The trip to Sanctuary Cove – Fraser Island

March 2021

On the 19th of March we left Bundaberg bound for Fraser Island.  We intended to anchor up on the west side of Fraser Island for a few days as the weather was not looking great for moving further down the coast. Calm weather was especially important before we crossed the Wide Bay Bar as it is quite notorious and demands respect.  While the run down the coast started out a bit bumpy, it went well and after we negotiated some protruding sand bars and the ferry crossing to the island, we anchored for the evening at a place called North White Cliffs (Bennet Creek). The inside of Fraser Island is a network of channels with lots of sandbars and it can get very shallow in places- I was quite pale and tired by the time we pulled in for the day. At least the bottom is just sand, so no great damage would be done by a little scrape (and our bottom could do with a tidy up).

Approaching Bennet Creek Anchorage

Our anchorage was a lovely spot, but did have some sand flies wanting to come aboard at beer o’clock (or Pimms o’clock for Suz). 

Gary’s Anchorage

The following day we made the short hop down Fraser Island to anchor in a sheltered spot called Gary’s Anchorage and wait out the foul weather.

Oh dear it looks like our tender has shrunk! 

As we were going to be anchored here for a few days Peter decided this was a great fishing opportunity. Unfortunately, the tender motor did not want to start. After much florid language regarding cracked fuel caps, water in petrol tanks, sticky spark plugs etc. Peter finally conceded defeat to the main tender motor – not a happy chappy (or the motor for that matter).  We then launched the little ‘Opal Chip’ spare tender.  It is old, small and slow (we keep it as the backup if I need to launch a tender on my own, as I can just throw it overboard and pump it up by hand).  But at least Pugwash can go and fish the mangroves and sand banks.  Peter and Dave, from Fonster, did throw a lot of glue at the Opal Chip in Darwin, but it still leaks, so the bailer gets a good workout. 

What the photo of Peter and the Chip doesn’t show is the terrible weather pounding the outside of Fraser Island. We weren’t the only ones seeking refuge here; there was an ever-changing collection of hire houseboats anchoring up during our stay.  The Gold Coast was being hit by huge winds and we are tucked up snug as a bug in a rug (and there are a lot of bugs looking for rugs of an evening; the midgies here are TERRIBLE).

Midgie Graveyard

This is the carnage we wake up to each morning.  These little midgies can actually fit through the mesh of our drop curtains on the doors.  I spray the screens with insecticide each evening, which the little beasties pick up on their way through the mesh and die in a sticky mess on the floor.  It means we can sleep without smelling of insect repellant.  (For the boaties out there saying “that photo is showing the outside of the door!”, the bugs didn’t show up on the inside photo, so this is what is left on the outside).

Lovely Golden Sunset at Fraser Island

And then there is the eerie sound of dingos howling during the evening which can really sound freaky (certainly Neon thought so) [Non-Antipodean readers; a dingo is the native dog of Australia and there are a lot of them living on Fraser Island].

It could not be calmer here. The family does worry when they see weather reports of bad winds.  It is handy having technology like the WhatsApp family groups to send them photos like this to show we are safe.  We did get the rain the next day…

But as long as Peter could get a line in the water…

both he…

and Neon were happy.

We had a bit of lightning last night, but nothing too exciting.  Pugwash is now claiming to be the flathead whisperer, the 50cm one from yesterday turned out to be the small guy.

After 6 days of waiting (and fishing for Flathead) the winds finally blew themselves out and we lifted anchor to move down to the southern end of the island, to wait for the right time to cross the Wide Bay Bar.  We spent the day anchored at Tin Can Inlet, watching the car ferry taking campers across the strait on to Fraser Island.  Peter thought we should cross the bar at about 2:30pm and the lovely chap on the other end of the Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR radio) confirmed that 3pm would be the best time for us.  He radioed us back with the latest waypoints just before we headed out, following a trawler (be careful if you follow a trawler out, as they tend to take a short cut over Fisherman’s Passage at the other end of the bar, which you’d only want to do if you were a local).  The bar is an ever-changing zigzag of sand banks between Fraser Island and the mainland (the end of Rainbow Beach), and even with the right tide and wind (as we had that day) there are standing waves on either side of the channel.  I couldn’t see any difference between where we were supposed to go and where not to go and kept my eyes on the plotter with its happy little waypoints smiling at me.  Peter was up front using his eyeballs and occasionally checking on the head sets that we were about to do a turn, as he could see a sand bank approaching.  The way points were spot on and the only problem we had was with a yacht that had decided to start in as we were coming out and we had to give way rather close to the edge of a sandbank (it was getting dark and the tide was about to change, so I can understand why they were in a hurry).

One reference I read said that The Wide Bay Bar is not terribly dangerous, as bars go while others tell a different story. Regardless of who you believe, it is an unpredictable series of sandbars and I’ve seen lots of videos of boats going sideways across bars (very bad), so we’ll run with the idea that any and all bars deserve respect.  It does take quite a long time to come out the other end of this crossing and there is a rather funky section of messy water in the middle called the Mad Mile.  It is odd that the most uncomfortable section is in a straight line in the deepest water. So you relax about the sandbars just in time to hold on and brace for unsettled seas.  The whole crossing from the time we lifted anchor at Tin Can Bay to reaching way point Alpha on the outside was 1 ½ hours. 

Research Ravings:

The entire orientation of the bar seems to change over a 30 year cycle. In the 1960s it was NE/SW, in the 90s it had changed to SE/NW, in the 2010s it was E/W and is now heading north back to the 60s orientation – Mother Nature is a many complicated thing.

Cruising Comments:

[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFiGo booster. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]

Anchored Bennett Creek, South White Cliffs, 19th March; at 25 24.929S, 153 00.150E, winds ESE, 30m chain rode, exit angle 220o. Some sticky mud on anchor needed washing. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg79] [North Australia Fish Finder magazine, 13th ed. 2019/2020, pg. 313]

Anchored Garry’s Anchorage, 20th March to 25th March; at 25 37.786S, 152 58.403E; winds ESE, 20m chain rode, exit angle 220o, reduced size of anchor alarm to 40m.  Mud on anchor needed washing off. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg78] [North Australia Fish Finder magazine, 13th ed. 2019/2020, pg. 313]

Anchored Tin Can Inlet, 25th March, at 25 48.712S, 163 02.290E, in 5m water. There is a military firing range in the area, so you may hear loud and disturbing noises. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg74] [North Australia Fish Finder magazine, 13th ed. 2019/2020, pg. 312]

Crossed Wide Bay Bar; 25th March; radio for current Way Points from VMR417 on CH80 [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg73]

Banner Photo: Bennet Creek Sunset (looking West across the sandbars)

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