August 26, 2011
Charon’s Queensland Adventure
26th August 2011
Wide Bay and Hervey Bay
It all started like this…
After running aground in the Mary River, we met up with two mates of Wendy’s from Alice Springs (fellow bush campers Wayne and Anne) and took them out for a couple of days on the Bay. Pick up was from Urangan Fuel wharf – took on fuel and water and headed off into Hervey Bay whale watching No whales for us though – we anchored inside Moon Point and had a quiet but slightly rolley evening. A safe anchorage in the pretty mild northerly; Wide Bay is riddled with sand banks and gutters and the navigation is challenging. The lady at the marina said that anyone who has not run aground in the Sandy Strait is a liar!!!
The following morning after a late start – we motored south, back into the Sandy Strait and decided Susan River overnight and a day trip with lunch to the Kingfisher resort on Fraser Island.
Thats where the fun started!
Anchoring off the resort was tricky as the shore shelved – 15 metres to 3 metres in a boat length – but another yacht was there and we decided though the weather was backing – westerly would be OK as forecast. Ashore at dead low tide was challenging as the up-market Kingfisher resort had about a foot of mud at low tide – looked like sand – but not!!!
I took Anne and Wayne ashore first and they promptly sank into the mud. Crocs disappeared! There was also a slight surf building. Just a little splashing as we stepped from the dinghy to the – MUD. Anne had exacerbated her frozen shoulder and had a bit of pain. On the way up the – er – beach, suction got the better of her and she fell backwards in the thick black mud, much to the entertainment of the blokes fishing on the wharf.
I picked up Wendy and dragged the dinghy a half-mile up the mud – then sand – to the half-tide mark. Ashore to the cafe for lunch and clean Anne’s bum in the public toilets - black back – lovely pink trousers at the front. Not a happy camper and dripping in Fraser Island mud but looked good front on! Sand Island indeed!
As the clouds gatherer and the wind picked up Wayne and I headed back to the Beach to check Charon at anchor. The dinghy was awash and the beach becoming ugly. The sky was black! The forecast said fine and sunny – chance of Thunder. The ranger at the jetty kiosk called us over to look at weather radar (the Kiosk had weather radar!!!). Ugly. A huge storm was coming from inland near Childers. We decided to abandon Fraser and head off the shore. Wayne went back to collect the girls, who by this time had realised that a walk ashore was not a good idea anyway.
I managed to get the dinghy in the water and row through the surf but the waves bumped the outboard off one of its brackets as it bottomed in the sand. NOW WE HAVESANDALREADY! The outboard clamps were locked against theft so I kept the dinghy headed into the waves with one oar to avoid being swamped – the surf was challenging for an 8-foot dinghy. The key to the outboard lock was in my pocket – fumbled with the key and one oar – repositioned the OB. Started after three pulls before broaching! I realised that I would never get back to the shore – let alone take passengers – and probably not to Charon intact! Had life jacked on thank God! Motored to Charon as she was ducking her bow under the oncoming waves and the sky blackened further!!! Not too much wind though! I took about ten minutes to get up the courage to jump onto Charon as the stern bucked in the chop. Hit my head on the davits while sitting in the dinghy as she was pitching so much!!
The lurching dinghy painter wanted to pull me back off as I lumbered on. The anchor chain was heaving on the foredeck and Charon’s 15 tons pulling back as the chop grew. I waved to Wendy, Wayne and Anne ashore to signal that I was OK. Wendy by this time had got to the Park Ranger’s desk and with superb radio skills – confirmed that we would go our separate ways – Wendy and our guests by Fraser Island barge and bus to Urangan, I would just get the bloody hell out of there. Wayne’s car keys were on Charon. His car was at Urangan!!!
The anchor chain jammed in the windlass and the chain kept coming off the gypsy as the bow heaved in the swell. Too much strain and the clutch gave out meters of anchor in a run! I set the autopilot and the engine in 1/4 ahead to help reel in the anchor chain. It jammed again and I ended up inching it up with the chain hook and lashing the rope anchor pennant onto a cleat during the lull and winding on the winch during the heave.
Eventually gave up the anchor winch as a bad joke and once the anchor broke out I manhandled the last 7 meters of chain and the 25Kg ROCNA anchor onto the deck as Charon headed for the beach and the other anchored yacht. The pressure on the winch had been huge!
The autopilot took her off the lee shore slowly and all was well – thanks to a reliable engine. Never anchor on a lee shore!!!
The exciting bit was still to come as the rain pissed down and the lightening flashed and thunder roared. Not much wind – just zero visibility and much concentration on navigating through the sand banks with occasional looking out to starboard for other boats. Of course there were none! I turned the radio off to avoid attracting lightning – read that somewhere! The incoming tide run at three knots and of course I was heading into it. Thank god for GPS and Radar. I managed 2.5 knots to 3.5 knots SOG into the tide for the four-hour trip to Urangan that would normally take a bit over an hour.
At the peak of the storm (lashing rain, thunder and lightning) the wind came – gusting 30 knots, but consistently over 20. Charon went well and I sucked on the half bottle of warm cola left in the cockpit as I had an adrenaline-dry mouth. I could not venture into the cabin as by this time the tide and wind were against each other and the water very uncomfortable – certainly no better than our last night on the way to Batemans Bay last year off the NSW coast. The hours went by and progress was agonisingly slow. I considered many times turning south and heading to our original destination of the sheltered Susan River.
I eventually turned west around Woody Island to Urangan Boat Harbour. This time the roll started and Charon’s contents that remained intact after the grounding were tossed about. I managed to jamb some paper between two clanking wine bottles and find an annoying empty stubby that banged around in the gas locker. I forgot about the unsecured anchor on the foredeck and was quite prepared to lose the dinghy and outboard bouncing behind on its painter. No way could I use the davits!
Wendy had managed to blend in with the tourists heading home and got a free ferry trip to River Heads on the Fraser Barge, and then caught the tourist bus back to the Boat Club at Hervey Bay – covering up Anne’s muddy back and bum by walking close behind her.
The last hour was appallingly rough as the strong northerly funneled into Hervey Bay and Charon rolled beam on to the sea. Turning to the south for the run into the boat harbour was a relief and Wendy, Wayne and Anne were waving their mobile phones towards a berth that I had booked over the phone on the way.
I entered the harbour in fairly good conditions – the storm had passed and a few stars twinkled in the sky – Oh yeah – I did most of this in the dark! – Anchor up about 1500 and into the harbour by 2000. Sunset was at about 5.30 with the blackened sky.
I tied up and a grateful reuniting of Captain, first mate and guests back together followed – whiskies all around and BBQ dinner at 10.00.
Man I was knackered!
I will write up “lessons learnt” after Wendy and I do a more formal debrief.
Anne and Wayne had a great four days on board and took us to Woolies today to restock and we head off to Hervey Bay tomorrow afternoon in a south easterly! Then Bundaberg. Yesterdays whale day was calm, easy and uneventful. No Whales! Roast dinner back at the marina and a very quiet night! Still knackered.
In short – no damage to boat, skipper or crew and all ended up well. More experienced and much wiser.