The saga continues…
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…
Plenty of time.
Safely back on Nandji once again after a week away, it is time to explain how we nearly missed our flights…
Knowing this would be the last time in the Great Barrier Reef region, we were in no hurry to leave Lady Musgrave island. With flights booked, leaving from Brisbane, we had some ground to cover to make it there in time. We had just been scuba diving with a lovely family and after a few beers on the beach watching the sun set, it was going to be hard to leave the following day. The question then arose of when were leaving came up and then we were invited to go for a dive again the following day. Sometimes when the carrot is dangled in front of your nose, you just eat the bloody carrot. So of course we accepted their offer and decided to stay one more day.
Having a little sleep in as my head was a little sore from watching the sunset the previous night, I stumbled around Nandji steadily tidying and preparing her for the long journey ahead. With the kettle boiled, I sat up stairs in the cockpit looking out to sea contemplating if we had made the right decision to stay. The wind was up and blowing from the North East. A perfect day to be sailing south, down the coast. Patiently waiting for the weather report to be announced on the radio, I hoped this carrot we grabbed was not going to bite us in the bum.
We set to work all morning in the overcast conditions and made sure Nandji was ready to leave first thing the next day. The forecast was not what we wanted, with a strong 20 knot wind from the East predicted. An Easterly wind would be on the beam when sailing and usually created a rougher, choppier sea. But we had to accept our decision and were confident our schedule to get to Brisbane would be okay. Meeting up with our new family friends, we went exploring again and had one of the most memorable scuba dives. The underwater marine park was full of amazing vibrant corals and tropical reef fish. Resurfacing Bonita and I looked at each other and knew it was a good decision to stay the extra day.
Rising at first light, we made the final checks over Nandji and motored out of the lagoon. A gentle breeze was blowing and no where near as strong as predicted. We rounded the island and set full sail, ready to break speeds as we had a tight schedule to keep. The wind had a little bit of northerly direction in it still and we made good pace with it blowing over our rear quarter sailing on a broad reach. Next stop Bundaberg marina to collect some packages, one being our new auto pilot head unit which would hopefully give us an autopilot again. Also to fill up the tanks with much needed water. Arriving mid afternoon and safely moored in the marina, we managed to have a beer with some fellow yachties. Feeling confident about our schedule, we felt we could relax a little. The following days were looking great for sailing.
From Bundaberg we planned to spend the following day sailing to Hervey Bay, roughly 60 nautical miles. The next day would be spent motoring 12 hours through the sandy straights, the tides were lining up well to cross the shallow patch in the middle, then dropping anchor at the top of Tin Can Bay. The following morning we would cross Wide bay bar and sail overnight until we reached the entrance to Brisbane river. Roughly 120 nautical miles. Then having enough time to cruise up the river on the next incoming tide, moor up on the piles with our friends and catch our flight the next day being Friday. Simple. We had a schedule and we were confident we could stick to it. The winds were favourable for us and that was all that mattered. We had plenty of time up our sleeve to wait for tides if need be…
We left Bundaberg in the morning with a nice breeze pushing us along at a good speed. We set our course into the Easterly breeze and comfortably close-hauled sailed our way down the coast. Aiming a little under the fairway beacon, we would alter course later in the day as maybe the wind might shift around a little. After eating a massive lunch of pasta, we settled back into the cruisy sailing with the auto pilot operating splendidly once more.
With a full belly and comfortably sprawled out in the cockpits seats, a strange feeling overcome me. The wind was starting to pick up and the sky seemed to be changing. I asked Bonita what time our flights were on Friday and continued looking out to sea at the clouds on the horizon. After scrambling around downstairs for a bit, Bonita appeared in the doorway with a face that did not look like it was going to deliver good news.
“Our flights are on Thursday Yosh…”
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