by Jeff Megahan
“Club Marine came to the rescue,” says Stephen Pyke, who turned to Club Marine after he lost his one-month-old sailboat, Des’paret, in the violent storms that tore across Queenland’s Whitsunday coast on February 12 and 13.
In all, more than 50 boats were damaged, and those that bore the full brunt of the storm were ruined beyond repair. At Airlie Beach, the monsoon’s “ground zero”, boat parts, fibreglass and timber lay scattered amidst debris that covered the expanse of the foreshore. Phil Johnson, Club Marine’s National Claims Manager, arrived at Airlie Beach on February 14. “It looked like a war zone,” said Phil, recalling his first impressions. “It was the worst devastation I have ever seen in my 29 years with Club Marine. There were boats scattered and battered against the rock wall, some were even stuck up in mangroves – and stuck up high.”
Phil, along with Australia’s most experienced marine assessors, John Messenger and John Webster, led Club Marine’s response team. Just hours after the storm was over, they were on the scene setting up a salvage operation in partnership with local businesses and government agencies. Two cranes, a 130-tonne and a 25-tonne unit were commissioned, bins and access to a local tip were arranged and local marine salvage operators and trucking companies were mobilised. Before long, the operation was in full swing.
Club Marine kept its members updated on the situation. “Knowing I was covered by Club Marine meant that I could focus on salvaging my boat,” said Geoffrey Cashman, whose catamaran, Simply, suffered a smashed hull. “Naturally, I was worried about my boat, but I never worried about the claim; you could see that everything was well-organised.”
Being Australia’s largest provider of marine insurance, Club Marine held claims on more than half of the boats damaged by the storm.
“The cooperation between Club Marine and the salvage operators was the epitome of professionalism,” said Whitsunday Shire Mayor, Mario Demartini. In the aftermath of the storm, Mayor Demartini gave Club Marine unrestricted access to Airlie Beach boat ramp so that salvage operations could be conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible. The area was then fenced off so that Club Marine members could be on-site to file claims with Phil as their boats were being pulled from the water.
“I was with one couple on the boat ramp late Friday night as the salvage crew came in with half of their boat,” Phil recalls. “They were absolutely gobsmacked. They turned to me and asked ‘what happens now?’ and I answered ‘I have the release here for you to read and sign’. It was all set up and ready to go, and we settled that claim right on the spot. I processed the payment from my hotel room on Saturday morning.”
Phil and the crew started each day at high tide – around 4:00am or thereabouts – and worked through to the evening to get the job done. All salvage work was completed just six days after the storm. By the end of the third day, releases for claims in excess of a million dollars had been signed, with those cheques reaching the members on Monday the following week.
“Positive customer feedback suggests that being so strongly represented on-site ensured that even as the salvage teams looked after the wreckage, someone was there to look after our members,” said Club Marine CEO, Mark Bradley.
“It’s in these real moments of truth that our people, service and systems come together to demonstrate why Club Marine has been Australia’s most trusted name in boat insurance for over 40 years.”
Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski, NZL, Men's Skiff (49er) on day one - ISAF Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland