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Mersey Yacht Club still recovering from loss of 17 vessels in 2016 Tasmanian flood

Rick Eaves, Tuesday June 6, 2017 - 13:05 EST
ABC image
Lance Harvey and Jacques Sapir standing at the point where the bridge and outer pontoon broke away. - ABC

A year after a trashed its marina and destroyed numerous boats, the Mersey Yacht Club in Devonport, Tasmania is concerned about its ongoing viability.

A rebuild looks to be a while off yet, and members still grieve and even search for lost boats.



In all, 17 vessels were lost to the club. Some sank in the river, some were smashed to pieces on offshore reefs, and two have completely disappeared with no wreckage found.

For most of June 6, 2016, members of the Mersey Yacht Club fended away logs and other heavy debris charging down the Mersey River.

And all the while, members battling the elements were in more danger than they could have known at the time.

Late in the day, a sound of creaking and snapping metal preceded the shocking sight of half the club's marina being dragged rapidly away with the current.

It was followed by another shocking sound of crunching wood and fibreglass.



People were lucky not to lose their lives

Club member Jacques Sapir described the sound of the heavy steel pontoon breaking away as sickening.

It was sickening because in that instant, the club's future was threatened and it was the death knell for the yachts still attached.

"We were very lucky not to lose three people," Mr Sapir said.

"A couple of blokes ended up on their boat, hanging onto the mast for grim death while they were being rolled out there.

"The police came down and rolled up to the boat. It was getting dark by then. They ran up to the pontoon and got the people off.



"It got too dark after that and they abandoned the whole lot. It was dreadful conditions.

"The river was running at about 11 knots at that point. It was very touch and go."

Loss of marina reduces club's income

Committee member Lance Harvey said the loss of berthing capacity and subsequently, rent, had left the club teetering precariously for the past year.

On the upside, insurance is sorted and a new marina is planned, although engineering reports and the coming winter might delay any rebuild for several months.

Mr Sapir and Mr Harvey lost much-loved classic wooden boats that day.



Prospector N had been Mr Sapir's, who sold the classic 1969 yacht to Mr Harvey.

Noss was Mr Sapir's latest love, a little 32-footer around the same age.

At least three replacement vessels have been found by those who lost boats, and Mr Harvey and Mr Sapir are among those back at the "restoration stage" of boat ownership.

Boats and pontoon washed away

Walking along the surviving pontoon, the men stop to stare, as they no doubt have many times before, at the point where the main pontoon structure sheared away.

"At least this part survived because there were people standing here as the whole lot went," Mr Harvey said.



"It looked very nasty, A bridge went straight out and then it was a solid pontoon walkway, the main part of our marina.

"That whole thing slewed around and slid along and slammed along the side of the remaining pontoon and took boats off with it.

"There were eight boats on the pontoon and four went out the river with it.

"Fortunately the largest boat, Miss Eve, was bravely rescued when the pontoon came alongside the Spirit of Tasmania. She is a special boat."

TasPorts cameras showed that boats had gone underneath the Bass Strait ferry, but subsequent sonar scans found nothing remained there.

Several yachts had also broken moorings over the day; some ran up onto breakwalls inside the river or were wrecked on the coastline outside, some went well out to sea propelled by the raging current.



There was a real concern that vessels could be sitting on the bottom of the river in the navigation channel.

Tasports, understandably, played it safe and delayed the departure of the ferries.

The vessels would eventually stay in port on either side of Bass Strait a further three days before sailing.

"The four boats that were still on the pontoon ended up smashed into small pieces on the reefs offshore from the airport [just east of Devonport]," Mr Sapir said.

"Some ended up along the beach … a couple just went out to sea and have never been seen again."

Members search for lost vessels

Mr Harvey said the club had come together to deal with the problems created by the flood.



"There was a lot of kindness showed at the time towards the people who lost boats — because boats get you emotional."

Most club members have spent their share of time combing the beaches east of Devonport, hoping to find anything significant that might remain of their lost vessels.

Mr Sapir found one seat and a few small pieces of the hull.

Somebody else found Mr Harvey's radio operator's licence, intact, and dropped it off at the club.

"One of our members walked from Devonport around to Hawley, looking for his boat," Mr Harvey said.

"It's a very long walk. I wouldn't like to do it but he did do it, and unfortunately he found no sign of his boat, and still hasn't.

"It was a 100-year-old boat that he'd done a lot of work on and it was just gone. It went from a mooring."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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