Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Crossing the Wide Bay Bar

15 August 2015

We had anchored in the shelter of Double Island Point for the night to set ourselves up for crossing the notorious Wide Bay Bar at the southern tip of Fraser Island. The optimum time for the crossing is considered to be two hours before high tide. This provides enough water over the shallow sandbars and the incoming current travels in the same direction as the prevailing south easterly swell. An outgoing tide causes those swells to stand up sharply and often break making things much more dangerous. Any bar crossing with a section nicknamed “the mad mile” deserves respect.

As a result we weighed anchor in the dark at 5.00am and set course across the bay headed for the bar.

Up and away in the dark.
We always love sunrises at sea.
Not having crossed before we had done our research online and found that the Government Department, Marine Safety Queensland had issued GPS waypoints to guide mariners on the safest course through.  We also spoke to other cruisers and consulted cruisers forums and soon discovered the best piece of advice was repeated often and loudly. Contact the Volunteer Coastguard at Tin Can Bay prior to crossing.

All very nice to be able to get this from the Government but it's a pity that if you follow these instructions you'll
have a better than fair chance of coming to grief at Waypoint B as the sand bank moved about a year ago.

This photo of a yacht crossing the Wide Bay Bar  displayed in the Royal Qld Yacht Squadron Clubrooms was enough to make sure we took every precaution to make sure our passage over the bar was as sedate as possible. 

We ‘d heard that the sandbanks have moved on the bar and that the good volunteers of Tin Can Bay advise that to cross safely you need to steer 100 metres north of the “official” waypoint and not make your turn until 100 metres west of it. Tin Can Bay VMR confirmed this to be the case when we called and said they were still working on Marine Safety Queensland to change the official waypoints. Apparently the wheels of Government turn slowly.

We were lucky enough to spot our first whales for the trip in the early morning light.
Passing this yacht that had just exited the bar boosted our confidence that conditions would be fine.
After logging on with Tin Can Bay Coastguard by radio to inform them we were about to cross the bar, we lined up on the marks and began our crossing. We were a little surprised that despite only a fairly benign sub 10 knot South Easterly breeze blowing, Our Dreamtime was regularly surfing down the face of quite a reasonable swell rolling in across the shallow water. We hate to imagine what it would be like in big weather.
Rob keeping Our Dreamtime on the straight and narrow surfing down the swells.
Swells breaking on the Wide Bar Bay shallows
Thankfully we had no issues at all and crossed safely. After two long days underway we elected to anchor in Pelican Bay just inside Inskip Point mid-morning and have a restful day doing not much.

What didn't work.

After checking ALL our lights before we left Brisbane, we found our starboard navigation light had blown when we upped anchor at 5.00am. We used the tricolour at the masthead instead.

What we did right

Did our research and used the assistance of the Volunteer Coastguard

How we screwed up

2nd day in a row we didn't - which is still a good thing.

Our short but far from boring passage today and a satellite view of the bar below

Our first anchorage in the well named Great Sandy Straights.
Wonder why it's called Pelican Bay
Good night from Pelican Bay!


Since writing this blog back in August 2015, we have made another four crossings of the Wide Bay Bar, two in each direction. The most recent was in February 2017. The sand bar clearly seen in the satellite photo a few above showing our track has continued to extend northwards. We ALWAYS consult Tin Can Bay Volunteer Marine Rescue for updates before transiting the bar. Each of our subsequent crossings have involved moving further and further up. On our most recent we never had less than five metres of water which was great. On outward crossings be aware that the strong incoming tidal flow of at least two knots makes the journey out to the bar from Pelican Bay very slow. You need to take this into account when planning to cross at the optimum time of two hours before the high. Cheers and safe sailing.


LATEST  WIDE BAY BAR UPDATE  - Tin Can Bay Coastguard May 2017

(Apologies in advance for the length of this post, but all the info contained herein is important and relevant to all mariners crossing the Wide Bay Bar.)

On 16 March 2017, a hydrographic survey of the Wide Bay Bar was conducted to ascertain the degree of shoaling on the Bar. As a result of this survey, MSQ advised that the Hook Point light required realignment on a new bearing to indicate a safer track across the Bar.

Last Thursday evening, we took an officer from MSQ Urangan out onto the Wide Bay Bar to carry out checks on the realigned Hook Point sector light. This task has now been completed, RESULTING IN A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE TO NAVIGATION OF THE WIDE BAY BAR. This change has seen the seaward Reference Point 1 move due north by approximately 0.5 nautical mile onto a new centre line bearing to the Hook Point white light of 269.6 degrees True. 

MSQ have issued a new Notice to Mariners - NtM 153/2017 (which replaces the short-lived NtM 152, which replaced NtM 149, which replaced NtM 112, which replaced NtM 101! If you’re using any of those NtMs to navigate the Bar, you can discard them as the information they contain is no longer current.) A link to download NtM 153 can be found at the bottom of this post.

The content of NtM 153 is a bit thin on the ground as it only advises of the new bearing from seaward to the Hook Point light (i.e., the bearing from Ref Point 1 to Ref Point 2 inbound crossing) so please don’t shoot the messenger! However, it also includes an amended chartlet derived from the hydrographic survey (see photo but DO NOT use this for navigation purposes) which indicates the new track across the bar and the extent of shoaling on the previous track. The new track may result in a few raised eyebrows, but again, don’t shoot the messenger.

Revised reference points for crossing the WBB have been derived from the amended bearing. The set of reference points also includes the old "WPT 3" in the channel off Inskip Point, which has become Reference Point 3. The information/fact sheet for crossing the WBB has been amended, so if you have an old fact sheet, discard it and please call into the base or email us to obtain the updated fact sheet. 


Due to the new track now crossing a sandbank, we recommend that vessels with drafts exceeding 1m should cross the Bar in the last two hours of the incoming tide and preferably at high tide. When strong wind and sea conditions prevail, crossing the Bar is not recommended. Mariners cross the Wide Bay Bar at any time at their own risk. If in doubt, DO NOT CROSS.

We advise all mariners navigating the Wide Bay Bar to:
• Check in with our Radio room to obtain the latest information BEFORE commencing a bar crossing
• LOG ON before you commence a crossing (even if it is only for coverage while crossing the Bar)
• AVOID crossing the Bar at low tide and in the bottom half of an outgoing tide
• Exercise due care, caution and attention at all times while crossing the Bar
• WEAR LIFE JACKETS while crossing the Bar regardless of the type and size of vessel.

Using the old reference/waypoints to cross the Bar now has considerable risk, so please share this information to any for whom it is useful.  

Safety by All Means.

Please note: The Hook Point light is a FIXED WHITE LIGHT BY DAY, not a Isophase 4s (day) as recorded on the chartlet accompanying the NtM.


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  1. Thanks Heaps. That was very helpful. We're thinking about our 1st crossing in our 34 ft family steel yacht Goldmund' (draws 1.5 meters). I'd dig to take my wife around Frazer in the mid-year period (I'm a teacher). Just checking out the 'perils' off wide bay. This helped a GREAT deal. I'm hoping to navigate on iPad using the Isailor program? All the best and ...always an inch under the keel:)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the read Kent. We have now crossed the bar on another four occasions since writing this blog and always contact the Tin Can Bay VMR before hand to check on the latest changes. The sand is still moving northwards and our latest track (Jan 29-2017) is a good 100-150 metres north of the one shown here. We use Navionics on the I-Pad and LOVE it. Cheers!

  2. Hi Rob and Karen. Thanks for your very informative and detailed post. Cheers Geoff.

    1. Thank you Geoff ... We are glad that the post was useful... Cheers Rob and Karen


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