After discovering our flights out of Brisbane were on the Thursday, not Friday, panic stations hit. The initial thought of, we are not going to make it, crossed our minds. But we did not have time to think about it then, as the wind was increasing and the sea becoming very choppy.
We had been tight haul sailing all day and making good time as we closed in on the town of Hervey Bay. Because of the wind direction, our path took us 4 miles to the west of the lead fairway beacon to the channel of the sandy straights. Our initial plan was to anchor in Hervey Bay for the night and head through the sandy straights the following day. Now that time was against us, we had to continue on and attempt to navigate our way further south in the darkness.
The wind was now blowing over twenty knots, as Nandji continued to pound her way windward. We went about and changed our course to the east, heading out to sea away towards the fairway beacon. The waters through this area are very shallow and ridden with sandbars. There appeared to be a couple of channels that head towards the mainland and into the sandy straights, however the sun was getting low in the sky and the wise decision was to take the simplest route. Even though it was four miles out of the way.
We reached the fairway beacon as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Tacking once more around the marker, we headed towards the sandy straights. Still miles from land, it was a different feeling having to enter the channel so far from land, but knowing all around is shallow water and it was the course that had to be taken. With every piece of navigational equipment we had, we continued sailing into the sandy straights as darkness over came us.
The wind was beginning to ease making life a little more comfortable. There was no moon and everything around was pitch black. Discussing that morning with another yacthie in Bundaberg, that the coast guard had recently placed 3 or 4 more navigational beacons in these waters. He advised us to keep our eyes out as they would not be on our chart plotter. Cruising along at a steady pace and following the channel by the guidance of our chart plotter, navionics, a book on navigating Queensland waters and an actual chart of the area, we spotted two starboard beacons that were not on any of the navigation devices. Cautiously rounding both beacons, we seemed to be handling this darkness well.
The wind continued to drop, we furled the headsail and kicked the ole motor into gear and continued on, following the starboard markers deeper into the sandy straights. After an hour of staring at green lights I begun to feel like I was going a little cross eyed. It is hard to judge the distance of how far away the light is from you. Checking all the navigation aids around me, I realised we had found another starboard marker that was not in our charts. Staring at this beacon for the next five minutes, I struggled to realise how close the marker was until we nearly ran it over. A quick 90 degree change of course and we rounded the beacon narrowly avoiding collision.
We passed our first portside beacon, this telling us that we were into the straights and land was now either side of Nandji. We steadily moved along in the still of the night as the wind had disappeared and the water was now dead calm. Onwards we went, weaving our way through the channel markers deeper into the sandy straights. Beginning to relax a little as it appeared that everything was going smoothly. The beacons were where the navigational aids said they would be and therefore the deep water was to. This being the first real navigation we had attempted at night, it was a nervous time but very exciting.
Around half way through the sandy straights, the water is too shallow to cross at low tide. Also around this spot is where the tides meet. So if you time it right, arriving at the entrance to the straights at low, you can travel with the current to the half way, arriving at high, cross the shallow section and get sucked out the other side to the opposing entrance and into Wide bay bar. We had arrived at the fairway beacon at low tide and the current was gently sucking us through, travelling at six knots.
Steadily approaching the half way-point through the straights, we found an anchorage to the side of the channel, once again utilising every navigational tool we had to predict how far off land we were. Once in a comfortable 6m of water depth, we dropped the anchor at 11:30pm and prepared to rest our weary heads. We had to rise early the following morning to utilise the tide and hopefully get over the shallow section of the straight at exactly high.
The alarm clock buzzer was a putrid noise at five in the morning, but a necessary evil if we planned to arrive in Brisbane on time. We had to cross the shallows on this high as we would have to wait for the following high tide to cross the bar at the end of the straights. From there it would be a non-stop, overnight and day sail to Brisbane. If we missed a tide and couldn’t cross either bar, we would miss our flights from Brisbane. Therefore I dragged my weary body out of bed and boiled the kettle.
Poking my head outside for the first time in daylight, it was a magnificent sight. I had to wake Bonita to show her. Our tired eyes were amazed how perfectly we had navigated the channel to arrive at our current destination. A sand bar was protruding opposite the channel and we were anchored roughly 100m off the shore of Fraser island. Happy with our efforts, we pulled the anchor and begun motoring towards the shallows and out the other side.
The depth varied between 3 and 4 metres for roughly an hour as we weaved our way through the skinny channel. Timing it to perfection though, as the tide was ebbing and dragging us along for the ride. A cruisy morning was had, steadily motoring along between Fraser island and the mainland. We gazed at the pretty country side, more rugged than we had been used to and the pretty coral was definitely a thing of the past. Arriving at Inskip point at around two in the afternoon, we dropped anchor and waited for the tide to turn before attempting to cross the notorious Wide bay bar. Knowing once we were back out into the ocean there would be little sleep to be had, I took this opportunity to rest my head and prepare for what lied ahead… The bar crossing…