If you have been following along with the 'Captains Notes' then you would rememeber at the end of 2016 I begun telling the saga of sailing to Brisbane on a schedule to catch flights. This was the first time we had put a schedule upon our sailing and that time limit was made shorter discovering that our flights were on Thursday, not Friday like first thought.
Things are just bound to go wrong when you have a time limit and it forces you to make decisions rashly and sail in conditions you would never do other wise. Lucky for us, the weather was perfect for sailing, once we crossed the notorious wide bay bar.
After our long sailing stints getting this far down the coast, we had planned to cross the bar in the afternoon. The conditions were perfect for us to sail overnight down the coast. A risng North East wind in the afternoon, tending more northerly through the night and becoming light early in the morning. A forecast that is perfect for sailing south. If we were on a schedule or not, we would have utilised these conditions. But we were on a schedule, so we had no choice if we wanted to make our flight.
We had anchored just inside the ferry from the mainland to fraser island, near Inskip point. We arrived here around one in the afternoon, at dead low tide. We dropped the pick to wait for the tide to rise. Utilising this valuable time to rest the eye lids as there would not be much sleep for the next 12 hours as we sailed overnight.
WAking with my alarm blasting my eardrums, we boiled the kettle for a quick coffee. We called up VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) to confirm the waypoints they had previously texted us. The deep channel over the bar has been slowly shifting with time and the waypoints given were the old way poinbts. It was advised to travel roughly 150m north of waypoint 1, before turninhg to waypoint 2 and crossing the bar. A small 1.5m swell was rolling but nothing that should be to difficult and we were told that it was a good time to cross the bar. If only they knew that NAndji doesn't move at the fastest of speeds under motor.
We pulled the pick and begun motoring against the tide towards the sandy straight exit. PAssing the ferry and hugging the coast as close as possible, trying to avoid as much current as we could. We had the main sail set and the head sail doing its thing, the engine running at the usual 1600RPM and the wind blowing 15 knots on the beam, yet still we were only travelling at 3 knots.
Reaching the lead entry becons, we turned and made course to the first waypoint. Which happpended to be, directly North EAst. The same direction as the wind. We furled the head sail and gave the engine a few more revs, tryng to compensate. Our speed dropped down to a slow 2 knots as we started to head away from the mainlaind and Inskip point. The channel inside of the bar heads to the northe east along the fraser island coast. The channel is deep water along the fraser island side, our port side, where it raises sharply to a sand bar. On our starboard was the open ocean. Between us and the open ocean was a sand bar with waves breaking heavily upon it. For a 1.5m swell, I was surpised at the size of the waves breaking. Even the shape had me a little worried as they were not just crumbling waves on the bar but sucking and throwing themselves into the sand relentlessly. Because of the deep water, the strong current and the wash from the breaking waves, the channel was a messy choppy surface with water swirling around and creating waves in all different directions. The water sloshed around, seemingly lost in what direction it should be travelling. This combination of lost water, the strong current and us heading into the wind, only slowed NAndji down to 1-1.5 knots. A little worried about how long it was going to take us to travel the 1.5 nautical miles to the first waypoint, we battled on as we were still moving.
Over the VHF radio we heard "Nandji, Nandji, Nandji, this is VMR. Do you copy"
The Volunteer marine rescue that we had logged onto earlier, were finishing the days radio watch and were after an up date on our proceedings. Explaining briefly we were still a distance from reaching the first waypoint, they advised us to call up once reaching the first waypoint and then once again when we had crossed the bar. The sun was getting lower in the sky, but it was still in the sky. Determined not to miss our flights, we powered on. Giving the engine a few more revs and trying to power through the messy water.
VMR called us again and said they were finishing watch for the night. We still had not reached the first waypoint at 6pm but we continued on. Only having to travel another few hundred metres and we would reach the waypoint. We angled NAndji slightly away from banging directly into the wind. Allowing the mainsail to fill with some wwind. Performing small tacks as we struggled to make ground in the skinny channel. Trying everything to get us moving a little quicker, finally Nandji moved over the GPS position. Relieved that after 2 and a bit hours we hadd reached the waypoint, glancing over the starboard side to where the second waypoint wass positioned, there appeared to be breaking waves.
