Last time we had put the boat into Tin Can Bay Marina and taken the bus home as it was clear we had missed the window of opportunity to come across the Wide Bay Bar and make it down to Brisbane. In hindsight, that was probably wrong and you will see why. But it also was a very big miss of the window of opportunity. We just didn’t know or moreover, realise it at the time
Well when we arrived home, all that people wanted to talk about was the awful wet weather they were having lately. “At least you arrived on a fine day” was the basic comment of all. And yes, the grass was green, lush and overwhelmingly high. It was certainly a wet spring to say the least. Now because we arrived, we did kind of expect that since we had been in close contact with the many gods that control such things, that we would have a bit of a dry spell, some sort of relief from the deluge that had occurred in the general area for the past couple of months. In retrospect, I did think that our relationship with the gods in the past had not been quite as good as it could have been, so my new formed relationship may not help at all… As it turns out, it didn’t. They remembered me very well. In fact, it was their last crack at making my life very frustrating for the next three weeks.
So the aim was to wait a little while for the winds to turn to something North of East. Even East would do very nicely. But South East was not what I was really looking for. So wait we did as the wind was always up there at the wrong end of pleasant and always South to South East. Every day we would look at the forecast, and every day there was a window of opportunity four days away. But it would always stay four days away and the rain and wind continued, despite the fact that we had arrived and the gods had been notified. Having said that, despite the next days prediction generally being dire, windows of opportunity did transpire as things changed over night, but you had to be on your boat to take advantage of it. We were 2.5hrs drive away and by the time we woke up and saw what was going on, we would not be at the boat till lunch time and what were we going to do with that.
This in itself is actually a lesson learned. Like a lot of people there is a fixation on the Wide Bay Bar, which has its foundations laid into their minds through the countless boats that have been lost on the bar. It is a dangerous part of the world which requires tremendous respect, but having traveled over a number of bars, it is in some ways a bit better than most because it is actually very deep and you are unlikely to hit the bottom as you go across (which is an import rule in your manual for the good upkeep of your boat). Furthermore, there is a well trodden route to follow which is marked. Compared to some of the bars at the entrance of Moreton Bay, it is almost civilized. However, as we were inexperienced with this particular bar, we were showing a lot of respect for it. The plan was we would look for a high tide somewhere before 1400 during the day, cross it at high tide, stay at Double Island point for the night, go to Mooloolaba, or if we had good winds, we would go all the way home. Now Hilary didn’t really want to make the trip down, so to add to the constraint, I had to find somebody to help me. So if you think about this for a minute. We need:
a) Another person who is available with a days notice (some people seem to work…)
b) Find 2-3 days of reasonable weather
c) The first night had to have weather which allowed us to anchor at Double Island Point, so it had to have wind in the south or be very light from the north on the first day.
d) the next day we wanted wind from North of East, and we would prefer that it was at 15 knots.
e) rain was ok, but not desirable.
f) wave height should be around a metre. This would allow crossing of the bar in 1-2 metre waves.
h) we preferred to travel during the day.
All these constraints in an atmosphere (no pun intended) of apparently unpredictable weather. The end result was we sat in Brisbane looking at weather charts for 3 weeks waiting for the impossible to occur. It was clear we needed a new strategy…
As part of time in Brisbane, I decided to do something constructive. Apart from mowing the grass every second day, I decided to work out something that had been annoying me for a while. You see when you sail it is rare that the winds are in the direction you want to make the port you are heading for in one tack, so you have to zig zag your way to the place. It is a basic inadequacy of sails which doesn’t allow you to sail into wind. This is why they invented engines. If you are a sailor, you simply accept this as more of a fun day. If you are not, well it becomes a frustrating part of your life in the exposed elements, for which the skipper is to blame. Discussion involving the gods of wind, tide, shoals and anything else that comes to mind at the time to substantiate your argument (as straight logic is of no use) also apparently don’t appease the situation. So the only way to assist is to minimise the time afloat, which of course is why racing was invented. In contrast to popular belief, racing is not a primeval urge of males to dominate one another, but more there as a result of appeasing the enforced crew from mutiny by reducing there time afloat. However, and movining on, in order to be successful at this, one needs to have incredible good luck, be experienced, or simply buy an engine. As none of this is in my option bag, I decided to work out mathematically the best angle to sail, given the wind direction to the direction from your boat to the destination. I started this calculation on the boat, but was always interrupted with “other” issues. So when I got back home I spent a couple of days and worked it out. It was actually harder than I originally thought, but then my track record in the department of “how hard can it be” is sort of not too brilliant. Below is my output which shows that you point into the wind as high as you can or need to to make your destination up to an angle of wind which is 140 degrees to your course (behind you). Then you should tack down wind and at the angles that are provided. We all know this, but here is my substantiation for it and next time I will see if I can implement it. As it turned out it was of no use whatsoever on our trip down, but it made me feel good that I was going to be a better informed sailor….. As I said, no use whatsoever.
