Retired boatie Hugh Hunter was rescued from his boat (pictured in background) when it started taking on water during Cyclone Marcia. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / Morning Bulletin
Retired boatie Hugh Hunter was rescued from his boat (pictured in background) when it started taking on water during Cyclone Marcia. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / Morning Bulletin Sharyn O'Neill

Boatie, 84, survives Marcia in a wet suit while boat sinks

LYING in the grass waiting for Cyclone Marcia to pass, Hugh Hunter prayed for survival.

The 84-year-old had taken refuge on the banks of the Fitzroy River after his damaged boat the Mustang started to sink.

He had made a run for cover in the catamaran as the cyclone approached but had left it too late and was fighting for his life in extreme conditions.

"I had my wetsuit on because I was so cold," he told The Morning Bulletin yesterday.

"That might have saved me. I could still think anyway. Strangely enough I wasn't frightened."

Earlier on Friday (February 20), the boatie had been on board the 'Mustang' near the Rockhampton city reaches when the cyclone threat increased.

Growing up in Innisfail, Hugh knew a thing or two about cyclones and had a survival plan heading into the weather event.

But like the Mustang, he said it all went downhill pretty quick.

"We knew it was coming and people were running around the bend and that's a good spot in the flood," Hugh said.

"But I felt if it was a full-blown cyclone, there's not much protection from the wind there.

"About two years ago I'd cased this little creek out between the central island and the mainland and it was quite clear of debris and there were nice, well rooted mangroves there.

"The plan was to go around there and tie myself off to the trees. That was quite a sound plan but it never eventuated because I ran out of time.

"I ended up being exactly where I didn't want to be and shouldn't have been."

As Marcia closed in, Hugh said he just had to hunker down and wait.

"The current pushed me into the Fitzroy and when it really got wound up fair dinkum I lost sight," he said.

"It was just like a fog. I didn't know where I was. I was just being carried along and I couldn't see anything. It just picked me up and pushed me over onto the riverbank.

"The boat started to take on water as I hit stumps and punched holes through the hull.

"I stuffed a bit of a blanket in a bag and jumped ashore because I was up level with the bank.

"I went for a walk but could hardly stand up.

As Hugh lay in the grass in his wetsuit waiting for the storm to die down, his prayers were answered.

"I realised my masthead light was on which meant I had power and I might have radio," he said.

"I called on the radio and a ship answered. I asked him to inform the police I was still alive and kicking.

"I was pretty cold and the boat was better than just laying on the grass trying to survive so I sat inside even though it was full of water.

"I slid the hatch back about 45 minutes later and here's this SES boat in the river right near me. It was just so beautiful when I saw them."

Hugh wants to pass on his thanks to the SES volunteers who rescued him as well as the mystery ship captain who took his call for help.

He said his home went down with Cyclone Marcia and he was staying with his daughter in Rockhampton.

With the help of the Fitzroy Motor Boat Club volunteers his boat was salvaged and it now sits on the bank of the Fitzroy as repairs get underway.

It will be a few months before Hugh is able to set sail again, but he doesn't mind having his feet firmly planted on dry, safe ground for a while.


13 boats on the Fitzroy River were damaged or sunk by Cyclone Marcia

Many boats cannot by salvaged and will remain stuck in mangroves downstream forever