Tin Can Bay, Fraser Island and into Bundaberg

Sunday morning (30 May) the wind eased and was more favourable for us to move on. So we picked up anchor and headed out of Tin Can Bay. We weren’t going very far, just 19 miles to Garry’s anchorage at the bottom of Fraser Island. The next stretch has to navigated at or near high tide because of the shallows through the Sheridan Flats so we were going to stage ourselves in preparation for going through this tricky area the following morning. So decision made we upped anchor and had a lovely downwind sail in light airs under genoa alone. Was really lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed it despite the real chill in the air.

We had our anchor down by 1.50 pm and we took particular care to watch the swinging circles of the other boats as everyone moves through almost 360 degrees in this narrow, shallow and tidal anchorage. Happy that all was well we headed down below and warmed up the saloon by cooking dinner and put all the companion way boards in to retain the heat overnight.

Monday morning our intention was to head out about 10.15 to ensure we were at Sheridan Flats one hour before high tide. As we left the anchorage we were being followed by a catamaran who was obviously heading the same way and, in fact, he kept behind us all the way. We sailed under genoa in flat seas and light airs until we reached Sheridan Flats then motored slowly and carefully through before hoisting the genoa again for the remainder of the trip to Kingfisher Resort, Fraser Island. We got our anchor down in 6m of beautiful sand at 3.15pm having sailed 21 miles and settled down to watch the sunset. Just a beautiful place and quite serene in the anchorage apart from when the barge comes and goes each day bringing day trippers and guests to the resort.

Tuesday morning we went ashore and walked the boardwalk up to the resort keeping an eye out for dingos. Yes there are wild ones here on Fraser Island….

We then gathered information on how to explore the island. We had been considering hiring a small 4WD but we thought that $400 a day was a bit rich, especially when we could do the 4WD Bus Tour (including lunch) for not much more in total. So decision made we booked the full-day tour for Wednesday. We asked at the hotel reception whether there were any restrictions on our use of the facilities and they said that we had complete access for no charge – definitely a very cruiser-friendly place. Here’s dink on the beautiful beach.

The rest of the day we spent by one of the pools, relaxing in the jacuzzi, had some lunch and then made our way back down to the beach and to the rustic (but oh so powerful) showers at the Sand Bar before walking onto the large jetty for sundowners at the Sunset bar. We enjoyed a couple of cold ones before returning to Morphie for dinner just as it was getting dark.

Wednesday we were up really early and by 7am we were dragging dink all the way up the beach to lock him to a fallen log as we were going to be out all day so wanted to make sure he stayed safe above the high water mark.

We then walked the planked boardwalk to the resort, picked up pool towels, and headed to the ‘Village store’ where we picked up some breakfast and coffee whilst we waited for the bus. The tour bus driver/guide turned up on time at 7.50 am and we climbed on board this brand new vehicle which has been specifically designed for the terrain here on Fraser Island. We were lucky that this tour was only about 30% full so it felt quite personal.

As we drove out of the resort we quickly ended up on sand roads which were fun / interesting / scary all at the same time with the first part being called the ‘rollercoaster’ as we headed across the island to the west coast. Fraser Island’s traditional name is K’gari and is the land of the Butchulla people. It is 76 miles long and 14 miles wide and is considered to be the largest sand island in the world at 710 square miles. It became a World Heritage listed site in 1992 as it is pretty unique with rainforests, woodland, mangrove forests, peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths. The sand has been accumulating here for approximately 750k years on volcanic bedrock and the island has some unique geographic features such as fresh water barrage dune lakes which are formed by sandblows damming a natural watercourse and, in terms of quality, this region has the freshest naturally running water in the world. There are all types of critters living here and the majority of them are very dangerous such as great white sharks, salt water crocodiles, wild dingos, brown snakes and huge monitor lizards. And that’s without the spiders LOL. They call this the most dangerous island in Australia!

