Whale versus catamaran
A CLOSE encounter with a whale has made a stopover in Yamba an unforgettable experience for Mackay couple Mark and Patricia Meulman.
The pair had been sailing north from Sydney on board their recently acquired 10m catamaran when their vessel collided with a large object five nautical miles south of the Yamba bar on Tuesday afternoon, sending them scrambling to investigate the cause.
"The whale came out of the blue, striking the front of the boat on the right-hand side," Mr Meulman said.
"At first we thought we had hit a shipping container or some other type of large debris.
"We didn't see the whale, only the familiar iridescent bubbles after they surface.
"It was not until later when the boat was lifted from the water that we found whale blubber in the damaged hull."
Mr Meulman said no one had been injured and it was fortunate the damage had been confined to what's known as the collision bulkhead - a front compartment that helps minimise the chance of flooding of the hull.
With 35 years of boating experience, Mr Meulman said despite seeing "more whales than you can poke a stick at" on their journey from Sydney during the past few weeks, the last thing they expected was to have a collision with one.
"I don't know how anyone could avoid a whale strike," he said.
"It came out of nowhere."
The collision happened at 2.15pm on Tuesday, two nautical miles offshore and five nautical miles south of the Yamba bar, prompting a call to marine rescue for assist- ance.
At the time, Iluka Yamba Marine Rescue had been undertaking a "search and rescue" theory lesson in Yamba and were able to respond quickly.
"We were away in 10 min- utes," radio operator Mike Fitzgerald said.
"The vessel was sited two nautical miles south of the bar. We made radio contact before getting in close to inspect the hull and assess the damage.
"When we arrived the vessel it was travelling under its own power and once we determined everything was going well, we provided a close escort to Yamba."
National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Lawrence Orel said at this stage the animal had not been located, but NPWS was keeping an eye out for any further reports.
"It's unknown if the injuries are superficial or more serious; it's impossible to tell until the animal is located," Mr Orel said.
"If anyone sees an injured animal they should report it to the closest NPWS office so it can be assessed."
Mr Orel said collisions between whales and boats were reasonably rare but a recovering population of whales would mean an increase in this sort of thing occurring.
"It's a timely reminder for skippers to be aware of whales, especially between May and November when they are migrating," he said.
The last reported collision between a whale and a boat was in June 2011 when Maclean boy Drew Hall was knocked unconscious after being struck by a whale's tail while fishing with his parents in a tinnie offshore from Red Cliff, north of Brooms Head.
Meanwhile, the Meulmans are waiting for a report from their insurance assessor before any repairs can be undertaken on their boat, currently sitting out of the water at Yamba Marina.
The couple expects to continue their journey north in 2-3 weeks.