Sunday 19 March 2017

Bundaberg to Gary’s Anchorage – 70 miles using every sail in the wardrobe.

8 December 2016

The weather forecasts indicated a strong south easterly blow was on its way up the coast which would arrive the following day and was likely to last a week. We could have stayed nice and secure in the comfort of the Port of Bundaberg Marina but why pay fees when you can be on the hook somewhere for free. We also wanted to be closer to Brisbane for the final run home once the bad weather blew past. We chose Gary’s Anchorage in the Great Sandy Straights as our bolt hole. We’d stayed there on the western side of Fraser Island a few times before and found it quite secure in all winds.
It lay over seventy nautical miles away so, even with an early departure from the marina, we were unsure if we’d make it all the way before sunset. The tide times were suitable with a mid afternoon high at the shallow pinch point of the Sheridan Flats. If we could get across Hervey Bay quickly enough we would have the last of the incoming current with us to the flats then be able to ride the outgoing tide down to Gary’s Anchorage. It was a great plan but we also had a bail out option if we were running behind. We would anchor  at the northern end of the straights off Bookar Island to shelter from predicted 25 knot north westerlies overnight before continuing on in the morning.

It was hard to get the crew up early after a late night at with the turtles at Mon Repos
We cast off in the pre-dawn light which was a real achievement after our very late night watching the turtles nest at Mon Repos the previous evening. A modest northerly was forecast but conditions were very still as we left the marina. We made our way downstream raising the mainsail and mizzen in anticipation of finding some wind beyond the river mouth.
Not all the crew managed to rise from their bunk in time for our departure.

Clearing Burnett Heads there were three sets of sails well ahead of us.
Once clear of the shallows off Burnett Heads we left the shipping channel and turned south east towards Fraser Island. We could see three sails spread across the water well ahead of us. So much for our start being early. These guys must have been up and away well before us. Unfortunately the wind was not strong enough to push us along at the speed we needed with such a long day hop ahead of us so we settled back motor-sailing across Hervey Bay. The apparent wind strength/angle wasn’t sufficient to keep the genoa filled but the staysail held nicely and, with full main and mizzen, we were able to maintain five and half to six knots at very low engine revs.

Karen reporting our progress to Kristian's Mum who was starting to worry we wouldn't send him home.
The first part of our passage was an uneventful motor-sail until the wind filled in.
Mid morning the wind finally piped up to around 10 knots. Up went the asymmetric spinnaker and we were able to finally silence the engine. This had us zooming along very nicely making seven to eight knots and even better when it strengthened a little further. Remember, any two sailboats within sight of each other constitutes a race so we were delighted when by lunchtime we had passed all the boats in front of us. We love our spinnaker.

Up went the asymmetric spinnaker and off went the engine.
Dolphins are always welcome visitors.

Getting pics of your boat under way is always difficult so when we are close enough to other boats under sail we usually try to get a few photos. We often end up in the same anchorage so it’s nice to be able to trade email addresses and swap photos of each others’ boats. We were very grateful to Rapscallion who got some great photos of Our Dreamtime from the leeward side looking beautiful in all her glory with the spinnaker flying.

Our Dreamtime under full sail across Hervey Bay.
Thank you Rapscallion.
To those reading this blog who are not sailors, we apologise because here comes a few paragraphs of sail speak. Sorry! Normal broadcasting will resume again immediately after.

Sailing wing on wing downwind off Fraser Island.
As we passed between Big and Little Woody Islands, turning south to run along the inside of Fraser Island brought the wind directly behind us. As our asymmetric spinnaker won’t hold dead downwind we dropped it and set up to sail wing on wing with the genoa poled out. Of course our boat speed fell considerably without the spinnaker so before long Rob decided to try something he’d recently read about in an old sailing magazine he picked up at the marina. We poled the foot of the spinnaker low and a metre and half or so out the port side of the bow. We then found we could gybe the mainsail out to that side and the spinnaker held nice and full out to starboard. This set up had us making good speed again goosewinging directly downwind. Now we were even more in love with our kite.

We love trying something new that works.
The true wind speed was showing in the 15-18 knots region which is approaching where we’d normally be dropping the spinnaker for safety but the passage plan was also working. We caught the incoming tide giving our speed an added boost. We were clocking nine knots plus approaching Kingfisher Bay Resort. Our fast pace going with the breeze had the apparent wind speed across the deck down around the 10 knots mark so we left the spinnaker up as long as we could. Zooming along that quickly in a heavy cruising boat across sheltered, dead flat water is sailing nirvana.
The forward cabin is a convenient spot to drop the kite.
We finally lowered the spinnaker and dropped it down the forward hatch into Kristian’s cabin as we approached the westerly turn around Bookar Island towards the flats. We normally motor through these narrow, shallow and winding sections of the Great Sandy Straights but as we had been having such a lovely sail and the wind was still a nice 15 knots or so, we elected to continue on with genoa, main and mizzen.

