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Old 12-12-2014, 20:11   #1
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How Much a Day Can Change.

On Thursday, we decided to leave Corio bay (Qld) and sail down to great Keppel island. Forecast was for a 10knot Northerly, increasing to 15-20 later.

We had to wait 'till around 9am for some tide to get out of Corio bay, by which time we had a nice 10-12 knots N/NE blowing.

It's only a short 20 miles down to Keppel, but well before we were there we were getting 15-20 kts N/NE and comfortably sailing at 10+ knots, so we decided we'd continue down to Pancake creek, about another 60 miles.

My only concern with this was the possible drop in boatspeed when we turned further south at Cape Capricorn, might result in us arriving in the dark. But our electronic chart for the area has proven to be accurate, and we had some previous tracks to follow in, if needed.

Around cape Capricorn we overtook a couple of yachts, also heading south. Shortly after that we had a 20-25 knot Northerly blowing, we reefed once, then twice, still comfortably sailing at 10-12, with occasional surfs up to around 15, as the seas were building a bit.

Now my concern wasn't arriving in daylight - we were going to do that easily, but it was for the kind of seas we might encounter at the entry - Pancake creek pretty much faces due north. So we decided on a contingency plan of continuing south to Bundaberg - another 60 odd miles.

Of course then the BOM decided to throw in a complication - a strong wind warning for the Hervey bay area - the northern boundary of which is Bundaberg - for 20-30 knot Southeasterlies. In the morning's forecast the change had been predicted for at least a day later.

OK we thought, if Pancake is too dangerous, we still head for Bundy. If the SE change arrives when we're halfway there, we can turn around and go back to Pancake, as the SE'lies would flatten it out.

Our 2 hour daysail was looing like potentially being closer to 20 hours...

Anyway, we arrived at Pancake, and from a distance it looked pretty rough. But as we got closer you could see that the channel looked alright, but with decent breaking waves on the rocks on one side, and the sandbanks on the other. Some sizeable waves in the channel too, but nothing breaking.

It looked reasonably OK to go in. So we dropped the main, started the engines, and turned off the autopilot.

Getting in turned out to be pretty easy, we surfed in on one wave, for about 100m at around 12 knots, and we were in. I was actually really happy with how light and responsive the steering was while surfing.

After anchoring we were talking about the two yachts we'd overtaken, wondering what they'd do. No way they were going to arrive in daylight, and I didn't like the thought of that entrance in the dark... the two entrance markers are lit, but the channel marker buoys inside aren't.

At around 7:30pm Tania saw lights approaching the entrance. We sort of thought no more of it, 'till a while later when we wondered where they'd gone. There were no new anchor lights nearby. Thought maybe they'd decided to continue South, but through the binoculars I could see lights still out near the entrance. We wondered if maybe something had happened.

So we turned the VHF back on. At this point the weather was looking even worse - the 20+ knot N'ly was still blowing, but there was also a thunderstorm coming from the west. Already starting to rain, and lightning flashes all over, apart from which it was pitch black dark.

After a few minutes on the VHF we heard Marine rescue Gladstone talking to their rescue boat - a yacht had gone on the rocks at the entrance to pancake creek. We listened for a while, and heard the crew of the yacht say they were going to abandon the boat, but the rescue boat was still around 2 hours away. So we offered to help if we could.

I couldn't see any point in taking the big boat out - we'd never get near a boat on the rocks, the dinghy would be much handier.

A disadvantage of this was that out handheld VHF had gotten wet when we'd towed a yacht with the dinghy some time before, and wasn't working. So we only had mobile phones for comms.

And later we discovered that not having a chartplotter available in the dinghy was even worse. It was pitch dark, raining and very hazy. Our best torch couldn't penetrate very far, the light bounced back at us. It was pretty crappy overall.

We tried to navigate our way through the entrance channel, watching all the time for some kind of lights from the crew of the yacht. We got a fair way out, but then we simply couldn't find the unlit channel markers. And suddenly the waves were getting pretty big, not breaking, but with foamy crests on them. We simply couldn't tell if we were in the deeper water of the channel, or had gone into shallower water. Either way it was pretty scary where we were.

