Tuesday 16 June 2020

When Murphy’s Law Strikes - Through the Great Sandy Straights and on to Burnett Heads

May 19 to 27

We spent eight days sitting at Gary’s Anchorage on the inside of Fraser Island while we organised documentation from our Doctor to confirm our ability to legally continue our journey north during the Covid 19 movement restrictions in place. (For details see our previous blog HERE.) At last it was now time to move on.

The blue dot is where we spent most of our stay at Gary's Anchorage before moving up to near the northern exit in readiness for our departure.

To facilitate an early exit to catch the morning high tide as we traversed the extremely shallow Sheridan Flats, we moved to the northern end of the anchorage on the high tide the afternoon before and re-anchored for the night. We had seen multi hulls use this exit from Gary’s on previous stops but had assumed the charts were correct indicating it would be too shallow for our 1.5m draft. However, Rob had done a bit of a survey of the narrow channel in the dinghy using our new handheld depth gauge and was confident there would be adequate clearance for us to go through about 90 minutes before the morning’s high tide. Using this exit would save us about 3.5 nautical miles and forty minutes allowing us to reach the Flats at high tide without the need for a departure in the dark.
The view from the cockpit as we navigate out the northern end of Gary's Anchorage.

The alarm sounded shortly after five and Rob was able to coax Karen out of bed with the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Two catamarans came past as we were raising the anchor just ahead of the sunrise but with plenty of light available to see our way. While it may seem tempting to let them be pathfinders and follow their course out the narrow, twisting channel, it’s not such a good idea when their draft is less than ours. We stuck to our plan and followed our surveyed route with Karen very relieved that we never saw less than 3.9 meters of water on the gauge. 
This satellite overlay of our track through the northern exit is proof that sand moves and Navionics is only a guide.

Once out into the main channel we raised the mizzen sail and, when the wind reached enough strength, unfurled the headsail. Our previous fuel problems were still at the back of our minds so we preferred to have some sail up for steerage in case the engine died just at the wrong time through the tricky bits. As it turned out we had a trouble free run reaching the shallowest pinch point right on the high and then benefitting from some current assist from the outgoing tide soon after. 
Approaching the turn at Sheridan Flats with a sailing and power cat out front.
It's not hard to see why they are called the Great SANDY Straights. At high tide all you can see is wide expanses of water but don't be fooled. There is very little depth outside the narrow channels.

By the time we turned to port and were running parallel with the Fraser Island coast, the south easterly wind had picked up to 15 knots and often a bit more giving us a lovely sail over flat water up to our planned anchorage off Kingfisher Bay Resort. 
Sailing the flat waters on the inside of Fraser Island during South Easterlies is as good as it gets.
The Kingfisher bay anchorage had boats stretching out from North of the jetty well to the South.

Karen admiring the sunset over Hervey Bay.

Blue dot marks our anchor spot off Kingfisher Bay Resort.
Gary's Anchorage to Kingfisher Bay - 18 Nautical Miles - 3 hours 40 minutes - AV Speed 5.1knots - Max 8.5 knots

Our original plan had been to spend a week or more further up the west coast of the island in Platypus Bay but the weather forecast showed a number of days of moderately strong south westerly winds coming later in the week. This would make anchoring up there unpleasant at best and quite possibly dangerous along a lee shore. The following day’s forecast indicated 10-15 knot easterlies so we decided we would head 55 nautical miles across Hervey Bay to Bundaberg’s Burnett River and sit out the winds there. Cruising plans - they can change by the hour let alone day.
We departed Kingfisher Bay in the pre-dawn half light.

Another early start saw us underway before the sun peeked over Fraser Island’s low hills. We motor-sailed with very light winds through the channels past Woody Island out into the open waters of Hervey Bay where the wind gained enough strength for us to turn off the engine – briefly. The breeze soon weakened and veered around behind us instead of blowing from the east to give us a good sailing angle. Thanks very much weather guys - not. Back on went the engine. What did come from the east was a beam on swell that increased in size as we lost the protection of Break Sea Spit at the northern tip of Fraser. It soon had Our Dreamtime rolling like a drunken sailor.

