Through the Great Sandy Straits

Imaginatively named they may not be, but there’s no denying that the Great Sandy Straits are sandy, and great. Straight they are not though, a point Gabriel was quick to point out. “They really should have called them the Great Sandy Wiggles” was his proclamation.

We picked up advice before venturing through the 50 or so nautical miles of shifting sandy banks and multiple turns that make up the straits, part of which included an understanding of the strong tides which flow from both the North and South to meet in the middle. This makes for a pretty cool navigational trick whereby, with smart timing, you can ride the flooding current halfway down, and pick up the ebbing current to whisk you out the other half. So is exactly what we did, and enjoyed every minute of the hours of flat cruising as the waters pulled us through. Several other yachts had the same idea, and we joined a line of some 10 or so boats travelling South. There was momentary drama when a gust blew our plastic handline reel overboard, and we executed a man-overboard drill to recover it. This is something we’d practised a couple of times before, and we recovered the thing without problems, although the other yachts in line were clearly perplexed by our 360 degree turns.

The Southern end of Fraser Island and the Straits includes a wide sand bar that needs to be crossed with great caution, opening as it does to the open ocean. The sand banks shift so often that even electronic charts can’t keep up, and the coastguard broadcast updated waypoints to boats on a regular basis. The narrowest and shallowest part of this bar is locally referred to as “the mad mile” and can kick up horrid standing waves in strong wind-against-tide conditions, so most yachts anchor just inside the Southern end and wait for suitable conditions. We joined a number of boats doing this, anchored in a row tucked up inside a long sand spit that makes Inskip Point, bobbing away at anchor just metres away from a group of pelicans. What is the collective pronoun for pelicans, I wonder?… more fodder for tomorrow’s homeschooled English class no doubt.

We discovered that one of the few methods for vehicles to get over to Fraser Island is to drive to the very end of this sand spit and board a car ferry that crisscrosses the strait all day. This in itself wouldn’t have been noteworthy, except that it involved driving in deep soft sand along the spit, and we watched as car after car got stuck. After years of witnessing landfolk entertain themselves watching yachts go aground or stuff up marina manoeuvres (including ours once or twice), we found it refreshing to have the shoe on the other foot.

Some of these hopeful Strait-crossers were rugged four-wheel drive guys, muscly hardmen with shaved heads, long goatees and cut-off T-shirts (are we back on Thursday Island, we wondered?) – driving hoiked-up trucks with shovels strapped to the side. Abit like the “Hitcher Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” where intergalactic travellers who really know their stuff always travel with a towel, it occurs to us that anyone driving with a shovel must know what they’re doing in the outback. Either that or they have serious incontinence issues. These guys have no problems with the sandy drive, gunning their high-diff engines before tearing along the spit fishing-tailing most of the way but in perfect control throughout. Pretty cool viewing actually.

But this wasn’t where the real viewing pleasure lay. Inevitably there were the others. Young wild things out for a week of alcohol-fueled fun, tearing along the beach in their beaten-up front wheel drive stationwagons. Stuck! Or sedate older couples in their beautifully clean city SUVs, the four wheel drive gears probably never been used and certainly not designed for offroad, making what seemed like the fatal mistake of going slowly over the soft sand. Stuck! Cruel fun at the expense of others, you might think, but let’s face it these guys were going to get stuck with or without us looking on. One kind outbacker with a proper four-wheel drive truck, dogs in the back and yes, spade strapped to the side, had adopted the good Samaritan role and busied himself hauling stricken cars out of the sand, not perhaps realising that he was building for himself a full-time role.

We’d spent a happy couple of days exploring the spit and checking out Tin Can Bay, the nearest place to reprovision. All in all, The Great Sandy Wiggles had given us a few good days. Luca had exercised his dune-boarding expertise, demonstrating a surprising fearlessness that none of the rest of us could match in tearing down huge steep sand dunes on his boogie board. Gabriel had shown an equally surprising doggedness in fishing for five straight days off the pier at Kingfisher Bay, only on the last night to be finally rewarded with a large jewfish that he brought back triumphantly to the boat. The pier there was a popular fishing spot, and there’s no doubt that part of the allure for hours of biteless fishing for him was partaking in the ribald conversation shared between drunk fishermen. This is an education they don’t cover in the Correspondence School curriculum.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Antonio
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 19:46:53

    So glad to see you and your family there, I remember our conversations about possibles boats etc…. you are my hero 🙂 let me know when you need crew I I will jump in. Best regards and Happy trip to the family , Antonio


    • fredandrebecca
      Dec 06, 2012 @ 22:34:54

      Thanks Antonio, good to hear from you, i hope all goes well with you. R U still at Fonterra?
      We’re close to the end of our journey..sob!.. now waiting out for a suitable weather window for crossing the Tasman back to Auckland. Thanks for offer of crewing, not sure there’ll be an opportunity as we’ll be selling Tonga Moon soon after getting home. Maybe on the next boat eh?
      All the best, Michael and fmaily


  2. Antonio
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 05:35:07

    Good to hear from you too. I’m working for Auckland Council now, left 14 month after seing a big storm coming in Supply Chain with no clear direction and the direct lost it was in chaos. All good now..:) have a safe trip back home


  3. Molly, Peter, Tim & Mandy
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 09:47:55

    Happy Birthday Jacob!


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