Crossing Wide Bay Bar and Gunkholing Fraser Island


Last Updated on November 18, 2019 by Amy

Wide Bay Bar Crossing

WBB has a pretty gnarly reputation.  Australians also call it the Mad Mile.  This bar entrance has a lot of shifting sands and is completely open to the ocean, unlike Mooloolaba which had a headland.  Timing the crossing is challenging.  You need to meet these conditions:

  1. Enter in the morning or midday.  You do not want the sun in your eyes when you enter the bar coming east to west, so afternoon is a no-go.
  2. Enter on a rising tide, between half tide and full.  Make sure you give yourself enough tie to get all the way through the bar.  This is for two reasons:  in case you bump the bottom and get stuck, if you are patient you can be lifted off; the current will be going inbound.  The inbound current will pair with the easterly wind and keep chop down.  The good rule of thumb is 2 hours prior to high tide.
  3. Go on a low swell.  It’s recommended to wait until you have calm conditions with less than 1.5 meters of swell.
  4. Wait for low winds.  High winds contribute to high swell, and they make it harder to navigate the waters if you are getting blown all around.  Try for less than 15 knots of wind.
  5. Call the Tin Can Bay Coast Guard to get proper coordinates.  DO NOT rely on the markers.
  6. As always, your eyes are your most important resource.  When we crossed we noticed that if we had followed the leads, we would have crossed directly into a very shallow spot.  How did we know that?  Waves were breaking over and over again in one particular spot.  Avoid breaking waves.

The nearest protected anchorage is Mooloolaba, 70 miles away.  Sometimes boats tuck in at Double Island Head, off Rainbow Beach,  roughly twelve miles from WBB, but conditions have to be very calm for it to be comfortable.

Our Wide Bay Bar Crossing

Due to timing, we opted to depart Mooloolaba before sunset and very VERY slowly sail towards Wide Bay Bar.  We actually lowered our sails, shut our engines off, and drifted for several hours to kill time.

Once daylight hit, we powered up and made it to the bar perfectly on time.  High tide was at 11:00 am and we passed between Inskip Point and Fraser Island at 9:30 am.

Our path into Wide Bay Bar.
Inskip Point on the left, Fraser Island on the right.

Fraser Island

Gunkholing –  a boating term referring to a type of cruising in shallow or shoal water, meandering from place to place, spending the nights in coves.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world.  It’s 125 km from point to point, and the beaches are beautiful, fine white sand.  There are anchorages all over the place on the west (inside) of the island.

Garry’s Anchorage

Many boats anchor just south of the Great Sandy Strait once they pass through WBB.  Since it was so early in the morning, we motored our way up to Garry’s Anchorage.  Garry’s is actually a campsite, with a road coming in.  Garry Owens, the namesake of the campsite, was a Butchulla man (the indigenous people of Queensland) who was a famed tracker and horseman. In fact, he helped track down Ned Kelly, a famous criminal in the 1800s.

Before we lost daylight, David and I went for a walk up one of the roads.  The sign said there was a sheep station, but we didn’t get that far.  We had an incredibly still night in Garry’s Anchorage.

Phoenix’s view of Starry Horizons in Garry’s Anchorage.
Looking back at SH from our walk.
A flat sunset at Garry’s.

Moon Point

The next day we headed to Moon Point and anchored just south of the point.

The forecasters were calling for very light winds over the next week, so we were eager to try to get out to a few islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef (Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave).  We went for a paddle and stayed our one night at Moon Point.  We woke up at 1:30 am with the winds howling and Starry Horizons getting tossed around uncomfortably.  Our anchor was still good, but we clearly didn’t have the protection we needed for this freak wind.

David on his first paddle EVER!
I paddled to shore for a sunset walk.

Sure enough, when we woke up in the morning and checked the weather, our window of calm was completely gone.  Strong SE winds were going to roll in, making Moon Point uncomfortable.

Archer Cliff

Packed sand makes up these cliffs, a noticeable feature from the water.  We walked here, exploring the formations, avoiding dingos, and poking at dead starfish.

Dingo tracks in the sand.
Cliffs and white sand beaches.
One lone palm tree.
Not just dingo tracks!
I feel like David should be a bit more grossed out.
One of the dead starfish on the beach.
Another flat sunset lends itself to paddleboarding.

Wathumba Creek

We didn’t anchor exactly at Wathumba Creek, but a bit further south.  The west side of Fraser Island is nothing but long beaches occasionally broken by creeks, so we were still near several creeks, which we forded on our beach walks.  We anchored next to our friends Justine and Glen on Shima, which enabled us to have some socialization!  After a walk on the beach where we saw a whale’s bone, we had sundowners on the beach with Justine and Glen.

Can you see the whale bone?

The next night we went over to Shima for a tour and afternoon tea.  We left with just barely enough sunlight to catch a last-minute drone flight.

Up Next

With no window of calm weather to get out to Lady Eliot, we head to Yeppoon and Keppel Bay Marina, where we have packages waiting for us.

Watch the Video: Sailing Up Australia’s East Coast

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