We decided to sail to Bundaberg from the top of the Sandy Straits. There aren’t that many places to stop over within a day’s sail from Hervey Bay, and Bundaberg is a good distance. I initially had reservations about Bundaberg – we’ve never been there, but I pictured it as a big industrial place with a small crowded anchorage next to traffic and buildings. However, the ladies on the Women Who Sail Australia Facebook page were ever helpful, and totally convinced me that Bundaberg was worth a visit.
The trip up was uneventful and easy, and we sailed into the Burnett River in the late afternoon. The approach is obvious from far off, as a line of tall beacons stretch from the river mouth far out to see – like a giant expressway. It made me think we’d encounter a lot of traffic, including big cargo ships, but it was pretty quiet the whole time. It was quite fascinating sailing passed the huge sugar factory with its conveyor belts and cranes that load the sugar onto ships. We felt totally dwarfed by the size of the structures! We anchored in the first anchoring spot up the river, which was quiet and pleasant.
The next morning we decided to make the 6nm trip up the Burnett River to Bundaberg. The river is a little tricky to navigate, as some sections are pretty shallow, so best done at high tide. It’s a pretty river, with big open farmlands along the way – mainly sugar cane. The arrival at Bundaberg is marked by the rum distillery, which is an imposing structure on the river bank. Anchoring near the town was a little tricky as it was quite crowded, and we eventually chose a spot opposite the distillery.
Our arrival in Bundaberg coincided with our 14-year wedding anniversary, and I had done some research to find what was supposed to be the best restaurant/deli around. We decided that a celebratory lunch would be in order, so set off to find Indulge (armed with a bag of laundry and rubbish bags to offload). Luckily it was pretty close to the public jetty, and we had a fabulous lunch under the trees, complete with a range of Bundaberg drinks. It really was a treat!
We then spent the afternoon wandering through the town – Noah and I got to see the nicer part, whereas Marco and Josh went to the industrial area to hunt down a generator and battery charger. It’s quite a strange but interesting town, and has some really old quaint buildings. The Bundy Bogan caught our attention – still not sure what was sold there, but the name did seem quite apt. Noah and I stumbled upon some really cool foodie spots, and couldn’t resist the gelato. There were also some really interesting and creative clothing/collectible/gift shops. We did get lectured/sworn at (I’m still not really sure) by a drunk man staggering passed the laundromat – haven’t had that happen before in Australia, but did feel strangely familiar and homely. Finally we stocked up on some fresh fruit, veges and bread at the IGA and used the conveniently abandoned trolley to cart our goods back to the public jetty and aboard the Ark.
We stayed in Bundaberg for a couple days as we had ordered a generator. We are always slightly low on power – need another battery or two, and more solar panels. However, we felt that a generator would be a good backup in emergencies, and would also allow Marco to use power-tools if necessary. Once it arrived we headed back down the Burnett River, and planned to leave for Round Hill the following day.
Unfortunately we weren’t as organised as we should have been, and left a little late the next morning. About an hour out of Bundaberg the coolant pipe on one of the engines ruptured, and most of the coolant leaked out – so back to Bundaberg we went, probably for the best though as there wasn’t much wind and we wouldn’t have made the distance. As Murphy would have it, it was the start of a long weekend the coolant pipe would have taken about 5 days to arrive. We really didn’t feel like staying in Bundaberg for another 5 days, so Marco cut out the ruptured part of the pipe, and replaced it with some sturdy plumbing piping, which seemed to do the trick.
So, planning better this time, we left the following morning at 5am – in the mist. It was an incredible day out on the water, the sea was bright blue, as calm as a lake and just seemed to merge into the sky. We were also thrilled to have our first proper dolphin encounter. 3 dolphins joined us and rode our bow waves for about half an hour. They are such graceful, playful creatures, and we loved watching them glide effortlessly through the water, jump out and do somersaults within metres of us. It felt like we could almost touch them!
We sailed for about 12 hours that day, and Noah spent about 10 of them working on his trimaran. It is incredibly detailed, and his next boat-ed assignment is to write a blog post describing it – watch this space.
We finally sailed into Pancake Creek just before sunset. It’s a beautiful spot, but a popular anchorage and rather crowded due to the many sand banks. We found a spot in a space between 2 boats, and settled down for a good night’s sleep … or so we thought. I suddenly woke up at around 1am with an unusual scraping noise – shortly followed by our anchor alarm going off. After watching the GPS for a couple minutes we despondently concluded that we were dragging anchor … straight towards another boat.
Lifting anchor and re-anchoring in the middle of the night is not an easy thing to do – especially when there is no moon, and the anchorage is unfamiliar. It’s hard to judge distances and the myriad of lights from different boats can be rather confusing. Regardless, we had to do it … so there I was in my skimpy nighty leaning down halfway into the water to remove the bridle-clip, then running backwards and forwards to winch the anchor up and check that the chain was more-or-less vertical in the process. Marco was at the helm, trying to follow my directions to keep the chain vertical, and try and keep us away from the other boats. Thankfully we managed to winch the anchor up rather quickly, and managed to motor away from the boat in our path – much to the relief of the owner who was up and looking rather nervous. We motored forward a fair distance and dropped anchor again. It seemed to hold, but neither of us slept much that night, and kept getting up to check our GPS co-ordinates and regularly shine our super-bright torch on the nearest boats. Surprisingly our neighbouring boats had left early the next morning 😉
Neither of us was too keen on spending another night dragging anchor around Pancake Creek, so we decided to sail to Round Hill, about 15 nm south. Round Hill is an anchorage near a town called Seventeen Seventy, and also near Agnes Water, which is supposed to be a lovely place to visit (with a surf break). Round Hill is very shallow and should only be entered at high tide. We arrived just after high, and were a little nervous crossing the bar, as the channel hugs the rocky headland. We recorded depths of 1.4m at times – our draft is 1.2m, so not much water under the keel there!
The problem with entering at high tide is that all the sandbanks are covered, so it’s not always clear where to anchor, especially if not clearly demarcated. Round Hill is a maze of sandbanks, and every possible place seemed to either be occupied by a boat, or far too shallow. Eventually we decided to throw anchor just off the demarcated channel, figuring it would be one of the deeper spots. Well, it wasn’t. As the tide drained out, we realised that we were going to be beached – not serious, as you can beach a cat, as long as the bottom is fairly flat. Anyway, it did look rather funny once the tide had drained out – the other boats were sitting nicely in the channels, and there we were, high and dry on a sandbank. It did provide an opportunity to clean the hulls pretty easily though.
We spent the day playing on the sandbanks of Seventeen Seventy, and exploring the waterways. We were intending to visit Agnes Water the next day, but changed plans as a window period of good weather arrived, making it possible to head out to Lady Musgrave Island – probably the highlight of our trip. This needs a blog post all of its own …