"We are not going through there!" I exclaimed. Seeing a behind these breakers a calm spot with nno waves breaking, I thought that must be where we need to go. Then it dawned upon me that we had to travel another 150m north from the first waypoint as the bar was shifting. Keeping my ccool as best as I could, we powered on into the wind until I thought we had a good angle crosssing theough the waves and onto the second waypoint.
TThe sun had now dissapeared behind the horizon but this meant we still had roughly half hour oof light before it went pitch black as there was no moon forecasted. Deciding that it was now or never, I made the call and we turned onto the starboard tack, pulled out the headsail and set our course towards waypoint two. The wind now directly on the beam, Nandji heeled over and ppicked up pace immediately. There appeared to be a low in the wave sets and Nandji charged towards the shallow water at full steam. The engine still running I wanted to get through this predicament as fast as we could. We begun passing behind the breakers we were looking at originally as the path to take. On our portside The waves were crumbling on the peaks but not breaaking heavily.
Nandji charged on and I begun to feel a little more at ease when the white wash appeared to be getting further behind us on the starboard side. NAndji heeling over and charging on as she rolled over the swell, seemingly loving life. It was about this time when my eyes grew large and Bonita later told that she had never seen that look on my face before and she begun to get a littlee nervous.
Out on the port side I could see a set in the distance rolling directly in our path. I watched closelly as the waves approached us. They stood up taller and taller as they gradually got closer.. NAndji heeling over I was hoping we could out riun them, but they closed down on us quuicker and quicker. The first wave started crumbling at the top and threatened to break about 50m off the port side but didn't. We continued on our course screaming encouragements at Nanndji. She climbed up the face and dropped down the other side smoothly. Greeted by the neext set wave which was bigger again. The wave begun crumbling and threatened to break, this time it appeared the wave was going to do exactly that. I turned NAndji directly into the path of the wave and we climbed over the face as it begun breaking behind us. Turning once moore and opening NAndji up to the wind again, we picked up our pace and continued on. NAndji heeled back over and resumes her 7 knots. We bobbed over the next two waves and thought we were in the clear when one final wave rumbled towards us. With both Bonita and I screaming "C'mon Nandji" we continued forward with the wind on the beam. The lip of the wave begun to crumble down the face, I turned Nandji so she was facing straight into the wave once again. The white water rushed down the sides of NAndji as she climbed up and over the wave with ease. As we were still travelling at 6 knots, instead of rolling over the wave, w2e launcched over the crest with the bow of Nandji thumping down on the other side. A combination of the drop and the small on coming wave, Nandjis nose buried under the water to tthe first hatch. Seconds later raising and sending a stream of water rush over the deck. Turning once more to put the wind on the beam we sailed on.
TThe imminent doom had seemed to pass and we looked at each other with cheek to cheek grins. Bonita was overwhelmed and I gave Nandji a rub on the wheel and congradulated her on tthe job well done. Checking the water depth at 3m and realising we were only a quarter of the wway across the bar, I looked at Bonita and said, "We are not even half way across, there could be a few more yet..."
We powered on bobbing over the incoming swell lines with ease. We may have been worried, but Nandji showed no remorse for the short period swell and cut through the ocean at 7 knots. Another ten minutes passed and finally the water depth begun to drop away to the depths and we could finally relax. Bonita over whelmed with emotion and tired from the last 36 hours of sailing, let out a few salty tears of joy on the accomplishment of crossing the bar. The last light was turning into darkness as we set sail out to sea. Usually before a night sail I would reduce the sail amount, but still pumped with adrenalin, I left all sails up and Nandji scooting along at 6.5 knots. The wind was forecast to stay steady at 15+ knots until around 1am and then drop out to light and variable breezes. I figured, lets make some ground before the wind disappears.