As we drove across the island towards the west coast we saw evidence of the huge forest fires that had wreaked havoc when the whole island had had to be evacuated for two weeks and despite lots of manpower and machinery the fire was only put out eventually by heavy rainfull. But there were signs of some new shoots of growth admist the blackened tree stumps although the guide thought it would probably take a decade to fully recover. As we drove along we stopped for our first glimpses of a sandblow which is where strong onshore winds erode and transport sand inland. Weak points in the shoreline dunes develop into ‘blow outs’ where sand is blown inland from the coast spreading grain by grain engulfing vegetation in its path. The power of nature is just so awe inspiring at times…..

We arrived on 70 mile beach and it was completely amazing with huge breakers coming into shore. This beach is navigable by 4WD vehicles and there were plenty of ‘wild campers’ around as we drove along.

Then we suddenly came across a small aircraft sitting on the sand – this is one of only two places in the world where you can take off and land on the beach (the other being on Barra, Scotland).

Jerrod (our tour guide and driver) was happy for us to take some time out to do the scenic 15 minute flight and to pick us further down the beach afterwards so we quickly put our hands up and climbed on for the most amazing trip with Rafe, the English pilot. Wow what a fantastic thing to do. We were just blown away by this trip. Photos don’t do it justice but it gives you an idea of what a special place Fraser Island is.

Landing back on the beach, while some more of our fellow tourists climbed on for their plane ride, we went off to check out Wadi creek and, as we took a detour from the beach to avoid some large rock outcrops, we spotted a wild dingo sunning himself on a slope. Wow, just wow!

Arriving at Wadi Creek we did have a paddle in the cold water and enjoyed watching the families floating down in the current in their inflatables (including bizarrely a cactus) towards the beach….and then walked the boardwalk back to do it all again.

At this point the plane landed again and with our full complement back on board we continued on the beach drive to the wreck of the SS Maheno which had an interesting history of being a 122m luxury liner on its launch in 1905 plying its trade between New Zealand and Australia (at an impressive 18 knots) before being pressed into hospital duties in 1915 playing a major role by picking up Anzac troups from Gallipoli and transporting them to Malta. Eventually it was decommissioned in 1935 and was being towed along the coast of Queensland when a major storm came up and, as the ship had no means of independent propulsion at the time, it was wrecked on the beach when the tow rope snapped. What a sad end to a mighty ship….

After visiting the wreck we continued driving on the beach and then stopped off at some coloured sand mounds before finally arriving at the Eurong resort where we had a pre-organised lunch. Afterwards we had a quick coffee and bun at the bakery for our desert before rejoining the bus and our fellow tourists. Then another quick trip along 70 mile beach before we started travelling back inland. Oh yes and no swimming is recommended on this side of the island with its strong currents, rip tides and vast numbers of sharks and there have been shark attacks in the area resulting in fatalities.

After lunch we started travelling back inland and the next stop was to the majestic freshwater Lake Mackenzie (which we had glimpsed from the plane) where we braved the elements and had a bob in the water. Was very refreshing and very different because this lake water is so pure there is virtually no buoyancy offered by the water.

Moving on we headed into the rainforest and did a walk around the boardwalk through the forest which was eerily quiet. There was a small creek running through but even this water was silent. Was really interesting and we were pleased to note that the Queen was involved in recognising the conservation of this ancient land. Back at the bus we were treated to tea and cakes before climbing onto the bus for the final time and returning to the resort.

Back at Kingfisher we walked back down to the beach and had sundowners before we returned to Morphie having had such a special day. Pretty shattered we had an early night.

Thursday we enjoyed the resort again spending time at the pool and in the jacuzzi. We stayed a bit longer than planned and, when we got back to the beach, we found that dink was actually floating on his anchor as the tide had come in, so Richard was brave and went for a paddle not realising that he would have to swim the last bit trying not to think about sharks, although to be honest, they are not present in huge numbers on the sandy straights side of the island and it is considered safe to swim here. He then clambered in and drove dink back to the beach to collect me. My hero! Suffice to say once we were back on board safely we didn’t venture out again, instead having a quiet night in enjoying, once again, a beautiful night sky.