And still we saw no sign of lights from the crew abandoning their boat, who we'd assume would make their way in towards the anchorage area, where there are at least some beaches to land at. We were getting pretty worried for their safety, and a bit for our own too.

Reluctantly we decided we really couldn't go on. We had no idea where we were relative to the channel, our torch just wasn't penetrating the mist and rain, and the conditions were getting a bit dangerous for us. So we turned back.

We got back to the boat OK, and called Marine rescue Gladstone to tell them we were OK, we'd been out for about 90 minutes, but hadn't been able to find either the yacht or it's crew. It turned out the crew hadn't abandoned ship, deciding it was safer to wait for the rescue boat, it being so rough where they were. And by this point the rescue boat wasn't far away. We felt helpless - so close to them but really unable to help.

When the rescue boat arrived, it took them over two hours to get the crew off - it was pretty bad out there and they did a fantastic job to get them both off safely. Luckily, the thunderstorm brought relatively light southerly winds with it, which actually improved conditions. We ended up getting to bed around midnight.

Sorry if the story rambled a bit, but it just amazed me how much a nice day for a 2 hour sail had changed.
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Old 12-12-2014, 21:18   #2
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Thanks for posting the detailed sea story. The detailed description is important and vivid.

I enjoyed reading it.

Glad you are safe. Bad weather or seas can make anyone appreciate a sound boat and a safe harbor. Prudence says to turn back when going forward (or out) is not required and may be hazardous.
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Old 12-12-2014, 21:35   #3
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

It's amazing how fast the weather can change, and possibly change someone's life in the process!

I remember as a kid, playing on the street in Okinawa, a rain squall would come up and I could actually see a wall of rain drops advancing down the street. I could see a sharply defined line where the rain was falling and right in front of it: dry pavement. I could run home with a wall of rain drops literally right behind me.
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Old 12-12-2014, 22:08   #4
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Thanks for that story.

Certainly gives some thought about the benefits of waterproof vhf and plotter for dingy.
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Old 12-12-2014, 23:59   #5
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Quote:
Originally Posted by downunder View Post
Thanks for that story.

Certainly gives some thought about the benefits of waterproof vhf and plotter for dingy.
Never had a plotter in a dinghy. But, don't know if I'd have gone out of the inner anchorage at Pancake Creek (it's a somewhat convoluted route, and at 2.2 m. draft, our big boat would be depth challenged; and we discovered, even the dinghy can be depth challenged in there due to sand banks) to try to render assistance to people after dark and in a thunderstorm. I hate to admit that. Like am I a coward or something? But if conditions are so bad that even if you get there OKay, and you still can't help--well, it was an adventure, and good on ya for trying to help. But what have you actually done? Risked the mobile phones and yourselves. I don't mean to be mean, and I apologize if this post offends.

The decision to offer assistance really MUST be tempered by concern for the safety of dinghy and crew, too. Waterproof handhelds are great, and so are really good LED torches (flashlights) but we should also be keen to understand when something should not be attempted. For instance, in wind against tide situations at Pancake Ck., where the water exchange is ~5 + m, in darkness and pouring rain plus 30 gusting 40 [maximum wind strength may be up to 40 % stronger than the averages given here], it probably is basically unsafe for two people in a small dinghy. One of the frustrating things about pouring rain is that the torch illuminates the drops, thereby blinding you.

I'd be interested to know, what, after they contacted Gladstone, the crew of the distressed yacht did to help their boat?

PS, 44 Cruising Cat, you could probably get into 1770, too, if you wanted.
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Old 13-12-2014, 00:28   #6
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Hi Anne.

We didn't know whether or not we could help until we tried. Bit hard to tell from the inner anchorage, just what it's going to be like out there. Also, it was possible the yacht was stuck somewhere we could have got to - we weren't exactly sure where it was - or if the crew had abandoned ship, as we believed at the time, they might have been somewhere we could get to.


Tides were just about neaps too... only around 2m change.

Better for them to have waited for the rescue boat on our boat than stuck out on a beach in a thunderstorm.