MISTAKE!!!!!! Five minutes after entering the narrow section the 25 knot north westerly predicted for that evening arrived early. There was very little room to turn into the wind to reef the mainsail or mizzen so we made do with quickly furling away the genoa and set the staysail in its place to try to balance the other sails a little. In the conditions we were very over powered making helming the boat a real handful but had little choice but to carry on. We can normally tack or gybe the boat on the auto-pilot with Karen looking after the main while Rob brings the mizzen across. Not now. Rob was way too busy strong arming the wheel to keep us off the surrounding sandbanks. As a result Karen was a very, very busy girl gybing both sails back and forward in the strong winds as we wound our way through the twisty bits.
When we finally did turn to wind and drop all sail just outside the entrance to Gary’s Anchorage, Rob looked at his watch and commented that it was a bit hectic through the flats but look how quick the 70 mile passage had been. Karen’s reply in very flat and even tones was ‘If you ever, ever suggest sailing through there again instead of motoring you will be doing it solo.’ Point taken.
Port of Bundaberg Marina to Gary’s Anchorage 72.1 Nautical Miles 12 Hours 07 Minutes
Average Speed 6.2 Knots Max 9.2 Knots
To see a zoomable version of this track click the image

The Great Sandy Straights between Fraser Island and the mainland are well named.

Many of the narrow, winding channels through the straights are only navigable on the high tide.
Garry's Anchorage between Fraser and Stewart Islands is well protected from all directions.
So the good news. We were snugly anchored up in Gary’s Anchorage in plenty of time to freshen up with warm showers all around before enjoying well earned sundowner drinks and an absolutely brilliant sunset. None of us needed any rocking that night and all slept very, very well including a nice sleep in the following morning.

Good night from Gary's Anchorage, Fraser Island.


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Tuesday 14 March 2017

To Bundaberg, a Mayday and helping turtles nest at Mon Repos

6-7 December 2016

If time wasn’t an issue we could have stayed at beautiful Lady Musgrave Island for days if not weeks. However, the calendar was ticking down towards Christmas and we had to get to Brisbane where our special crew member, eight year old Grandson, young Master Kristian, would leave us and fly home to his Mum and Dad in time for the holidays. We were certainly going to miss him. It had been fantastic having him on board with us experiencing life afloat on the Great Barrier Reef. The adventure was still far from over though. Our next stop was to be at the Port of Bundaberg Marina for a side trip to get up close and personal with the nesting turtles at the world famous Mon Repos Beach.

Sunrise over the lagoon at Lady Musgrave as we prepare to raise the anchor.
We raised anchor nice and early for our ten hour passage to the mouth of the Burnett River and exited the channel through the coral protecting the lagoon at first light. We had a minor moment when we came across two large turtles mating on the surface of the water right in the centre of the channel.  Captain Poppy squeezed Our Dreamtime over as close to the coral as he dared trying not to interrupt their humpy rumpy and left Admiral Nanny to answer Master Kristian’s eager questions as to why one turtle was riding on the other’s back.

We motored west to clear the island and the fringing reefs before turning south. A modest NNE breeze was blowing  which we anticipated would strengthen a little as the morning progressed. We rigged to run downwind wing on wing with the mainsail to port and the genoa to starboard. This necessitated running a bit to starboard of our desired course which we would have to make up for later but at least we could silence the engine and sail.

Sailing downwind towards Burnett Heads.
Unfortunately there was a fare sized swell running from the nor east which saw the boat wallowing around as they rolled through under us from the stern quarter. We were hopeful that more power in the sails would improve the boat’s motion but unfortunately the wind wasn’t cooperating and remained at around 8-10 knots true which only pushed us along at around three and half  to four knots.  We persisted for a fair while waiting for it to strengthen but when Kristian became seasick for the first time ever on the boat we decided to start the engine and motor sail along the lay line on a port tack.

It did improve the motion of the boat and we were now making six knots and better towards our destination. Thankfully, Kristian also recovered his spirits pretty quickly helped by the steadier action and being distracted by a booby bird that landed on our dinghy and hitched a ride for quite a few hours. He was particularly amused by how much poop Captain Poppy was going to have to clean out of the inflatable when we reached the marina.

Kristian having a conversation with our hitch hiking booby bird.
Chugging along on auto-pilot we were fairly relaxed while still maintaining a wary eye ahead in case anything untoward should happen to be around in the water but our casual day changed when we heard an all ships call from the Burnett Heads Volunteer Marine Rescue asking if anyone had just heard a Mayday transmission.

It transpired that he’d heard a feint call of ‘Mayday, mayday, mayday. Going down off Burnett Heads,’ but after repeated calls seeking details no further transmissions were received.  He appeared to be starting to doubt his ears when Hervey Bay VMR came on confirming that they had also heard the short mayday call.