So back to a different plan of attack. It was pretty clear to me that there was no reason we could not make Double Island Point to home in a day. What was I thinking… It was less than many of the journeys we had made up north. So that eliminated one day. But the constraint of having to stay at Double Island Point was also very significant. After a bit of a look, it was clear that we could actually make Mooloolaba from Tin Can Bay if the tide was high in the morning and not too late. From there it was a fairly easy trip to home, with less constraints. Now the real problem was the crew. Getting somebody to assist for even two days was proving difficult, especially as I could not give them more than a days notice. It seems they have their own life to live… So I worked with the idea we would leave late one afternoon and drive to Tin Can and take the boat to Pelican Point, (just inside the bar) that night and then cross the next day to get to where ever we could further south. But the constraint of the lack of time by the few that I were in contact with was the killer. So I decided to wait for a day where the wind was in the East-North East quarter, with waves around a metre and travel up to Tin Can Bay the night before. Then, if I could, get to Pelican Point, but if not, start early, cross the Bar in the morning with an incoming tide and go for home all in one day. About 200km, but doable in mostly daylight. But if it does get dark at the end of the day (and yes of course it gets dark at the end of the day…, but you know what I mean), it is in an area I know well. So most constraints were lifted, just needed the right winds on the right tide with the right person able to travel when the waves were not that big. Too easy…
So the day arrived. Great forecast, even had two days of it. So with two days and the way the tides were, we decided to travel up early from Brisbane and take advantage of the two days, despite the new plan. So we woke up bright and early and the forecast had changed. The wrong winds and rain were back with us so plan cancelled. A week later the window was starting to appear again, and every second day it got pushed to the right by one day, so I could see we were catching it. Then decision day came. The next day looks good. 0630 high on the bar, seas around 1m and decreasing, winds NE 10-15knots. Perfect. So a quick call and Mike was available for the day, but only had a day. A bit of a constraint, but we will get to Mooloolaba and Hilary can assist from there and Mike could take the car back and meet his commitment. So we are all good. We arrive at Tin Can Bay in rain and storms. Not the best… Forecast still good for tomorrow, though a little more rain than I would hope and the waves were 1-1.5m now. But we are here now. So an early night with the following thoughts. I need to a) get this boat out of this tight marina, b) once I am out, get it out of the tight channel, c) get it as quickly as I can up to the bar, face the bar and set a course for home.
During the night the rain came down and the wind blew. Good I thought, get it out of your system. We got up at 0400 and it was very dark. It was something to do with the clouds (those that don’t know this area, we don’t have daylight savings time and the sun gets up nice and early and sets nice an early too, so I was expecting to see some sun). So I rolled over for 5 minutes and 30 minutes late I was woken by Hilary (who stayed the night to take the car back in the morning) and there was some glimmer of sunshine. I jumped on to the computer and looked at the forecast and there it was, good winds, a bit of rain, and oh, 2-3m of seas. Oh, indeed. How are we going to get over the bar with that sort of seas. After deliberation, we said we would have a look at it. So off we went. Hilary went in the car and Mike and I successfully got out of the marina and as we were now late for the bar crossing at high tide, motored as fast as we could to the bar. We logged on to the VMR Tin Can Bay and asked if there had been any reports, but the story was it was quiet… Mmm, not a good sign, as that tends to mean nobody is attempting it. Well we soldered on and as we got to Pelican Point where we noted a lot of boats anchored, again also not a good sign as they were not going to attempt it. But we did notice one boat starting to move. There is hope I thought. Now as it turns out, as we turned around Pelican Point to face the bar, we counted nine boats attempting it. We were the tenth and last because we were so late.
The first part was to attempt the washing machine. It is the northern stretch before you turn east to cross the shallow water. Well the washing machine is called such for a good reason. There was nothing dangerous there if nothing goes wrong, but the waves certainly attack you from every direction and make it uncomfortable, and for a long time too. Then we approached the second waypoint and needed to turn east. We had caught up to two boats in front, who were about 15 minutes ahead of us at this point. It was about 0700, so the tide had turned to run out (which is not good as the waves stand up against the tide), but it was still ok as we weren’t that far past the peek. From viewing the other boats crossing, we gained two things. The first was that the waves were pretty big and this was not going to be fun, and the second was that although one boat made a pretty radical change of course at one very late stage, it would appear that there was no real issues. So I thought, just remember the people break before the boats do. So keep your head and go where the breakers weren’t and maintain your course. So we approached and as the water depth decreased, the waves got bigger, and bigger and considerably bigger. They were generally around 3m with the occasional one at 4m. I countered 6 of these monsters. Now having said that the boat and crew handled it very well. They were not breaking, they were very steep, but the boat just went up the front and over the top. We launched it once on a steep one and the boat was slightly airbourne for a while, but it did not feel that bad with a nice soft landing. I could not say that I wanted to go back for the fun of it again, but I would honestly appraise it as “not too bad, considering”. I am not sure I would like to come in with it behind me, but that would be another experience I suppose, and we had enough learning for the day with a mission to complete.
