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Top End Doctor - 11. Dr Chapter 11

“Good morning, all. Uncle, where are we located now?” I said as I entered and sat down next to Tim, “Morning Reid, when I checked about ten minutes ago, we are 148 km’s due north of Maningrida, which is 310 kilometres east of where we last changed directions last night,” Tim replied.

Declan entered the room and he walked directly to Tim, and handed him a sheet of paper before leaving again, and after reading what was on the sheet, he laughed. “It appears we have hit the front page of the NT News online.

The headlines read, ‘Cyclone chases Medical mission yacht’, and the story is, ‘Recently commissioned medical mission yacht – Going Straight, owned by local marine engineer Timothy Hope and his husband Dr James Shaw, which was on its first mission trip to the Tiwi Islands, had to cut short its mission due to the appearance of a Tropical Low, located north-west of Melville Island yesterday.

The tropical low has quickly developed into a cyclone and strengthened and after initially heading in a south-westerly direction, it is now heading due east, approximately 45 kilometres north of Melville Island, where the wind strengths are at 105 km/hr.

Unable to safely get back to Darwin, the yacht is now heading east, and was last reported to be about 150 km’s due north of Maningrida. An anonymous representative from Darwin Ports, has stated that the 77 metre long yacht has a total of 11 crew, 7 medical team and 2 international guests onboard, and they have sufficient fuel and supplies to last them two weeks if need be.’ Interesting story, I will have to frame that,” Tim said, which received a few chuckles in the room.

Declan arrived again with another sheet of paper, this time he handed it to Uncle James, before leaving again. “Latest weather report from the Bureau of Meteorology, Tropical Cyclone Brenda has strengthened to a category 3 Cyclone, as it continues in a south easterly direction, with a speed of 8 kms/hr.

She is currently 21 kilometres north-west of the Coburg Peninsular, and 62 kilometres west of Croker Island, and… Oh great, this is not what we want, a Tropical Low has developed in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 230 kilometres west of Weipa, Queensland, heading in a due westerly direction at 4 kms/hr,” Uncle James announced.

Tim jumped up and raced out of the room, no doubt to head to the bridge, and Uncle James suggested that we not worry about that just now and we continue with our breakfast. “This is turning out to be quite an adventure for us, isn’t it dear,” Mr Andrews said to his wife, “Yes, and surprisingly I am enjoying every moment of it,” Mrs Andrews replied.

When Tim arrived about ten minutes later, we all looked at him, as he sat down at the table. “Angela and I have decided that the safest thing to do is to head south for Maningrida, to shelter from both cyclones, arriving at about 1400 hours, where a sealed airfield runway is located there, so anyone that wants to fly out to Darwin, there will be an Airnorth flight leaving at 1500 hours this afternoon, I have reserved 9 of the 76 seats, so if you wish all medical team members and our international guests can fly back to Darwin this afternoon,” Tim announced.

After some discussions, all the medical team accepted the offer to fly back to Darwin, while Mr and Mrs Andrews elected to stay on the yacht, and Mrs Quinn had also elected to stay, so as to keep monitoring Mr Andrew’s recovery.

When we arrived at Maningrida, just before 2 pm, all that are leaving the yacht had packed and were ready to leave, and Angela had arranged for the community mini bus, to transport those leaving to the airport. The NT category 3 Cyclone had changed directions slightly, and was now 32 km’s north-west of Croker Island, heading east-north east at 11 km/hr.

Meanwhile the Queensland tropical low was now a category 1 cyclone, heading due south-west at 9 kms/hr, and it is 277 kilometres west of Weipa, and 272 kilometres south-east of Nhulunbuy, heading towards Groote Eylandt. Once we had said farewell to those leaving us, Angela and Tim went to meet with the local community leaders.

When they returned, we were informed that because we have already submitted an application for permits to enter the region, we have been granted permission to stay until the cyclones have passed, and after some discussions, Angela and Tim decided to anchor the yacht behind Bat Island, which is about 10 kilometres up river from town.

Once all the anchors had been secured into place, with additional ropes used to make sure the anchors don’t move, Toby and I were able to return to our classroom to do some school studies, which we had missed, since leaving Milikapiti, yesterday, and although it is a little bit overcast with a bit of rain, the deckhands headed out in one of the yachts small boats to do some fishing, in the river, returning a few hours later with two good sized barramundi, which would be the main course for dinner tonight.

For the last hour of school work, Mrs Andrews suggested that I have another music lesson, so we headed to upper lounge where Mr Andrews was relaxing and reading a book. Once school was over, Toby and I headed to the small lounge area on the main deck, just forward of the two clinic rooms, to watch a movie on the television.

During dinner, Tim gave us an update on the two cyclones. Tropical Cyclone Brenda was still a category 3, and is now 28 kilometres due north of Croker Island, heading in a north-east direction. Meanwhile tropical cyclone Brett, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, has increased strength to category two, and has changed direction, now heading in a north-west direction, and it is currently 228 kilometres east-south east of Nhulunbuy.

Angela suggested that we all get as much rest as possible tonight, as tomorrow will be a very rough day, with heavy winds and rain expected from the cyclones, so Toby and I headed for our cabins straight after dinner, and after a shower we went straight to bed.

I woke up some time during the night to the sound of heavy rain, but I soon fell asleep again, and woke at 8 am, with Toby knocking on my door, “Come and see this,” he called out, so I quickly dressed and I followed my brother down to the next deck, from the upper lounge we could see trees that are leaning sideways by a strong wind, and the and heavy rain that makes it hard to see beyond the end of the yacht.

