Since our last post from Mooloolaba, we ended up waiting there for 4 days for a 30-35 knot S-E offshore to subside. We were getting bored, so we bought our first newspaper in a month and that was so depressing, we turned on the TV for the first time since we left Sydney and Annie watched one of Ron Watson’s collection of movies we downloaded on a hard drive.
On Wednesday we decided to bite the bullet and make a run for Wide Bay Bar, to get into the Great Sandy Strait behind Fraser Island and get shelter from the wind. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and sailing around it would have added another 120nm to our trip. Despite the predicted 3m swell offshore due to the 4 days of S-East winds, we thought the wind had dropped enough to 20-25 knots, for us to manage the trip. Besides, Esprit is a big bottomed girl of 10 tonnes and it takes 15-20 knots to really get her fat arse going on a broad reach.
Once outside the harbour we hoisted the sails and as this was in the lee of the breakwater, it was still manageable. Sailing out 3 miles to sea to get away from the lee shore, it became clear that the 25 knot wind and 3m swell was quite messy. “Slocum” Schady is one of the best helm persons I know and she took it in her stride.
From here things became interesting and we had one of the most exhilarating sails since sailing into a hurricane South of Madagascar in 1987. We had logged in to Marine Rescue at 6:30 to report an expected transit time of about 10 hours for the 55 nm to Wide bay bar. But averaging 8-9 kn/h in the building wind, we completed the distance in 6.5h. I think the following videos illustrate the conditions better than I can describe. From the relatively benign start, to sets of 4-5m rogue waves breaking at their crests, to squalls later in the piece. This gave us speeds in excess of 10 knots.
And finally, to cool Annie off:
Rounding Double Island Point, a big squall hit us, forcing us to tuck in a reef – and a half hour later, a second reef, reducing the mainsail to 50% and shortly afterwards, furling the jib. We were still doing 8 knots as we approached the bar, so we dropped the main and was looking ahead at a horizon of breaking waves. Fortunately, we had Marine Rescue on channel 16 following us on their screens through our AIS transponder, saying “100m to starboard, 50m to port” allowing us to miss the various sand bars, before a huge wave picked us up and we started surfing at 18 knots. I could hear Annie saying “oh sh1t – we shouldn’t be here!”
I wish I had a Go-Pro mounted on the spray-dodger to capture the view of the waves behind us, but we managed to surf into the “Mad Mile” as it is known locally, and work our way into Pelican Bay where we anchored in the lee of Ida island. We knocked back a half a bottle of whisky! Lesson learned: don’t cross this bar in 25 knots of wind, in a 3-4m sea!