An all stations bulletin was then issued to be on the lookout for a vessel or persons in distress in the area and our casual watch became a very active search of the waters surrounding us as we made our way south. The VMR launched their boat to search and rescue helicopter arrived on site soon after and began a grid pattern search starting from the mouth of the river.

Many hours later, it was all still continuing as we arrived at the marina so we contacted the VMR and reported that we had kept a very active watch along our course from Lady Musgrave Island and not sighted anything. We were in two minds about the whole affair. The thought that it could be a hoax made us angry about the wasted resources but we almost hoped it was a prank as thinking an unknown number of persons could be in the water with a very slim chance of rescue was far worse. Next morning we heard a VMR broadcast for vessels to be on the lookout for an overdue six metre powerboat but never found out what the outcome of the whole affair was.

Lady Musgrave Island to Burnett Heads – 56.7 Nautical Miles – 10 Hours 5 Minutes
Average Speed 5.6 Knots Max Speed &.7 Knots
To see zoomable version of track with full details CLICK HERE
Sunset over Port of Bundaberg Marina
Next day after giving the topsides a nice bath of freshwater we made use of the marina’s cheap hire car service and headed off to top up our provisions and give Kristian a look at Bundaberg. He was very keen to buy his Dad a Christmas present at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery as Daniel is a keen consumer of the product.

Kristian at the counter using some of his holiday money to buy Dad a special Christmas present.
Another job done - Postcards home mailed.
The main reason for our stop here though was for Kristian to experience nearby Mon Repos Beach where you can join Wildlife Rangers at the Turtle Centre on a guided tour to watch marine turtles nesting each evening from November to January and hatching from January to March.

We arrived early for a 7pm start, and were placed in our turtle encounter group for the night. Only  tour participants are allowed on the beach after 6pm so things can be controlled to protect the turtles. The rangers and volunteers patrol the beach looking for turtles coming ashore and once they arrive, call your group and guide you onto the beach. We were able enjoy the displays and videos presented in the amphitheatre while we were waiting.

The Turtle Centre is very informative.
It wasn’t long until we were called but before being escorted to the beach the group received its instructions. Nesting turtles are easily disturbed by artificial light and movement especially when leaving the water, crossing the beach and digging their nests.

•To protect nesting and hatching turtles, keep all lights off including mobile phone screens, avoid unnecessary movements and remain with your allocated group.

•Rangers let you know when you can take advantage of the limited opportunities to use cameras. All other times it’s a strict no photos policy

As our group made its way along the beach in the darkness towards our allocated turtle we had to wait as another began emerging from the water just in front of us. We were told to stay absolutely still so as not to spook it back into the water. The turtles have no hearing and poor eyesight once out of the water but can detect movement which they regard as a threat. It was odd to be able to carry on a normal conversation as we watched the very heavy creature drag itself up towards the dunes just a few metres in front of us. As long as we didn’t move, it had no idea we were there.

Once the turtle settled on a spot and began digging its nest in the sand we were guided up and formed a semi-circle behind and out of its sight. It was very well organised and everyone was able to see the incredibly dextrous action of the rear flippers removing sand from the hole then the eggs themselves being laid. Once the turtles begin laying they go into a virtual trance and nothing will interrupt them from the task at hand. It’s at that stage that we were invited to move around to the front and take photos.
K-Man front and centre shooting video on his IPad At Mon Repos Beach.
The turtle midway through laying her eggs in the 600mm deep hole she dug in the Mon Repos sand.
Kristian's Mon Repos Turtle Experience was one he won't forget in a hurry.

Kristian was enthralled by the whole process and clicked away taking photos and video on his IPad. Once all the eggs are laid the turtle refills the nest with sand and tries to disguise the surface so as not to attract predators. Then it’s another long drag down across the beach to the water.

In the case of our turtle, she had laid her clutch of eggs slightly below the high water mark so the rangers elected to dig them out and relocate the lot to a new hole higher in the dunes. Members of the group were invited to help carry the eggs and of course Kristian was one of the first in line.

The nest was below the high water mark so rangers delicately extracted the eggs from the nest,
Moving eggs higher up the dunes to keep them safe.

It was quite a late night by the time we returned to the boat and we were all more than ready to hit the sack, particularly with another early start waiting for us in the morning. Witnessing such an amazing piece of the cycle of life had been more than worth any lost sleep though. It was amazing.

Our only regret was that we couldn't wait around the few weeks until these guys started hatching. (Image from web)
Providing our grandson with unique experiences such as our night on Mon Repos Beach, snorkelling with sharks, turtles and stingrays etc and visiting far flung islands and lagoons of the outer Great Barrier Reef has been one of the most rewarding aspects of our cruising. We really admire people who have made the decision to home school and cruise fulltime when their children are young. The huge range of experiences these kids have in their early years more than make up for anything they miss from more formal education. More power to all those families scattered around the world’s oceans.
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