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.
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
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
Sorry if the story rambled a bit, but it just amazed me how much a nice day for a 2 hour sail had changed.