I guess we felt we couldn't just sit and do nothing, although obviously sometimes that's the smarter option.

But I don't think we took an unacceptable risk - when it looked to be getting too much we turned round.

We are actually in 1770 right now. But it wouldn't have been an option on Thursday. The entrance is shallower and narrower than Pancake, just as open to the north, and it would been closer to dark and also closer to low tide by the time we got there.


We've never managed to speak to the owners of the yacht, but the next morning she was well and truly up on the rocks. Not sure there was much they could have done in the circumstances.


Perversely, conditions were quite benign the following morning, despite the weather forecast promising even stronger northerlies. After the thunderstorm we had light southeasterlies.







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Old 13-12-2014, 03:29   #7
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

I came in that entrance at dusk in benign conditions a few weeks ago, and was thankful I could follow a previous track on the chart. Imagining your dilemma about trying to navigate a dinghy in those conditions really reinforces the difficulties you must have faced.

It's comforting to know that there are people like yourselves around who will at least give it a go. As it turns out, your efforts were not necessary, but small changes in circumstances may have resulted in you saving lives.

Hat's off to you.
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Old 13-12-2014, 03:43   #8
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Thanks for posting this incident; glad you are OK, sad about the other vessel.
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Old 13-12-2014, 04:11   #9
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

I've never been a fan of the entrance of pancake Creek, in anything other than calm I treat it as a bar.

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Old 13-12-2014, 04:50   #10
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Your story really struck a chord as we also surfed in there about 6 weeks ago in 25 plus knots of wind but in daylight and a good tide and other than a quick adrenaline rush with the short fast ride thought little of it .
However its not an entry I would like to do at night in unfavourable conditions especially with one of the leed lights out of action and none at all inside.
On a more positive note am very jealous and impressed with the distance you guys covered that day.
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Old 13-12-2014, 05:19   #11
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

OP, good on ya for getting out there and making an effort. As you mentioned, you wouldn't know for sure that you couldn't help until you tried. Bravo.

Personally, I would have a hard time to learn after the fact someone got hurt at a time when I chose to sit on my hands. Better to know that I at least tried to help, even if unsuccessful, than to turn my back on a fellow sailor in need.

I'm disappointed to see you have been reproached for your efforts. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
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Old 13-12-2014, 08:04   #12
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

These things are always judgment calls by the person on scene and it sounds like you did your best and adjusted wisely.

Curious... You were not able to talk directly with stricken vessel by VHF from your own yacht?
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Old 13-12-2014, 14:09   #13
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

No, at first we thought maybe they had lost their VHF, as we heard nothing from them, only from VMR Gladstone via repeater, no replies from the yacht. It seemed to us that VMR was contacting the yacht by phone.


Then we just heard a broken "We're getting off the boat" from the yacht, via the repeater, which the VMR tried to reply to but got no response from the yacht. at that stage we assumed they must have abandoned her. They probably were out on deck looking at doing that.


But VHF communications weren't good - the thunderstorm was generating a near constant roar of static. We couldn't raise VMR at all on 16, only on 82, the repeater channel, and at times they heard us, but we didn't hear them.
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Old 13-12-2014, 14:14   #14
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

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Originally Posted by Delancey View Post
OP, good on ya for getting out there and making an effort. As you mentioned, you wouldn't know for sure that you couldn't help until you tried. Bravo.

Personally, I would have a hard time to learn after the fact someone got hurt at a time when I chose to sit on my hands. Better to know that I at least tried to help, even if unsuccessful, than to turn my back on a fellow sailor in need.
This was our thinking - what if it was us out there?

We didn't know exactly where they were, only that they were on rocks near a red beacon. There is a red right out on the entry, and we certainly couldn't have gotten to that, but there are two red channel marker bouys further in - the channel doglegs to the SW, and if you missed the second red marker, which isn't lit, and went straight on, you'd hit rocks there too.

We thought, or hoped, they were near to this inner red marker.
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Old 13-12-2014, 16:29   #15
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Re: How Much a Day Can Change.

Those photos are heart breaking. Glad everyone was okay. It's a lesson not to attempt an entry in these conditions, for sure!


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