Sailing the east coast of Queensland is a doddle.
If you take away the cyclones, the shallow reefs and all the turbulent bars, sailing the coast of Queensland is a cinch. Anyone can do it. Every sailor should do it.
That’s why I chose not to.
Moreton Bay was my real sailing ground. Okay, to be fair, I sailed the deep end of the bay and did it in all kinds of weather, night and day. I even went outside the bay to play, making my way up to Fraser Island one time. It’s not quite an ocean crossing but I still managed to clock over 200 sailing hours in and around the bay, all self-taught, all done solo.
Moreton Bay was and is a fantastic place to learn sailing. It’s like an ocean with bumpers around it. The surrounding islands turn it into a kind of an ocean creche. It’s still a dangerous place but then so is a bathtub if you do the wrong thing at the wrong time. The bay is huge, especially at it’s northern end and that’s where the most of the ocean-like action happens. The wind and wave mimics the sea and the shallow sections of it keep a skipper on-point when it comes to navigation. A south-easterly blows regularly too so, if everything fails, a slow wind drift will take a skipper and anything left floating back towards the mainland.
This is where I lived for three years.
Originally I wanted to sail Last Laugh around Australia. She was capable and so was I. After two years doing trips to Moreton Island and back, I left Scarborough Marina and sailed north to Fraser Island as a trial run. Last Laugh and I sailed for 24hrs and entered Inskip Point. I then spent two weeks in the Great Sandy Straights before turning around and coming back.
|My 27ft Roberts – Last Laugh|
It was an interesting experience and it made my mind up about long term offshore sailing: It wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the trip… most of it anyway, and I learned much about sailing. It’s just that, I had a near-death experience on the way back home and it changed my thoughts on solo sailing.
Five and seven metre waves hammered the coastline at Inskip Point as I re-entered the bar and headed out to sea. There were times when my yacht left the water. It fell six or so metres and crashed behind a wave each time one passed and then I had twelve more hours of that as I sailed down the coast.
It was a dumb thing to do… to leave when I did. I’d spent too many days held up at Tin Can Bay waiting for the weather to abate. Cabin fever had me going out of my mind. I tried leaving TCC the day before because the wind had dropped… and so I sailed to the bar to have a look the next morning. It was still foaming so I turned around and went back to Tin Can Bay to wait… but the wind died even more overnight. Five knot winds the next morning presented an illusion of calm so I pushed on.
Once I’d entered the notorious channel, there was no going back. The waves rose into 3mtr curlers quickly. They would’ve surfed LL right back into the shore if I’d turned around! So I went forward.
I had to go forward. That’s all I could do. I had to use the pointy end of the boat to slice each breaking wave and keep myself safe. I had to fight one every eight seconds until I sought refuge in the safety of the Mooloolaba anchorage half a day later.
When I got there, my nerves were shot. The salt encrusted hairs on the back of my neck were stuck upwards as my head and body hit the bed. I don’t remember dreaming that night. I was dead to the world.
But the sea doesn’t wait for tired sailors or those who want to sleep in. The 24hr forecast had only 12 more good hours in it. I had a choice to stay and sleep or wake and go.
I rinsed out my salty hairs and went for it.
When I arrived at my marina I hosed the salt out of the cockpit and decks and then slept for two days.
What did I learn?
Sailing solo is an okay thing to do if sailing a long way offshore with no time restrictions. Sailing within 15nM of a shoreline and a desire to make port at a prescribed time changes things. It changes the risks and this can end in disaster.
Patience is needed. Patience, psychological endurance and a level head matters more than fancy gadgets and yachts built for speed. Being locked away for extended periods of times requires cabin of comfort, a boat made for stability, good waterproofing and a place for the mind to enjoy for hours on end.
Here’s some other things I found during my time cruising the sea:
- Full length keel boats tend to be more stable in rough seas. They are slower but the extra wetted area will buffer the wave motion better.
- Sailing at 2 knots under a reefed main is far more stable than bare-pole drifting.
- Heave-to is an essential skill (Although each boat needs to be treated independently. When done properly, the slick kills the waves before reaching the boat.)
- Bare-poling is a dumb idea anyway.
- Holding offshore on a long-range tack and waiting for favourable weather to come is better than making a run to a windward port entry over a dangerous bar.
- Clean and clear decks save lives.
- Motor-sailing isn’t a sin!
There are tonnes of other things I could say about sailing but I’m not going to and this isn’t a how-to blog anyway. My next sailing experience takes a step backwards and turns towards to smooth waters. The Peel Inlet and The Estuary in Mandurah has almost as much volume as the top end of Moreton Bay. The major difference is that it’s totally surrounded by the mainland… and it’s only a few feet deep. Think of a pond but mega-size it!
An amateur parasailer crossed the pond one day but ran out of breeze to go back to where he started, so he stayed on other side of it and called a friend to pick him up. One night a few years ago, a fisherman fell out of his boat and tried walking back to shore. He got so disoriented that he worried he’d die if he walked too much. Instead of walking aimlessly into dangerous water, he decided to stand still for an entire night. He figured he was safe enough where he was and then waited ’til sun up to see where to go. Eight hours later he walked out of the pond and onto dry land.
Margo’s been reading my latest novel and thinks I’m pining for another sailboat. I don’t, I have all I need with my little runabout… but there is something I remember well.
A motor-less journey across the water really appeals to me. All that whooshing water against the hull, the carefree dolphins and other marine life not minding too much about my presence… I like the idea.
She came up with this little gem…
It has a shallow draft with several methods of power. What do you think?