“Good morning boys, are you watching the storm outside?” Mr Andrews said to us, “Yes sir, it looks very bad outside,” Toby replied, “Yes it is, that is why your uncle informed us that all external doors are locked, lets head down to the dining room, maybe Captain Angela had an updated weather forecast for us,” Mr Andrews said, and we followed him down to the main deck.

“Good morning all,” Angela said as she entered the dining room shortly after we had sat down, “Weather update on the two cyclones, Tropical Cyclone Brenda is still a category 3 cyclone and is 200 kilometres due north of Maningrida, that is why it is fairly wild outside, and why I ordered for all external doors to be locked tight. The other one, tropical cyclone Brett is currently located 126 kilometres north-east of Nhulunbuy and is now a category 3 strength cyclone,” Angela informed us.

“Sounds like they are almost on a collision course, Mrs Andrews said, having entered after Angela and sat down next to her husband. “That could just happen, and if it does, it will the be the first time that two cyclones have converged into one in Australia, and if it does, there is no doubt that it will reach category 5 strength, which is extremely dangerous,” Angela said.

“Will we be safe staying here behind this island in the river?” Mrs Andrews asked, sounding very concerned about our situation, Tim and I are constantly reviewing our options, and with it no longer safe to continue travelling eastwards, with Cyclone Brenda now due north of us, we may be able to slip out and head west and back to Darwin, once it has moved a little bit further away,” Tim responded.

“We have also had a request from the community, asking if we do head towards Darwin that we take on some of the more vulnerable members of the community with us, and with that as a distinct possibility, the crew have already commenced relocating, and sharing cabins, to make way for more passengers.

The deckhands will be sharing one cabin, the stewards another, while Declan will have a single cabin, all on the lower deck, where the crew mess and lounge are located, this will free up three twin and one single crew cabins on the main deck, plus three twin and one single crew cabins on the boat deck, plus the one small twin guest cabin on the boat deck and two twin guest cabins on the main deck.

We will keep the four double guest cabins and the one suite free for now, but that will allow for 20 people from the community to join us, with room for ten more if need be,” Tim announced. “What is the population of Maningrida?” Mr Andrews asked.

“Around 2,300 according to the official statistics, with fifty of the elderly members of the community flying to Darwin for safety yesterday, and seventy others left the day before we arrived, so there is 120 less in the community at the moment, which still has about 120 non-indigenous government and business people,” Uncle James said.

“How long will it take us to sail to Darwin, once it is safe to leave the area?” Mr Andrews asked, “Approximately two full days,” Angela replied, “Hopefully by the time we are ready to leave, there will be a flight or two coming in to evacuate other residents to Darwin, with Airnorth putting on extra flights to all communities in this region,” Uncle James added.

During the morning, Mrs Andrews gave us some lessons in the classroom, and we were about to end our morning class, when the intercom came to life. “Attention all hands, please meet in the upper deck lounge immediately, that is all,” Angela said on the intercom.

We headed one deck down, to the lounge, to find out what the meeting was about, and every crew member was present, “Thanks for coming so quickly, we will be leaving here at 1 pm, once we have our guests boarded and settled into their cabins, we will have 14 indigenous and 11 caucasian guests with us, for the trip back to Darwin, Tracy will be serving lunch a little early, so we can prepare for our departure.

Once we are on our way, a few changes with dining will happen, Mrs & Mrs Andrews and senior crew will be dining in the classroom on the Boat deck, other crew will continue to dine in the crew mess on the lower deck, and our community guests will dine in the main dining room.

If we get any fine weather on the way back, we may even have a barbeque on the aft main deck. The aft main deck jacuzzi will remain empty and covered and the clinic rooms and laboratory, will remain locked for the whole journey, and there will be night patrols happening, to ensure everyone remains safe. The cinema, gym and the helipad will be available for all of our guests, and the forward owner’s deck and Bridge deck is off limits to everyone except senior crew and my family.

The first six hours may be a little rough, as we travel north then turn west, as we will catch the tail end of the cyclone, after that, the seas should be fairly good. Anyone have questions?” Uncle James announced, “Good, lunch will be in fifteen minutes time, that is all for now,” Tim added.

After lunch, Toby and I headed up to the Sky deck, which we hadn’t visited in a few days, and we were surprised to see a large group of people gathered on the beach with suitcases, bags and boxes, waiting to come onboard.

Heading to the bridge, we found Uncle James and Tim talking to Captain Angela. “How many did you say you have organised to travel with us, because there is a huge crowd on the beach,” I said as we entered, and we followed the adults as they headed down one level and back to the helipad on the owner’s deck.

Copyright © March 2020 Preston Wigglesworth. All Rights Reserved.
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I’m glad that they have so far outrun the cyclones and most of the medical team decided to fly back to Darwin. It appears that they have a crowd of people waiting to board the yacht for transport to Darwin in order to get away from the cyclones that will reach their location by tomorrow.  

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Sad to see that the doctors have all retreated to Darwin.  Hopefully, they will be able to return to the ship to complete their mission after the cyclones dissipate.

Seems that the folks in Maningrida intend to exploit the Straight Ahead's offer to transport those at risk. A moral dilemma:  Carry as many people as possible, even if they sleep on the floor, or insist on the original agreement.  (If Tim and James agree to carry the larger number, then the local government should help them to refuel and restock.)

I love the sense of urgency and purpose that the storm has evoked:  @quokka has done an excellent job in conveying a tense situation.

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