So as the depth increased, the waves dropped off and we were left with about 1.5m, of good swell with a bit of chop on top. Winds were light. Up went the sails, no reef required, and we plotted a course to Double Island Point which would miss Wolf Rock. There was definitely no problems with seeing Wolf Rock with lots of waves erupting around it.
I was warned that Double Island Point can also be a bit messy (thanks Graham), well that warning took special meaning on the day and the definition of “a bit” needed certain clarification. The bar had reasonably big waves on it but were all coming in one direction. Double Island Point had more than reasonably big waves coming at you, from multiple directions. So we slogged our way through that and then decided with the winds we had, we should make for Home. So a direct course was set and for the rest of the day we had waves between 1 and 3m rolling into us from abeam, which was all ok for the boat as it powered on at around 7-8 knots in the same amount of breeze mostly on autopilot. The only issue were the crew and captain, who later admitted to each other that they felt a little quizzy in the conditions initially.
We predicted that we would make the bottom tip of Bribe Island by 1700, which would give us 2 hours of daylight (and dusk) to make the home port at Newport. As the day progressed and the wind decreased a bit and many a boat (well 2) were overtaken, we had to concede that 1700 was a little optimistic, but 1730 would be ok. So any consideration of going to Mooloolaba was quickly dismissed. I was determined that by the time we went there and moored and came out again we could have made home. So it was somewhere in the distance as we zoomed and rocked down the coast. All the coast was covered in rain, but we were enjoying brilliant sunshine, so it was pretty nice.
All we saw was a couple of turtles, a dolphin and its calf and a military aircraft cruising up the coast below the hill height. One of these had heightened interest for both of us.
We had to deal with a few ships as we got down towards Caloundra but by this stage we had nearly 15knots of breeze, we had reefed and we were zooming along around 10 knots and could quickly deal with their requests. We peeked at 14knots, but I suspect that was the time we went for a nice surf down one of those 3 metre waves, shortly after which we reefed… At one stage where it was a bit sporty, I was on the phone with a colleague in Adelaide where it was apparently raining and it was difficult to drive. I suggested that I wished I was with him…
Once we got close to Bribe Island, the swell dropped right off and we had good wind and Bribe just went past as the sun slowly started to set. At almost precisely 1730, we were off the southern tip of Bribe (what great things I thought about my estimation ability), at which point we could see home, way in the distant. The wind dropped, the seas were flat and the wind was directly behind us. Ar, I thought, I will use my new calculations to get us home before dark… I have the upper hand of science. Ok, now let me see, the way I should steer is over there, well there is a sandbank there, but I could get a bit of benefit if I steer that way, Mmm, lots of breakers there, well lets go that way, that will help, well not really as there is an island there. Bugger it, lets just go straight down wind and suffer it. I am so glad I did that calculation… The benefit we had was we had daylight, the tide was coming in (and going in our direction) and I knew which sandbanks I could get across with this tide, so channel markers were for somebody else. At one stage Mike asked how much water was under us and I told him it was 2.5m which he responded with “and yes it is all tide mate”. He clearly had not been through The Narrows (we are work hardened). As the sun set, so did the wind, so we motored downwind for the last 20 minutes, we dropped the sails as the sun went down, then motored in the dark with a brilliant full moon into the narrow entrance of Newport.
The only final issue we had was the pontoon we had arranged was new to us, so we had to first find it, the minor detail of precisely where the pontoon was located, was over looked in the excitement of the day. It turns out that it was a bit obvious, as it was beside a very expensive boat lit up like a Christmas tree (it is Christmas, but clearly the owner is not somebody who worries about the cost of power) so the boat was successfully tied up after a little bit easily handled maneuvering. No doubt made easier due to the extensive experience that seems to have been gained (not to mention the lack of wind, Hilary on the pontoon to receive the rope, no requirement of sunshine due to the Christmas tree beside us, and plenty of area to make mistakes in).
Overall the statistics are: distance traveled was 196km over 14.25hrs with maximum speed of 25.3km/hr (14knots). We started at 0500 and finished at 1915. A great day and one of the best with wind and worst with waves. The god of tides and wind were appropriately paid, but the god of waves needs a little appeasing. The god of shoals was cheated, so has probably kept a record of it for later. So what we learnt was to not have fixed ideas about how it is going to evolve and indeed if we had thought about it, we could have come straight down to home in one day when we first arrived in Tin Can Bay, 3 weeks prior.
So that is it. A round trip of around 4000km, lots of fun, lots of experiences, lots of learning, lots of new friends and the completion of a dream.
Allan and Hilary.