There is a sailing superstition about departing on fridays being bad luck….’
We had a good run into Mooloolaba and anchored up at their very flat city anchorage and hit the town, visiting parks, stocking up on groceries and heading out to our favourite Indian for an all you can eat indian buffet, seriously yum and lucky it was a 2.5km walk each way to the dinghy and back so we could walk it all off.
We knew that the next part of the coast was one of the harder passages planned on this trip up to the whitsundays, there are two options from Mooloolaba, a 55 mile run up to the wide bay bar and then cross that and motor up the inside of Fraser Island through to Hervey Bay or to sail about 180 miles around the top of Fraser Island into Bundaberg all in the open sea. We have crossed the bar before and that was the plan again, we watched the weather very carefully, it was forecast light 10-15 knots south to southeasterly for friday, good conditions for sailing up the coast with the wind behind us and calm for crossing the bar which is notorious and a very dangerous stretch of water in the wrong conditions. To cross the bar the optimum time is 2 hours before high tide, which for friday was around 10.30am. The next week of weather forecast said the wind was going to turn to the north, for a whole week, which meant leaving any later was really out of the question unless we wanted to beat into it or wait in mooloolaba another week. So we spent a day getting ready and left mooloolaba at just after 1am figuring we have a 10hr sail minimum in order to get to the bar near 10.30am for a safe crossing.
We sailed out of mooloolaba and it wasn’t windy but the sea was running quite a big swell and was very confused which makes for a very uncomfortable sea state, so we knew an hour out we were going to be sick! All of us were throwing up despite meds before leaving but we were making ok time and reasoned it would only be a 10-12hrs before we were in calm water again and we would cope until then….
About 30 miles (or 6 hours) out of Mooloolaba we were motor-sailing as the wind was fickle and it was squally meaning that every couple of hours the wind would pick up and dump some rain on us and then the squall would pass and we be back in light winds again. Then all of a sudden the motor started having trouble maintaining its revs and didn’t sound good, Jas and I were talking about it and had decided to turn it off, just as Jas was reaching for the kill switch the motor stopped all by itself, not good at all…
Jas went down below to check it out and low and behold the bilge (the bottom of the hull of the boat under the floor) was full of all our diesel, for some reason the motor had dumped it all out and we had run out of fuel, not a good situation, now we always go out pretty prepared and so had another 40l in cans on the deck so we weren’t out of diesel and that was more than enough to motor where we needed to go, but its no good putting that in if the motor is going to spew it all back out again is it??
Now you might reason that this is a sailboat and we don’t need a motor necessarily and you would be right, in any other place in any other circumstance we would not, except to cross the wide bay bar, there is no way in hell we considered it safe to sail across that with breaking waves off to both sides, if you sail across and the wind dies out halfway across you are at the mercy of the sea, you need the motor as backup at the least. We were not prepared to cross it under sail alone.
So we reasoned that with 40l of fuel we could continue to sail and pull into an anchorage behind double island point about 9 miles from the bar and Jas could put some of the diesel in the tank, try to rebleed the motor, change all the filters as they had sucked up the shit on the bottom of the fuel tank and even though the motor was spewing out diesel for an unknown reason it would take a bit of time to spew out 40l and should give us a couple of hours of motoring to get across the bar. However in doing this we would miss the tides for the bar, we reasoned perhaps we could just wait overnight at double-island point if we could get the motor going perhaps.
So thats what we did, we stayed out there and sailed ourselves to double island point, which is quite exposed in a southeasterly wind, but fair holding although very uncomfortable with the wind and swell combination meaning we were anchored broadside to the swell, anyone who has been on a boat before knows this is not very nice, we contemplated putting a stern anchor out to help with this if we needed to stay overnight but thought we would have a look at the motor first.
So poor Jas got down into the engine room with the boat rocking and rolling and stinking like diesel and tried and tried to rebleed the engine and to find the source of the leak, its a difficult engine to rebeed at the best of times and in those conditions it was proving impossible, we had no idea what was causing the leak but there was diesel everywhere! We then realised we were stuck no matter what we did we weren’t going to get the motor going again without help and whatever plan we made we were going to need a tow into harbour. It was about 2.30pm by this point and so we made a phone call for some help to organise a tow across the bar.
They were great from the word go, they organised the coastguard from Tin Can Bay to come out and tow us in, volunteers that give their time to help people like us in a tricky situation, so they left about 3.30pm to come out and meet us, we hauled anchor and started sailing towards the bar. At about 4.30pm we met them a couple miles out from the bar and they told us that the bar was terrible that they had crossed 3m standing waves coming out and that now they were stuck out at sea too as it wasn’t safe even for them to head back across it, we discussed a few options and decided that we would all wait for the next 2 hours before high tide for a bar crossing (about 9/10pm at night) and attempt a crossing then with us in tow; so we sailed out to sea and hove to, for non sailors this a sail arrangement you put the boat in which stops you moving (well you drift very very slowly) and is reasonably comfortable at sea, we were still all sick and getting fatigued by this point so we had a couple of hours sleep while waiting. Of course it rained and so we were all wet, no-one wanted to be inside the boat as the sea-state was pretty rough and the inside stunk like diesel, a recipe to just make us even sicker, so we all huddled in the cockpit in the rain. Jas took a nasty knock to the head when it and the boom collided and spirits were quite low at this point as you can imagine. To top it all off the dog took a shit in the cockpit as of course we wouldn’t let her go forward. I have to stress that it was not windy only about 10-15knots, but even the coastguard was surprised by how rough the sea was given the weather forecast, little did we know but they were pretty sick on their boat also.
Just after 8pm they threw us a tow-line and we started to be towed back towards the bar, (we were a few miles away so it took us a while to get back to the bar) we were all very nervous about crossing it from their description of it earlier and ready to pull out at anytime if we needed to, however it shows how important getting the tide timing right is and we had a very uneventful bar crossing, it was defiently rougher out at sea than coming over the bar. What a relief to get into flat water!!! 24 hrs after we left we were into Tin Can Bay, tied up at the wharf and heading to bed.
On saturday morning we got a tow to the marina, we cannot stress enough the friendly helpfulness of all the people we have met at Tin Can Bay, what a pleasure to be in a small town where people are genuine and really want to help. Everyone has been fantastic, a mechanic even came down to the boat on saturday afternoon and discovered our problem was a failed fuel pressure switch, nothing we could have done in preparing for our trip could have forseen that happening, a $12 part had caused all that drama, if it had failed on any other part of our trip it would have not been so bad, but to fail on approach to the bar was the worse place possible, anywhere else on the coast we could have sailed right up to the harbour entrance and have had a short tow in.
We are having 3-4 days here in the marina to recover from that and clean up the boat, before heading up into hervey bay, we have checked over the motor and are pretty happy that it will be ok now, but have stocked up with a few spare fuel pressure switches! You can be sure now for the rest of our trip we won’t be departing on any fridays…