VMR skipper Charles Linsley with survivor Chris Newlyn at Mackay Base Hospital. Picture: Emma Murray
VMR skipper Charles Linsley with survivor Chris Newlyn at Mackay Base Hospital. Picture: Emma Murray

Struggle for survival: Seven months on from ocean ordeal

EVERY time Chris Newlyn hears a helicopter he is reminded of his struggle for survival at sea.

In May, aboard his prized Stormtrooper, the military veteran sailed into the path of Cyclone Owen as the storm system moved away from the coast.

Towering waves nearly destroyed his yacht near the Percy Islands. Its engine blew up and after a particularly strong surge from the ocean Mr Newlyn fell on his back and got nerve damage in his left thigh.

Chris Newlyn's boat Stormtrooper. Picture: Contributed
Chris Newlyn's boat Stormtrooper. Picture: Contributed


"I remember the size of the waves, and one of the times when I was up on the bow when the boat pitched into the wave there was a massive wall of green water that came up over the bow," Mr Newlyn said.

"That was pretty incredible to see, especially at night time … it looked as though the boat was going to keep on going under."

Complicating matters for Mr Newyln was his beloved feline Smellycat.

The pet was his life, and the veteran was not going to leave her under any circumstances. Unless, that is, he knew she would be rescued.

After he managed to get in touch with VMR Mackay Mr Newlyn was able to grind his way to a nearby island where CQ Rescue was able to save him.

If there are any fond memories to take from the experience it was when Mr Newlyn looked down from the CQ Rescue chopper and saw the VMR crew get to his boat to rescue his cat and salvage his boat.

Mr Newlyn was in awe of how several parties, emergency services, his insurer and Mackay Base Hospital staff, responded to his ordeal.

He said they went above and beyond to maintain his home and pet.

"My crazy cat was following me all around the deck. All I wanted to do was keep her alive and my boat afloat.

"I learnt a lot out of that night. I learned how good our rescue co-ordination is.

"Without all those emergency services I don't think I would be around still, I think it would have gone very pear shaped."

It took a while, but Smellycat has calmed down from the harrowing ordeal. Picture: Contributed
It took a while, but Smellycat has calmed down from the harrowing ordeal. Picture: Contributed

Since getting out of hospital Mr Newlyn has extensively modified his vessel.

Now living aboard Stormtrooper at Airlie Beach with a healthy Smellycat in tow, he has made changes to his anchor, upgraded his sails and ensured when he goes out he is well stocked with food and water.

Above all, his message to other boat owners is to be prepared for the worst every time they head out to sea.

"Even though all the forecasts turn around and say we're not going to have as big a year (for cyclones), that one cyclone that comes across could be a lot more powerful than any of the others we've had in our lives," Mr Newlyn said.

"Be prepared for the worst you could be prepared for."

Chris Newlyn has been enjoying life aboard Stormtrooper at Airlie Beach since his voyage gone wrong. Picture: Contributed
Chris Newlyn has been enjoying life aboard Stormtrooper at Airlie Beach since his voyage gone wrong. Picture: Contributed

VMR WARNS: 'If in doubt, don't go out'

THE torrential rain and accompanying heavy offshore winds that have impacted Mackay in recent days have renewed warnings for boat owners to take precautions before making a trip.

Through the Christmas period VMR Mackay responded to two jobs - both successful retrievals but avoidable.

One of these jobs involved a vessel that had run out of fuel and VMR skipper Charles Linsley said this was a point all boaties needed to adhere to.

He said it was important to bring sufficient reserve fuel should the weather turn and the course need to change.

VMR Mackay skipper Charles Linsley has warned boat owners of the need to bring large amounts of fuel each trip. Picture: Emma Murray
VMR Mackay skipper Charles Linsley has warned boat owners of the need to bring large amounts of fuel each trip. Picture: Emma Murray

 

"A lot of people miscalculate that and they only take enough fuel for the direct line there and back," he said.

"Sometimes they can end up a couple of miles off course going to a safe location, and of course that chews up fuel.

"Because the conditions are pretty ordinary, you're putting more power through your engine so you're burning more fuel on top of that."

Mr Linsley said monitoring weather conditions was paramount for boat owners as rain and wind made search and rescue jobs far more difficult - from a lack of visibility to the interference electronic communications endure.

"The bottom line is if you're in doubt don't go out," he said. "As soon as you think 'Should I go?' then the answer is no."


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