|St. Helens Beach|
|Newry Island looking across to Outer Newry Island|
Time and light were rapidly running out. Nightfall was nigh. It was the enemy, not pausing for man, beast, or marine creature. Not a single moment could be wasted.
The previous morning, on a sunny, calm Saturday, Glen, a young man who had visited Newry Island a few times previously, had arrived by a tiny sailing skiff, having travelled across the ocean from Seaforth on the mainland.
Around noon on Sunday, Glen decided it was time to head off to St. Helens, also on the mainland. There, as planned, a mate would be waiting for him.
Glen was employed by Hastings Deering, a major construction and mining equipment company. He worked at the mines in the rich coal fields of the Bowen Basin, an area that boasts the largest coal reserves in Australia. The Bowen Basin covers over 60,000 square kilometres, in an area from Collinsville to Theodore, in Central Queensland.
At the time of Glen’s arrival to Newry Island the previous day, the ocean had been as flat as a mirror, and the breeze had been almost non-existent.
Nonetheless, I was extremely surprised he had dared travel across the sea from Victor Creek at Seaforth on the mainland via such a small sailing skiff. To me, Glen had always appeared to be a level-headed young man not prone to risky decisions and actions. At a guess, Glen was aged in his mid-twenties. His travelling by the tiny craft to the island, to me, seemed out of character.
Late Saturday afternoon the weather performed a pirouette worthy of Nureyev, and did a complete about turn. Dark clouds off-loaded their heavy burdens. Strong winds whipped the ocean into a frenzy turning it into angry boiling pot.
On its mooring in the channel between Newry Island and Outer Newry Island, my boat, the 21ft, half-cabin De Havilland Trojan bucked like an agitated bronco at a Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
By late Sunday morning the ocean becalmed. Glen decided it was his opportunity to return to the mainland, but not to Victor Creek, in the south-east direction, but north-west to St. Helens Beach, on the mainland, to meet up with his mate, after which both would return to the coalfields as arranged.
Accompanying Glen down to the water’s edge, I bid him farewell, and a safe trip. I remained on the beach watching as he sped off on his tiny skiff.
Just as he rounded the point at the northern end of the beach, an unexpected scud came through. It was as if it was a final bow, an encore, to the previous evening’s wild weather performance.
With Glen gone, and my other guests who had left on the Friday, once again, I was alone on the island, other than for my two furry, four-legged mates, Pushkin and Rimsky...and the koalas, of course. Most of the time, the koalas kept a low profile. Although, often their guttural grunting would be heard in the bushes up behind the main building that housed “our” living quarters (Pushkin, Rimsky’s and my quarters), the bar, dining area and kitchen.
My Sunday afternoon tranquillity was broken at 5pm by the ringing of the phone. On the other end was Glen’s mate, asking if he, Glen, had yet left the island. Immediately, I was on high alert.
Remaining calm and in control, but with my heart thumping in my chest, I told Glen’s friend all I knew...from when I had waved goodbye to Glen as he rounded the point.
After assuring Glen’s mate I’d do my utmost, while simultaneously trying to appease his concerns, I cut short our phone conversation so I could call the Air- Sea Rescue, Mackay Squadron. Daylight was rapidly diminishing.
To Air-Sea Rescue I explained in minute, precise detail what had happened from the moment Glen had left the safety of Newry Island; from my last sighting of him when he rounded the point, as he headed for the mainland a few kilometres away. I told the Air-Sea Rescue fellow about the scud that had gone through shortly after Glen’s departure; explaining it had been the final scud of the day. After the scud had blown through that was it. Miraculously, the weather had cleared within a few minutes.
The fellow on the other end of the phone informed me there was little Air-Sea Rescue could do at that point in time because of the failing light; the lateness of the day, but they would send up a plane to do a quick scan of the area between Newry, Rabbit Island and St. Helens Beach before darkness took hold completely.
I didn't want to appear to be a know-it-all because I wasn’t; but I felt I had to express my thoughts of where I believed Glen most likely, in my humble opinion, could be found to the Air-Sea Rescue people.
The waters behind my island and the waters north-west, or further north of Newry Island were unfamiliar to me. I’d never once traversed that part of the ocean. My coverage, personal, hands-on knowledge of the sea surrounding Newry was between my island and Victor Creek on the mainland, which lies four kilometres north of the small coastal village of Seaforth.
Like the back of my hand, I knew my route to and from the island. It was imperative I had the knowledge of the route down pat. I had no reasons to venture further afield. I knew nothing beyond my own sphere.
However, I’ve always considered myself to have a worthy amount of commonsense – the majority of times, at least!
I could sense I was being humoured by the person on the other end of the phone when I shared my opinion of where I thought Glen might be located; of how the winds could have picked him up and forced him northwards; where he’d then be carried further by the currents.
You know that feeling when you sense you’ve lost the attention of the person you’re talking with - they drift off as if in a vacuum of their own. Suddenly you become invisible; a lonely voice in the wilderness.
I didn’t allow the attitude at the other end of the phone faze me, however. The matter at hand was far too important – and urgent. I made my position clear, confessing my lack of knowledge of the areas beyond my little world, but I also gave my reasons for thinking the way I did before I completed my phone alert.
Dusk was descending rapidly. There was no time to lose. I ran to where my dinghy was hitched; unhitched it and rowed as fast as I possibly could out to my boat at its mooring. I knew I’d get little or no sleep that night. I knew if I didn’t make an attempt, at least, of trying to find Glen it would haunt me throughout the night.
Unfortunately, I had been having trouble with my boat’s motor…a Johnson outboard, 175 horsepower. I’d just gotten to the northern point of Newry; at the top end of the main beach…hoping to spot the colourful sail of Glen’s craft up on the beach at Rabbit Island, when the motor on my boat started coughing and spluttering.
“Great!” I thought. “That’s all I need! Me - stranded out in the ocean as well! Not a clever, comforting scenario!” I uttered a few expletives that I won't repeat here. I'll leave them to your imagination. Suffice to say they were worthy of a pirate!
What help would I be, floundering about at sea in the middle of the night? Just another problem added to the already existing one. Good sense prevailed. I limped back to my mooring, and then rowed ashore in my little tender.
It was better I remained close by to the phone, and to my two-way radio.
Communication with the outside world was vital. I would be of no use if I, too, was stuck out in the ocean overnight. By the time I reached the safety of my sandy surrounds the curtain of darkness had been drawn. Night had descended.
Not long after my own minor misadventure I received a call from the Air-Sea Rescuers informing me they’d ceased the search operation because of the failing light, but they would be out again at the crack of dawn to pick up where they’d left off.
There was nothing else to be done, but worry...
To Be Continued....