in the middle of nowhere, in the open ocean, on your own is a peaceful experience.
Jess: Would you do it again?
Lisa: In a heartbeat.
Lisa will be speaking at the Sydney International Boat Show this weekend, so make sure you head along to ask any questions of your own.
What anchorages are on your bucket list? Skippers are spoilt for choice when exploring Australia's coastlines. Here are just nine of the incredible destinations recommended by members of the Deckee community.
"The Lizard Island National Park is a highlight of the Queensland coast. It’s a stunning tropical paradise with beautiful beaches, clear water and plenty of coral. The island itself boasts a selection of great walks that offer stunning views and access to some of the smaller, secluded beaches. In the winter months, you’ll find a dozen boats anchored in Watsons Bay on the north side of the island. Watsons Bay offers great protection from the prevailing south-easterly winds, and you’ll more than likely find friendly yachties gathered on the beach for a sunset drink. Many of the shallow reefs in Watsons Bay also offer great snorkelling with no shortage of fish and turtles. I’d recommend staying for as long as you can to really explore this amazing island paradise." – Jessica Watson
"On Tasmania’s west coast there are two large nearly enclosed bodies of water, Macquarie Harbour and Port Davey. Surprisingly with a mere 100 miles between them, they are quite different. Port Davey is stark mountains clothed in what looks like a carpet of grass producing views without limit. Both bodies of water contain numerous anchorages, which is really good considering that this area’s weather can change quickly and the mountainous terrain can accelerate storm winds." – Jack and Jude
"Hervey Bay in Queensland is a wonderful destination to consider when cruising. It is considered by many as a required stopover during the winter cruising season, not only to re-provision and refuel but also a cruising area in its own right with Fraser Island, nearby historical Maryborough and many whales during migration season, something not to be missed.
Hervey Bay makes up part of the Great Sandy Straights which are named for a very good reason. There is are sandbanks everywhere. One must adhere to the navigational channels if you do not wish to embarrass yourself by becoming stranded on one of these sandbanks on a ebbing tide." – Greg Harding
"Pittwater’s most popular bay with over 100 club moorings, and also the only designated camping ground in The Ku-rin-gai National Park. It can get a bit crowded on summer weekends, so mid week or shoulder seasons are the best to discover the real beauty of this bay. Great expanses of flat grassy park land, a netted swimming enclosure, gas bbq’s, showers and toilets, long stretches of white sandy beach and some of the best walking tracks in the park are just some of the magic here.
Offers best protection from South East / South West / North West winds. Open to North East and tends to cop the strong South Westerlies unless you are tucked right up at the head of the bay."
"Mention Coles Bay, Wineglass Bay, and Freycinet National Park to a Tasmanian and you’ll see eyes light up with thoughts of fishing and boating, bushwalking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, sun and sand, and spectacular coastal scenery.
Where else in Australia can you find pink granite mountains rising straight from the sea to form a magnificent sheltered waterway or one of the top ten beaches in the world, Wineglass Bay?
Coles Bay sits at the foot of the granite mountains known as the Hazards and on the edge of the world-renowned Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay, about two and 1/2 hours drive from Hobart and Launceston on the east coast of Tasmania."
"A stunning wide expanse of sheltered blue waters, Moreton Bay is an aquatic playground and marine sanctuary situated 14 km from central Brisbane, Queensland. It is one of Queensland's most important coastal resources. The waters of Moreton Bay are a popular destination for recreational anglers and are used by commercial operators who provide seafood to market.
The western side of Moreton Island is somewhat protected from the open ocean and winds from the island. Although there are no public mooring available, there are some protected areas to anchor in between the Tangalooma Wrecks and the beach. The Wrecks creates a breakwall perfect for offshore anchorage."
"We recently sheltered from a southerly buster in Refuge Cove. 40+ knots all around and 70 knots in Port Phillip bay that night. We anchored close to the southern beach in 5 meters of water. Holding was good with 15 meters of chain out. At low water the tidal range is a bit over a meter so be careful about how close to the beach you go. If it gets a bit crowed with power boats don’t be too concerned about anchoring on the other side. In a southerly, most if the wind goes over the top. The entrance to Refuge has a light on the port hand side. It is quite hard to pick up the entry to the bay and easy to mistakenly think Sealers Cove is the entry." – Greg Clinnick
"Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf, lies just west of the Flinders Ranges. Located 308 km from Adelaide, it is the most northerly port in South Australia.
There is no other town in Australia quite like Port Augusta for contrasts. The town is literally on the edge of a desert. To the west lie five huge plateaus where there are dry salt lakes beside the road. Only a few kilometres to the north, the edge of town gives way to flat scrubby land which stretches to the horizon where the beautifully contoured, undulating slopes of the Flinders Ranges rise majestically. They are magical in their beauty, and in spring are impossibly green and fertile. At sunset they are gently coloured with a purplish hue." – Jack and Jude
"Middle Harbour is an incredible cruising environment for any kind of vessel. The beautiful bays, parks and reserves present a popular alternative for those looking to escape the bustling activity of Sydney Harbour.
Bantry Bay is beautiful, you feel as though you are the only people there until you see the lights of the houses pop on at night. Ashore are walks in the Garigal National Park.
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