Will your anchor hold

A Night to Remember!


On our way up to the Whitsundays we decided to sail on the outside of Fraser Island and miss the notorious Wide Bay Bar, skip the Great Sandy Straits and get some sea miles behind us – putting us at the Whitsunday Islands faster and perhaps a little more easily. We planned to travel back down the coast more slowly, making sure we got to see all the places we had missed on the way up.

So we left Burnett Heads on Thursday, ready to explore and take in all we had missed in the Great Sandy Straits on the way up. At first it was quite lovely – we set off across Hervey Bay with a pleasant 10 knot of N/NE wind and spent a lovely day sailing towards our first intended anchorage, along with friends Will and Tina aboard Siva. They called us as they approached the anchorage we had intended to stop at for the night, at Kingfisher Bay, suggesting that it would not be a good plan – it would be roll-ey and a lee shore and not as benign as hoped for! They had decided to head towards River Heads and anchor there, but we would struggle to get that far before dark and so decided to head for Woody Island instead. We happily anchored and spent a peaceful night, and decided to stick around for a day or two – until the morning that is – when the wind blew up a bit more strongly and left us feeling less comfortable than the night before!

So we set off, aiming for a spot just before the infamous shallows, close to Bookar Island which turned out to be a little bit sheltered from the increasing wind, and quite calm. Happily we dropped anchor and made plans to tackle the shallows the next day and head towards the well-known and comfortable Gary’s anchorage. We were joined during the afternoon by more than half a dozen other boats who all seemed to think we had made a good choice!

Mid morning the wind had picked up quite a bit and we began to get a touch closer to the boat behind us – one we had met at Percy Island – a quick raise and reset and we were fine but we were aware of the increasing strength of the wind!

We left at 1.30pm, with an hour until high tide and plenty of time to traverse the shallows with the full tide beneath us, and predictably, all the other boats left and followed us. The wind was blowing at 15 knot by then and the water looking murky and messy, with that inky colour that I always find so uninviting!

The shallow spots approached and sadly, the charts on Navionics really let us down. They were out by so much in some spots – which you could expect with shifting sands, but we were quite surprised to see channel markers not at all where they were supposed to be, channels not correctly marked and bearing no resemblance to what we could see with our own eyes!  At one point we were even on what Navionics had marked as LAND, while we were actually rounding a port marker than wasn’t even on the chart!  

It was a stressful journey in many ways, thankfully only short and we all breathed a joint sigh of relief as Gary’s Anchorage approached – soon to be replaced by a sigh of ‘Oh well’ as the building wind made it impossible for us to actually get up into it! The boats behind us could see that it would be hard for them too and while one began to try to turn the others all kept going, following us to who knew where!!!

We usually have plans and back-up plans, and our back up had been to keep going to Tin Can Bay but it had been a hard trip and Peter was pretty tired from then intensity of having to negotiate the shallows relying on the depth sounder more than anything else, so another few hours of motoring seemed like a bad option. So we looked for somewhere else we could anchor just for the night.

Close in to shore the water was less choppy and several other boats were already anchored, just on the south east corner of Fraser Island so we decided to give that a try. We came in, and true, the wind was reduced and the water a little more calm, and with only the tiny hic-cup of a momentary touching bottom we set the anchor and began to relax. Ok so it was more than a tiny hic-cup – people say that if you haven’t grounded you haven’t really done the Great Sandy Straits and we can certainly say we have! The sand came up on the side – a ridge, that we just nudged. To get off Peter had to use all the power we had because unlike most people we grounded at high tide and there was no option of waiting for the tide to come up and lift us gently off!

But the wind kept building. And building. And building.

And the waves built and kept building.

And we rocked and rolled and bounced and hoped it would calm down a little over night. The weather forecasts indicated that this might be the case, but now there was also a strong wind warning issued for Sunday, and we knew there was every chance that could bring more wind sooner rather than later – we literally held our breath!

It was going to be a long night!

Peter stayed on deck – watching cautiously as the conditions deteriorated, keeping a very close eye on the anchor and monitoring how Argos was handling things.

At one point we clocked over 30 knots of wind. We were bouncing back and forth, pitching and tossing about, Peter had added two snubber ropes to the anchor chain to reduce stress but had to replace one of them when the rope gave way! Oh my! And all the while the wind and waves kept building.

We had made a plan that we would head in to Tin Can Bay as soon as it was daylight – and not try and negotiate the channels in the dark – especially after our experience with the Navionics program already – we hoped that we would not drag anchor – which we didn’t – our biggest problem, we could see, was going to be getting the anchor up without putting too much stress on the winch.

It was just after 3 am when we began to try to get the anchor up. It took us about half an hour – Peter pulled it up as the waves dropped us down, gently, carefully, as I helmed Argos, tracking the chain…..it was indeed a very happy moment when Peter called back that the anchor was fully up and we were free to go!

We are anchored now in calm water in Tin Can Bay – the wind is still with us but nothing like last night. We are slowly relaxing – have even had some sleep! Oh what a night!!!!