Friday morning we were up at 4am and left the anchorage in light airs. We motored for a little while in the dark just to get through a couple of skinny passages and sand/mud banks until eventually we were on our rhumb line to go all the way to Bundaberg Port Marina.

The sea was calm and the wind was fickle with spells of light airs of 8-9 knots and other times we were seeing 23 knots. Was a pretty cloudy and chilly day. But we were on a beam reach and we both thoroughly enjoyed our sail. It felt really good to be out there remembering our first time through this area with the wild fires raging around us in November 2019

We had been allocated a berth (Grey 2) in the marina and so, as we turned head to wind into the leading channel into the river, we furled the main and the genoa and motored in. At this point the wind died too which was helpful although we were getting a lift from the incoming tide. We phoned the marina to ask for assistance on the dock to be told there wasn’t anyone available but, luckily, Sharon and Chris (SV Watusi) were still in the marina so we phoned them and they agreed to be our line handlers. Phew!

We turned to port into the fairway between the Grey and Purple docks with the wind (at around 10 knots) on our starboard beam and the tide on our port beam so Richard reduced speed and kept us to the port side of the channel to ensure we could make the turn into our slip which was virtually at the end without being pushed over too far towards it as there was little turning room beyond our allocated berth.

Then it all went pear shaped! A strong gust of wind came out of nowhere and we were pushed sideways towards Purple dock. In Australia most marinas ensure that boats fit perfectly well within their pens so if this happens (which is not an uncommon occurrence in a river marina with strong tides) you come to rest on the pilings and avoid damaging other boats. Well, Bundaberg are not actually doing this and, of course, at the moment the wind blew us sideways towards the dock it was alongside a huge 21m Galeon which was overhanging his 18m berth by quite a way. We took a picture later – check out how far this guy sticks out into the fairway.

Richard was powerless to do anything and the next thing we know we are heading towards this boat’s bow and his huge stainless steel anchor. There was no chance of avoiding the impact as it happened so quickly and so unexpectedly and, before we knew it, we were pinned. The stainless steel bimini frame took the brunt of the anchor coming into our cockpit and so it snapped and bent in places. Our canvas looked like it had been ripped as it was hanging down and our new cockpit lights were broken. Our bow was resting on the front of another motor boat and the owner was holding us off with a broom but we were pinned for a while.

Eventually there was a lull in the wind and Richard was able to physically extricate us and we finally went into our berth without any difficulty. Sharon and Chris had watched the whole thing and were as shocked as we were by what had just happened. They saw that we were going along just fine until we literally went sideways as the wind caught us. It was clearly sickening to watch and hear the noise as our bimini steel was ripped apart on the port side by this monster anchor. After that ordeal we were so grateful they were there to help us!

By the time we were safely secured, the captain of the large motor yacht had come over to give us his details and we said that we would be over once we had checked into the marina office. We then went over to the two boats involved to take photos of the damage and share our insurance and contact details. The motor yacht’s anchor roller was bent out of shape and a few gel coat marks but, thankfully, they were still able to deploy the anchor. So that was a big relief.

The other motor yacht had a small scratch at the top of his bow (along with numerous earlier ones) and the guy was very relaxed about it, so we don’t expect a claim from him.

After exchanging contact details we headed out to see some trades and found one guy who was happy to come along on Monday to give us a quote for the repairs. Looks like we’ll be staying in Bundaberg a little longer than we had planned….sigh….. Here is a picture of poor Morphie and her bimini frame damage. We both feel so sad. But, as Richard said, we got off lightly really as we could easily have lost our shrouds and mast if we had been pinned in a slightly different position. And, of course, a few feet back and it would have been our solar panels and our electronics at risk too. We think that there is a possibility that the damage to the two-inch arch stainless steel arm may not be repairable but it has not affected the strength of the structure so we’ll have a good go at polishing it out and see what it looks like then.

