Australia, Blog

Mad Dogs and Englishmen in the Great Sandy Straits

Armed with a working engine and fully stocked with Australian goodies (minus the vegemite, ugh!), we headed out from Bundaburg to start our journey south through the Great Sandy Straights.

Flat water and 10-15 knots brought the kind of sailing you can only dream of after an offshore passage.

1200px-Fraser_island_locator_map.svgHaving arrived in Australia, it was much easier to get a scale of the place. That small looking island we were heading to, a short hop from the coast and only just visible on a map of Australia is actually the largest sand island in the world. The short little hop across the bay to Fraser Island actually meant a 4am start and a full day of sailing.

Miles of white sand beaches greeted us when we arrived at our anchorage, along with our friends Jill and Paul. Conveniently we had just arrived in time to be invited over for sun-downers. Aussie’s Jill and Paul warned us of the dingo’s (Australian wild dogs) on Fraser Island, who have attacked adults and killed at least one child recently.

The next morning, armed with a ‘dingo stick’ each we set off for our first Australian bush walk. As soon as we set the dinghy on the sand we were attacked, not by dingos but a swarm of ferocious March flies (also known as horse flies). Whacking each other to swat them seemed the only way to get some mild relief. This seemed to buy us 60 seconds before the next set arrived. ‘Don’t run or you will attract and excite the dingos’, the dingo warning signs all stated. Marching through the bush at pace, in the midday sun, chased by a swam of flies, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks.

A lone male dingo was striding towards us right in the middle of the narrow path. Staring at us, he moved slowly towards us, never breaking eye contact.

Standing side by side we backed up to let him through then slowly continued on our way as he began scent marking the bush. He was in no way aggressive and we felt lucky to have seen him in his natural environment.

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The dingo in the bush

Our plans of hiking to Lake Mckenzie the next day were stopped by a change in the weather. Instead, we set off in search of a more sheltered anchorage further down the Great Sandy Straights; the shallow passage between Fraser Island and the mainland. Furling the sails and pulling into the anchorage, the engine was running but suddenly we had no drive in either forward or reverse! The shore was rapidly approaching as Florence was pushed along by the tide.

Whipping out the foresail, we were able to anchor under sail to allow for closer inspection of the issue. A smooth operation as thankfully this is a procedure we often practice, in case we encounter a situation like this. With the anchor down, Matt was able to stick his head in the engine for the second time in a week. Totally unrelated to the previous fuel priming pump issue, the throttle cable had snapped. Breathing a sigh of relief, we took a moment to appreciate that this happened when it did, not on the way through a tricky reef pass. It had also happened in a country were we can easily replace it. We were now however up a creek without an engine, with over 20 narrow, winding miles and a sand bar crossing between us and our route south. Working through the dark which  also brought a true Aussie thunderstorm, we were able to rig up a make shift throttle cable that ran up to the helm using rope and some small pulleys and cleats. Not a pretty set up but we were back in business.

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A thunderstorm approaching

Moving further down the straights to ‘Gary’s Anchorage’, a lovely sheltered spot, we spotted huge turtles and lots of dugongs (the Pacific Manetee or Sea Cow). A sign on the shore also mentioned the possibility of crocodiles, which soon took away any thoughts of trying to swim with the dugongs. We were able to stretch our legs ashore and admire the views from the anchorage for a day before the promise of good conditions for the sail further south had us moving on again towards the exit from the Great Sandy Straits: the Wide Bay Bar.

Whilst waiting for the right conditions to cross the Wide Bay Bar, we anchored in the beautiful Pelican Bay and were delighted to find it full of actual Pelicans.

P1170409-2P1170414Positioned at the bottom of the Sandy Straights, where the narrows enter the ocean, the Wide Bay Bar has a reputation for being the most dangerous bar in Queensland. This wild section of water can however be fine with the right combination of weather and tides. It was of no surprise that we were part of a procession of boats leaving within a two hour period, all who been waiting for over a week.

The weather window had been worth the wait as although a little lumpy the crossing did not present any challenges and allowed for a pleasant start to our overnight sail to Moreton Bay.

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