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Cyclone Debbie saved my life.

Gordon Hodgson enjoying his boat the North Star.
Gordon Hodgson enjoying his boat the North Star.

OBLIVIOUS to the looming Cyclone Debbie, retired couple Gordon and Eileen Hodgson was heading from their home at Flying Fish Point to Shute Harbour to spend some time on their boat when a neighbour told them about the cyclone, which prompted them to return home.

The aftermath of Cyclone Debbie led them to believe they would never see their boat North Star again - which they had swapped for a Ford Falcon and $20,000 off a seasick sailor in Bowen back in 2001.

"We thought she was gone,” Mrs Hodgson said, until MSQ Queensland informed them their boat was shipwrecked on the shores of Shute Harbour under 30tonne yacht The Pacific Dawn.

A puncture to a tyre in Ingham stopped the retirees in their tracks. Mr Hodgson tried to change the tyre with makeshift tools, which backfired and left him with what Mrs Hodgson described as "a bloody mess”.

After a doctor's visit for an eye injury, Mr Hodgson discovered the bigger problem was a malignant tumour behind the eye, which if left undetected would have killed him in a couple of months.

Mr Hodgson had the tumour removed in Cairns. "They saved the eye and Debbie saved his life,” MrsHodgson said.

The elderly couple has limited time for the boat's repairs, Mr Hodgson has had multiple surgeries, teamed with a pre-existing health issues that cause him chronic pain and fatigue.

Regardless, Mrs Hodgson is happy that Cyclone Debbie "stole our boat, but gave Gordon his life”.

A helping hand from Geographe Marine Salvage owner Luke Purdy was another miracle the Hodgsons received.

"He has helped as many people as he could, to his own financial detriment, and we were fortunate enough to be one of them,” MrHodgson said.

Mr Purdy said "owners faced bills upwards of $40,000 to salvage their boats”, which would have been issued by Maritime safety Queensland should seizure notices have been issued and contractors sourced to dispose of them.

As of January 15, an MSQ representative said "85 out of 97 vessels identified as stranded following Cyclone Debbie” had been removed, adding it was "the owner of a vessel, not the Queensland taxpayer, who must ultimately accept responsibility for its removal”.

Mr Hodgson was forced into early retirement from his position as a police sergeant at the age of 44 when he suffered a brain aneurysm.

The couple purchased a store in Goodger that was, as Mrs Hodgson described it, a "victim of its own success” due to the couple not being able to renovate the store and serve the flourishing clientele.

After selling the business, the couple made a living gently flipping houses across northern Queensland. "I love to do renovating,” Mrs Hodgson said, which led her to self-learn tiling and building.

North Star was floated after salvage efforts and while Edge's Boatyard considers the boat fit for scrapping, Mr Purdy, MSQ and the Hodgsons believe that with a bit of work, it can pass a surveyor's report.

It's a New Zealand-made Ganly boat and Mrs Hodgson said "they have a good reputation and the boat has a good engine”, in addition to the sentimental value of the vessel.

They now face three options for the North Star - pay a scrapper $4000 to dispose of the boat and cut their losses, rally the money to keep the boat at Edge's Boatyard in Airlie Beach and work on it, which would be "an extremely costly and impractical exercise”, MrsHodgson said.

The third and most likely option is to pay a road haulage company to take the boat to their Burdekin property and do the repairs in their own time.

"We've had a lot of fun with the boat over the years - we take our two pooches on it , it's our second home. The Whitsundays is just the greatest place, ” MrsHodgson said.

Topics:  cyclone debbie geographe marine salvage health scare local hero shute harbour


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