The Cherry Venture
  |  First Published: February 2004

THE NEXT time you cruise up the beach to Double Island Point you’re in for a shock – the rusting skeleton of the Cherry Venture, a famous and prominent landmark at the northern end of Teewah Beach, has been almost obliterated. Almost every day since she ran aground on Sunday July 8, 1973, tourists from around the globe have scrambled through her broken hull and gazed at her with wonder, but now she finally rests in peace (and in pieces).

The wreckwas such a popular spot that a vendor set up each day dispensing ice-creams, drinks and souvenirs to the constant stream of travellers. After almost 30 years at the mercy of the tides, the wreck started to become dangerously unstable and although prominent signs warned of the dangers, visitors continued to climb on the wreck. So, in June 2003 the QPWS brought in heavy machinery to demolish the superstructure and eliminate the risk of someone being seriously injured.

Built in 1945 in Gothenberg, Swedenandlaunched as the Scania the ship weighed 1625 tonnes and was 91.4m long She had a few name changes in the 28 years before her demise, subsequently known as the Slott then the Timor Venture before finally bearing the name, Cherry Venture. In early July 1973 the Singapore-owned freighter was steaming into Brisbane from New Zealand when she was caught in conditions that the Brisbane Portmaster, Captain R.G. Hildebrand described as ‘the worst in memory’. Cyclonic conditions, with wind gusts up to 125kph, 13m high seas and extremely heavy, driving rain were battering the southern Queensland coast. The extreme weather had forced the closure of the port of Brisbane and 21 large cargo ships were anxiously waiting off Caloundra for conditions to abate.

The Cherry Venture’s Captain Seluenu had radioed a distress signal at 5.50 that morning as he battled to prevent his ship running aground but none of the other vessels in the area could go to his aid due to the horrific weather and poor visibility. At 9.30am, two RAAF Iroquois helicopters from No.9 Squadron, veterans of the Vietnam War, took off from Amberley Air Base for the coast. Lead by the squadron’s commander, Wing Commander John Chesterfield flying the lead helicopter, the chopper crews were prepared for a hazardous rescue mission but with visibility down to 200m and winds gusting up to 120kph, they were forced down at Maroochy airport.

Meanwhile the Cherry Venture had lost her battle with the huge rolling surf. Despite Captain Seluenu’s best efforts, the anchor kept dragging with both engines running full ahead and when the anchor cable parted the ship was driven onto Teewah Beach, 2km south of Double Island Point. She somehow remained upright on her keel, lying parallel to the dunes but took a terrific battering from the giant swell. 19 of the crew managed to safely get to the beach by lifeboat but the skipper and five officers remained on board waiting for the seas to abate and the salvage operation to begin.

The RAAF helicopters finally managed to take off from Maroochy at 3pm and landed at the stranded vessel half an hour later. By 5pm the soaking crew had all been safely transferred to Tin Can Bay where they were accommodated in the hotel. Their two pet monkeys spent their time ashore in a large cardboard box in the local lockup.

The only vessel able to lend any immediate assistance to the Cherry Venture was the Gladstone-based tug, the William R. Golding, which reached the scene about 7 o’clock the next morning. That Monday afternoon, the huge seas, howling winds and blinding rain forced the tug to abandon the salvage attempt and seek shelter on the northern side of Double Island Point. When the seas finally eased sufficiently for a second attempt, the ship was well and truly stuck fast. Over the following weeks several other large tugs were employed in a major salvage operation but to no avail. The Cherry Venture refused to budge.

In October that year, Peter Vaggelas, then owner of South Molle Island, bought the stranded ship. His idea was to refloat the vessel and then refit her as a luxury cruise ship, complete with onboard casino, to ply the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. There were nine major salvage operations over the next six years but all failed and the Cherry Venture remained resting in her sandy grave.

1) The rusting skeleton of the Cherry Venture has been a famous and prominent landmark at the northern end of Teewah Beach since July 1973.

2) Warning sign: Please obey the signs and check out the wreck from a safe distance.

3) The wreck of the Cherry Venture is now just a jumble of twisted steel.

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