The alarms went off at 3:45am. It was going to be a big day and we needed to get an early start. Our journey would take us north from Mooloolaba to Tin Can Bay at the southern end of the Sandy Straights, via the Wide Bay Bar. The Wide Bay Bar is between Inskip Point (the mainland) and the southern tip of Fraser Island.
Not only were we doing our geographically longest journey on Medina, but we were also going to be crossing one of Queensland’s, if not one of Australia’s most dangerous Bars, the Wide Bay Bar.
Part of the chart for the Wide Bay Bar, note the warning in red [do not use for navigation]
Like many bars, the Wide Bay Bar can be extremely dangerous and the local coast guard put out regular annoucements over the VHF radio warning mariners to undertake the crossing with caution and to be informed of the conditions when they choose to cross.
The best conditions to cross the Bar are well known and many people cross it on a regular basis, local fishermen in tinnies and large trawlers, plus regular cruisers in power boats and on sailing boats. However, she must be treated with respect and sailing clubs, local pubs and the internet are filled with stories of people who got it wrong.
Orbit listening to music on his iPod
Deciding to cross the Wide Bay Bar was a big a decision and to cross it with Orbit on board was even bigger. So we researched and sort advice from people who have crossed the Bar numerous times. We decided that in the right conditions and in Medina we would cross the Bar with Orbit on board.
We were prepared to stay in relative luxury of Mooloolaba for up to two weeks, waiting for the right conditions to cross the Wide Bay Bar (more to come on our stay in Mooloolaba in another post). But we ended up cutting our stay short because the conditions aligned for a good crossing, hence our early 3.45am start for the day.
After a strong coffee, preparations complete and with Orbit still asleep, we motored out of marina at Mooloolaba at 4:45am with the intension of crossing the bar sometime after lunch. With the wind on Medina’s nose, and a light swell from the east, we headed north under motor and raised the mainsail too reduce the rolling effect.
We were lucky to be traveling with another boat, friends of the Skipper who has crossed the Bar many times. Although we were making our own decisions, it was comforting knowing they were there, somewhere ahead of us, just over the horizon.
Orbit watching a movie
It was a bit rolly, but no where as bad as our first day. Orbit woke at about 6:30am and was quite happy to stay in bed and I checked on him regularly. At one point he was sitting up in bed, talking to his toys. My little heart burst when I heard him say, “Calling all ships, calling all ships, securIte, securIte, securite”.
This was a regular call we had been hearing over the VHF radio. It was the beginning of the call from local coast guard on Channel 16 letting people know to switch channels to get the latest weather and information on the dredge in a local river. We’ve had to teach Orbit not to talk over the VHF radio and he’s been pretty good at it. He’s obviously been listening to the broadcasts as well, which bought a smile to my face.
Passing Double Island Point on our way to the Wide Bay Bar
When Orbit was ready to get up, he had breakfast and played below decks for most of our journey north. He came up into the cockpit to say hello to the Skipper and have a look around, but was content to play ‘downstairs’.
He kept himself entertained, listening to music on his iPod, playing games on his leap pad, he even watched a movie. We also played together, having car races (we had races to see which car would be the fastest from one side of the table to the other with the movement of Medina), playing games (memory and snap) and read books.
When the time came to cross the bar, we radioed in to the local coast guard, put our lifejackets on, put the wash boards and Orbit sat on my lap with me holding him tight. It took us about about 10 – 15 minutes to cross the bar doing about 6 knots under motor (its quite a long bar). Thankfully nothing exciting happened. What did surprise me was that Orbit was happy to sit on my lap for the whole crossing. Maybe he was tired or he actually listened to the instructions of the Skipper – I am not sure.
Life jackets on, preparing to cross the Wide Bay Bar
Once we were over the bar and safely in the smooth waters of the Sandy Straights, I took out the wash board and opened some hatches open to let in the fresh air. I popped Orbit into bed and let the coast guard know that we were safely across. Orbit was soon fast asleep, he must have been equally relieved to have safely crossed the bar!
In hindsight, did the Skipper and I make too big a deal about crossing the Wide Bay Bar? I don’t think so. It’s not just our lives at risk if something goes wrong, it’s Orbit’s. Plus anyone who comes to rescue us, if we can be rescued.
We have to ensure we do the relevant research and planning for each adventure we have, no matter how big or small. But we also need to manage our fears of what can go wrong by putting the relevant safety strategies in place – whether its in the marina, at anchor or when sailing. After all, the one thing we must teach Orbit about sailing and living on a sailing boat, it’s good seamanship.