Sea Patrol: articles


The final voyage for Sea Patrol

SEA Patrol's final season is its biggest and wildest before it even hits our screens.

On the Mission Beach leg of filming series five late last year, actors such as Lisa McCune were getting a taste of the sea and Mother Nature at their impetuous worst.

For a couple of weeks, conditions off Mission Beach in Queensland's far north were the worst the Sea Patrol cast had experienced.

The huge swells and wild weather made for spectacular shots each day, but left even original cast members a little rattled.

Even McCune, who plays the unflappable Lt Kate "XO" McGregor on the drama, was shaken from her customary cool as, one afternoon, the day's scenes complete, the transport boat lurched its way back to the mainland.

As waves broke across the vessel and it fought the swell, the whole deck was awash.

"Just for a couple of seconds there was water everywhere and I thought for a second we'd flipped," she says.

"It was the first time in five seasons I'd been scared. Just that moment of thinking we were upside down and under water."

A week on, the sun at its hottest in a clear blue sky running straight into an equally blue sea, she smiles at the memory.

But it will look great. Rough and ominous.

Months later, residents of Mission Beach, who for the past five seasons have welcomed the Sea Patrol cast and crew to their home, saw just how rough and ominous Mother Nature could be when Cyclone Yasi hit the coastal community, winds of more than 200km/h and fierce seas tearing the place apart.

The Sea Patrol cast and crew were by then on the Gold Coast completing filming on series five, but felt the devastation almost as keenly as the local who have welcomed them year after year.

"It's so, so sad," McCune said in the wake of Yasi's carnage. "One minute it's paradise and the next that community is defenceless. We've all made great friends up there in the past five seasons. You feel it, and you feel for them."

The cast and crew will make one last visit to the stricken community, treating the locals to special preview screenings of the fifth and last season as a thank you for five years of being made welcome, and as a sign that, while the show will no longer take over the town once a year, it won't be forgotten.

For Sea Patrol, this season is the final voyage.

The decision to wrap the drama at series five follows the end of financial assistance for production under government rebate.

The rebate was available for 65 episodes. Season five, titled Damage Control, will wrap at 68.

For McCune and co-star Ian Stenlake, who plays Commanding Officer Lt-Cdr Mike Flynn, and McCune's love interest on the show, it's an ending not so much sad as one filled with a bittersweet pride.

And myriad memories and laughs - both on and off the floating set of the HMAS Hammersley - as the show has unfolded in all its drama, action and romance on the high seas.

McCune and Stenlake, original cast members, firm friends, and on-screen couple, laugh easily as they share memories of the past five seasons.

"It's become like family," McCune says.

"There have been engagements, marriages and births, off-set and on-set, that sense of family has been the centre of the show.

"I was thinking this morning, how great was it that Hal and Di (McElroy) managed to get a show that's really outside the norm of shows we make in Australian television and get such great access and assistance from the Australian Navy and do five series. It's not a cop show or a medical show - it did combine both of those things - but it's more. Personally, I'll take out of it a lot of good friends."

Stenlake, ever the comedian, is philosophical.

"I'm glad it's taken them this long to work out," he says, when, taking in Mission Beach on a perfect summer's day, TV Guide remarks it's a great location but the gig is finally up.

"Already I know that, when I look back on my career, I know five of the best years: these.

"My approach to work - whatever the role - is always the same - enjoy the hell out of it, but this one's special. I've had two kids, become a family and worked with producers who run their show like a family."

McCune says farewelling XO feels natural.

"It's not with sadness that I see it finishing. I think it's life," she says.

"In some ways if it were to go on, it wouldn't be realistic, because in the Navy life changes a lot - that's why it's lent itself to cast changes, because the ship is the star, the Navy is the star.

"I don't know where Kate could go next on Hammersley - she'd have to come back in charge of her own ship, or she'd have to marry this man and have baby Flynns."

Neither will be drawn on how audiences will say goodbye to the Hammersley and her crew.

The only hint has come the previous night. Di McElroy has joked that another long-time cast member has begged for a big exit - so an explosion may well be in the offing at some point.

McCune is looking forward this season to again showing XO's more vulnerable side as she and Stenlake's Flynn continue their relationship.

"We got to play nice stuff that contrasted nicely with the life on the boat last year," she says.

"Those scenes where she got to be the vulnerable one in her love life, I revelled in it. Such a change from barking out orders."

Stenlake's observation that she also got to snog him elicits a derisive guffaw from his castmate.

The two laughingly catalogue the injuries of five seasons on a show that has an amazing safety record - despite the complexity of its stunts and the fact that much of it is filmed on water rather than terra firma.

Another original cast member, Kristian Schmid, is still being solidly bagged about last season's man overboard incident in which, as Stenlake puts it, "Schmid walked onto a boat that wasn't there".

"Those calm days going back after lunch were when you relaxed and took mis-steps," McCune says.

Stenlake takes up the topic with relish.

"Our safety fellow did a knee stopping - a director going overboard," he says. "John Batchelor hit his head on a stationary boat and ended up with stitches.

Someone got a fish hook through his arm. JLT (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) did his calf muscle and went down like he'd been shot.

"I've got off scott free. It's safe in that air-conditioned bridge."

The closest they've seen to potential casualty this season was off-set, when Conrad Coleby (Dutchy Mullholland), insisted on hurtling home downhill on a skateboard after regular barbecues at the McElroy's Mission Beach house.

\If there's any sadness that this is the last series, it's not in evidence here. Nor is it visible later in the day, as we hit the water to join the unit boat and watch filming off Dunk Island.

With filming started and the first wave of wardrobe and catering over for the day, the serious business of the annual Sea Patrol fishing competition is under way.

As we pull up, cheers erupt from the base vessel as a massive moon fish is pulled in - the biggest catch of the season so far.

The head chef's face creases into a pure irreverent North Queensland grin.

"We'll miss them up here next year," he says. "Who are we going to beat for this title?"

By Debbie Schipp
April 24, 2011
Sunday Mail