A quick look at the cruising guides of Queensland and New South Wales reveals that most of the anchorages with any kind of protection along Australia's East Coast (with the exception of the Whitsunday Islands) require crossing bars, but the complication is that bars and river courses themselves are comprised of shifting sand and thereby are known to rearrange themselves seasonally and with storms. Hence the importance of Queensland's annual guidebook Beacon to Beacon as well as Australia's very extensive volunteer coast guard and marine rescue organizations who stand by the radio to provide mariners with current weather and up-to-date bar crossing waypoints and information.
Randy of Procyon, being retired USCG, acquired the latest waypoints for our exit across the infamous Wide Bay Bar (WBB) at the bottom of the Sandy Straits and opposite Tin Can Inlet. We dutifully programmed these in only to have the CG Tin Can Bay post advise him the night before to follow the leads! Given that the waypoints called for a bit of a zigzag and the leads didn't, it made for a bit of suspense.
The ideal objective at WBB is to depart several hours before high tide in order to have the most water under the keel with the remaining rising tide providing a margin of error to lift you off should you make an error. Unfortunately, this means the tide is still coming in against you, slowing progress. We raised our anchor shortly after 0600 and motored our behind Procyon with a reefed main. This was a bit early for the tide, but with 61 miles to travel, we were anxious to get started so as to arrive in Mooloolabah in daylight. I'm not sure our early start with two knots against us achieved much head start over boats that left later, closer to slack tide!
The first bit was the diciest, following reverse leads (a range lined up over your shoulder) that directed us parallel to and quite close to waves breaking over the reef right off our starboard beam. Procyon tried following the waypoints which brought him into fairly shallow water. In the end, we both more or less split the difference in the directions. And, of course, just to add spice to the morning, in come a couple of fishing trawlers with their trolling booms lowered!
The next leg required a turn to starboard over the bar itself, theoretically lined up with a white light from a beacon on shore. This is another over the shoulder lead, but instead of two range markers, this was a white light that would show through a slot when you were correctly aligned. In the bouncy conditions and uncertain of what we would actually see in the daylight, trying to find this beacon with binoculars was not fun. But of course, once on it, it was an instance of "AHA!"
Then, as the water reached its shallowest (about 24 feet--not actually all that shallow in the end!), a black squall rolled over us making following any leads a questionable effort. It is just about now, when I was below following our course on the computer navigation and checking online weather, that Don's Dad called us on Skype to see if it was a good time to chat!
All this suspense, and in the endwe got across with little issue. Once the squall rolled onward, the seas settled right down and a vista of sand cliffs, presumably a geological extension of Fraser Island, unfolded on our right hand. Anticipating a wind shift from SE to East, both we and Procyon chose to pinch our way between Double Island Point and Wolf Rock. Unfortunately, the wind – SE @ 10 knots – never did back far enough out of the southeast to let us shut the engine down for more than a few hours. So our final sail was mostly a motorsail!
Our course kept us quite close to the coastline, which, for the first half day, was surprisingly undeveloped. The sand cliffs continued, becoming green-clad bluffs, yet nary a house showed, even though we saw 4WD vehicles driving up and down the beach. Only as we passed Noosa Head did that change. Suddenly the bluffs were densely packed with upscale neighborhoods. It was also about at Noosa Head that we saw our first and only pair of whales!
The increasing urbanization had us a bit worried that we might have chosen badly our finally berthing place. As we approached Mooloolaba, we spied a long white beach backed by ten-storey high rises already cast in shadow by the lowering sun. The entrance channel (no bar to speak of) was surprisingly out on the end of a spit. It was unsettling to look ahead as we entered to see what looked like a dead end. But a hard right turn led us down the channel of the Mooloolah River which parallels the beach for a mile or so past pile berths, fishing vessel berths and various marine services on the right and a handsome canal-based neighborhood of luxury homes and docks worthy of Ft. Lauderdale on the left.
Procyon, stopping over only for a couple of nights, continued upriver a few hundred yards to the crowded anchorage. Our marina – The Wharf – was right at the corner where the river course turns inland. Our friend Peter of Otama Song was waiting to catch our lines as we entered our slip (26*41.03S; 153*07.254E).
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