The first forty miles down Hervey Bay to the mouth of the Straits was easy sailing in open water in about 10 knots of wind just aft of the beam. However, once we passed the northern fairway beacon (25*08.41S; 152*49.57E), the trip became one of navigating carefully from beacon to beacon (or buoy to buoy), hence the name of Queensland's indispensable cruising guide. The northern section was still pretty easy going as we glided past Big Woody Island and Little Woody, places we'd thought we might stop overnight.
But it was early yet, barely noon, and we thought we could easily get further. Then came a later weather report with warnings of a trough and developing winds that would cycle right around! I swear, I have never been in a place where the weather reports change so quickly and so radically.
We had hoped to stop at Kingfisher Resort (www.kingfisherbay.com), a famous eco-resort often used by cruisers as a base for exploring Fraser Island. It has a restaurant, pool, plus rental jeeps and tours, and was a place we could have easily whiled away a few days. But not in northerlies. Of all the dozen or so anchorages shown along the western shore of Fraser Island, they are all, like Kingfisher, suitable for the prevailing easterly tradewinds only. Unfortunately the whole western edge of the straights is virtually inaccessible thanks to sand bars, shoals and mangrove islets, except where a few rivers and creeks penetrate. Most of these are not accessible for boats of any substantial draft, a major exception being the Mary River up which we could have like gone like Procyon did. But we are pretty focused on getting south to Mooloolabah where our agent has a couple of clients waiting to see the boat.
Studying the charts, we realized there were hardly any anchorages offering protection for the forecast northerlies, let alone for the westerly and southwesterly winds that would follow in the cycle back to southeast. Our best bet looked to be Bookar Island and the flooding tide helpfully accelerated our pace down the narrowing channel. However, as we looked further down the chart, we realized the channel beyond Bookar got very shallow in a short, snake-y section, and to get over THAT, we would need high tide. Since we were arriving at Bookar just before high tide, that meant high tide the next day would be an hour later, too close to sunset to lay the next and best possible anchorage – known as Garry's Anchorage – in a channel behind Stewart Island. Added to that, Bookar was already looking pretty exposed.
So, despite the already long day, we decided the prudent decision was to push on through the shallow section right then and make Garry's before sunset. We are very glad we did. The shallow section was quite shallow; we saw only 12 feet at several points and that was at high tide. Tides here regularly range up to two meters, which doesn't leave much left over. But I will say that the channel is well marked, and my electronic charts, in this case BSB charts leant to me by Jim of Avior and displayed on The CapN, were very accurate (better than CMap on MaxSea). Of course, we also had the Beacon to Beacon (which for some reason doesn't show depth!) as well as the great Queensland Maritime Safety Charts.
Also working in our favor was the fact that the effect of the tides on the Straits changes at its halfway point, Sheridan Flats, just opposite Bookar Island. In other words, the rising tide floods the straits from both ends, meeting in the middle, and likewise drains them in opposite directions. By passing Bookar and the flats at high tide, we let go the advantage of the incoming tide just in time to pick up the advantage of the outgoing tide ebbing southward! We scooted over the tricky section having wisely dropped the main, which we would have had to gybe back and forth for every twist and turn, and coasted into Garry's Anchorage about an hour before sunset.
Garry's Anchorage is a narrow semicircular channel running between Fraser Island and small, inset Stewart Island. It was not encouraging to see our friends Duncan and Robin on Whisper coming back out as we approached. According to the cruising guides, Garry's Anchorage can be entered from either the north or south opening, but Whisper had gone aground on their first try and only with luck managed to get off again before the tide went down any further! With our shallower draft (5' as opposed to 6'7"), we proceeded to give it a try. The channel was much narrower and shallower than we had imagined, but we found a spot between two power boats with about fifteen feet of water, depth enough to see us through even the full moon low tide next Wednesday if we stay that long!
After a settled night, the wind has been building as advertised. The power boats left on the early morning tide, but a number of sailboats have sought shelter in here from the building weather, including Duncan and Robin of Whisper who were willing to give it another go in the light of day. When the tide goes down, great expanses of sand flats are exposed all around us, and the wind in the trees behinds us sounds like rushing water. There are all sorts of birds around with unfamiliar calls, and the beach is littered with the debris of silvered limbs. Don is stripping the old Cetol from the cockpit teak that has looked like crap since Willie's crew pulled the tape from the paint job back in Fiji! And I, as ever, am working away on the computer.