And if you want a reminder of what it is supposed to look like from the cockpit, here is a picture of the starboard side of the frame.

After all that excitement – and still feeling quite shocked by it all – we headed to the Cruisers Cove for the Friday night BBQ and enjoyed spending time with Sharon and Chris. Back on board for the night but neither of us slept much….

Saturday morning and we started the day off properly by having a great breakfast in the marina cafe.

Returning to Morphie we started the insurance claim process. We filled in the interactive online claim form and then started producing all the documents (including embedded pictures and sketches) to go along with it in response to their questions. Eventually five documents had been created and saved. They just needed to be sent to the right people. So we started emailing and got ‘undeliverable’ messages from the claims team at our insurance company. Hmmm…..not good! So I did a bit more research and found an SOS email address that could be used out of hours – well it was the middle of the night in the UK – so tried that instead. The first email went through with an attachment but, after that, all the other documents were rejected as too large by our internet provider. So we started cutting them up and saving them into smaller chunks and even compressed the files, but again they refused to send.

So by now we were losing patience but didn’t resort to extreme measures…although certainly felt like it a few times….

We decided, eventually, to get round the email sizing issue by uploading the documents to the cloud – which took hours with our slow internet speed. We then gave appropriate read-only access to the SOS email and sent the link to them. Feeling very relieved until this bounced back too! So I decided to send an email to our main contact at the company – the guy who had sold us the policy – asking him to pass it on to the appropriate team. Well, he did, and finally I got an email from the claims guy who said that a new IT system had meant that the original (published) emails were no longer working. Thanks for that, seriously?!?! Oh yes and his system wouldn’t accept my microsoft cloud provider either so could we please send them via WeTransfer instead. Great, yes we’ll do that, but of course by now it was late and we had just had enough. We were invited out to dinner with Sharon, Chris and their friends but decided not to go as we would definitely not have been good company. We both felt a bit sick actually with the stress of it all. So we just called it a day and went to bed.

Sunday morning and we couldn’t sleep worried about these documents needing to get into the right hands asap. So got up around 6am and started uploading the files again to their preferred system. This wasn’t a quick job either but finally I managed to get them to upload completely. Then I was provided with a link to access them so sent this through to the insurance company. So hopefully that is done for now.

Afterwards we did a few other online chores before heading to the laundry. We sat outside in the sun chatting to some day trippers who had come to the marina for fish and chips while we waited for the laundry to finish. Finally, all done, we headed back to Morphie but had to make a detour via the fish and chip shop as we had watched everyone munching for the last few hours and we were hungry LOL. They were absolutely delicious!

Richard then tidied up the boat, did a few jobs like filling up the water tank and washed the salt off Morphie while I started blogging. As the internet was so slow uploading photos eventually I gave up and put it off for another day. Oh yes and there is a cold snap coming and some areas of Queensland even had frost overnight – shocking or what LOL?!?

This morning, Monday, and Richard has started to dismantle the damaged steel pieces and has found that the joining bracket which have been torn apart (which are from the US) are probably not available in Australia. But the guy we have found is confident he can help us (on the basis of seeing some photos we sent him over the weekend) and he has just visited us and can fabricate new ones so that’s good news. The quote will be coming later tonight and we can then take this forward. There is not a great variety of trades here in Bundaberg so we hope that the insurance company will accept this on the basis of one quote only.

Anyway that’s our news. Oh yes, something to ponder. There is a sailing superstition about heading out to sea on a Friday and, yes, we did break this rule and sail to Bundaberg on a Friday. So guess we’ll be more superstitious in future! Don’t know how long we will be here for but it will take as long as it takes. Probably just as well we are not on a schedule right now….

Bye for now folks. Sending lots of love and hugs to you all.