The good news though was that we had got into a patch of spotted mackerel and landed three good fish in quick succession before we decided we had more than enough fillets for a while and put the rod away. After Karen had done her slice and dicing on the stern, 14 meals for two were bagged and in the freezer.
Rob with one of the three nice mackerel we landed before putting the fishing rod away.

Karen with a few of the quickly processed fillets that kept us well fed for weeks.

After that excitement the day settled into a rolling engine powered drone across Hervey Bay. That is until the motor suddenly stopped. Bugger! Just when we thought we’d fixed our problems. 

Rob dove into the engine room and after unsuccessfully trying to re-bleed the fuel system decided the portside tank we were running from must be empty. By our calculations on engine hours it should have held more than ample fuel to reach Burnett Heads but we’d get to the bottom of that later. Rob quickly switched over to the starboard tank but that also produced no result. We had previously suffered a blockage in the intake from that side so assumed it had re-occurred at the worst possible time. Murphy’s law at work and everyone knows Murphy lives on a boat.

Rob then went to Plan C which was to siphon our 40 litre reserves of diesel into the port tank from two gerry cans strapped on the bow. With Karen trying to steer any course that would keep wind in the sails and reduce the roll as much as possible, the task was eventually achieved with minimal spillage and we were soon underway and back on course again. And there ended all excitement for the day.
Rob trying not to spill any diesel in the rolling conditions as we use our reserve supplies on the run.

The closest thing we got was our friend, Neil McPhillips, flashing his headlights at us from the carpark as we motored by Bargarra Beach where he lives. We also had a great chat on the phone though. We entered the Burnett River just after 4.00pm and anchored down stream from the marina for the night. A couple of traditional after passage celebratory drinks were consumed and we were asleep in our bunk soon after. It’s hard to understand how sitting doing nothing under motor most of the day can wear you out so much. 
Kingfisher Bay to Burnett River - 56.8 Nautical Miles - 10 hours 20 minutes - Av Speed 5.5 knots - Max 7.4 knots
Guess where the fuel tank ran dry and we had to sail to suit the wind until we got the motor going again.
We were very pleased to enter the Burnett River and get anchored up without any problems.
Blue dot marks our where we anchored in the Burnett River.

Next morning Rob began the process of getting to the bottom of the continuing fuel issues. First he connected a bicycle pump directly to the starboard tank fuel intake with the intention of blowing air back into the tank and hopefully clearing any blockage. The first push met with some initial resistance then the handle slid down to the stop and we heard a very loud explosion of bubbles inside the tank. A few more pumps to be sure then the line was reconnected. It was very pleasing to hear our 80 horse engine fire into life the instant Karen hit the starter button. We then ran the motor for two hours without missing a beat just to be sure.
When you use a bicycle pump to fix a fuel problem - and it works

Now to the port tank, after going back over the log of engine running hours since and previous to our last fill, two possibilities presented themselves. Firstly our tachometer has been playing up so we could have been revving the motor a bit higher than our normal 1800rpm. Increasing by just two hundred revs uses up to a third more fuel. The other possibility was that the tank hadn’t actually filled properly due to an air lock when we last fuelled up. Going back over the figures this looked increasingly likely. Or it could have even been a combination of both things.

The Port tank holds 245 litres and being empty we knew exactly how much we should get into it when we went onto the fuel dock at Port of Bundaberg marina the following day. Sure enough the pumped clicked off well short of the target. This time we gave it a few minutes to settle while we re-filled our gerry cans, and an extra one purchased from the marina’s chandlery just for safety. We then went back to the tank and continued to fill slowly until it had swallowed a total of 243 litres. Now we KNEW it was full. We would be closely recording all engine hours until the next fill and then recalculating our usage to avoid any more dry tank syndrome. 

We spent four days on board anchored up in the river at Burnett Heads as the wind and rain blew over. Finally the skies began to clear in the late afternoon ahead of a brilliant sunset signalling the opportunity to move on next morning.
The Burnett River turned on a remarkable sunset as the rain cleared to the east in the late afternoon

Great view from the galley.

Next – The amazing Lady Musgrave Island coral lagoon.

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