Time was getting short … we wanted to be back in Mooloolaba for my mom’s 70th, so we needed to leave Lady Musgrave after our wonderful time there. It was actually a bit tricky to get weather updates and choose the right time to leave, as we battled to get consistent internet connection. We tried hoisting the Wifi up the mast, which sometimes gave us a brief glimpse of BOM-weather. There appeared to be no perfect weather window, but the best we could see was leaving on a south-easter, and hoping that the predicted north-easter would arrive a couple hours later, and blow us all the way to Noosa (about 18 hours later).
Marco was keen to sail through the night, on the outside of Fraser Island. The kids and I had never done a night sail, so he thought it would be a good experience and learning curve for us.
So we set off, into a hard south-easter, and pretty big swells. It was like a rollercoaster! We hadn’t really beaten into the weather to this extent before, and I can see why people choose to go with the weather! The boys loved it – they each sat on their newly-built seats (with lifejackets and lifelines on), riding each wave like they were trying to tame a wild horse! I sat at the helm watching the horizon, so as not to feel queasy. Lucky that I did, because we were heading straight for a humpback whale and her calf, and I was able to slow down and steer around them before watching them dive down. What a beautiful sight.
The south-easter blew relentlessly for the whole day – not 2 hours, as predicted by BOM-weather. It was a rough and uncomfortable trip until we reached the top of Fraser Island in the early evening, when the wind started dying down. We had to cross a couple of shipping lanes, and used our AIS (Automatic Identification System) to identify and track one huge cargo ship that was on a parallel course to us.
The evening sail was beautiful – or so Marco tells me. I felt queasy, which made me feel really tired and grumpy … so I wasn’t really interested in looking at the stars and enjoying the clear night sky and gentle breeze. I did try and wake up at intervals, to check on the radar, write down our co-ordinates and do a 360 degree scan of the horizon, but must admit that Marco basically solo-sailed through the night.
We passed 2 notable ships – the first was a big cargo ship, all lit up like a mini-city, which was luckily quite far from us and travelling in the opposite direction. The other was a rogue unknown vessel that was almost on a collision course with us. It had no navigation lights, just one white light – which is very strange (and illegal). We passed each other within about 200m, which is pretty close for a big wide open sea, and a bit scary in the middle of the night when it’s hard to judge distance. Our radar was really helpful though!
We discovered 2 stowaways on board – a “brown booby” flew around our mast for a while before landing on the port bow, tucked its head backwards under its feathers, and went to sleep for the night. An hour or so later we noticed another one on the starboard side, and it also hitched a ride until dawn. They traveled down the whole coast of Fraser Island with us – I presume they knew how to get back!
During the night a strong north-easterly wind picked up and we made good speed, arriving at Noosa ahead of time – before lunchtime the next day. A south-easter was predicted in the afternoon, and we wanted to anchor there for the night. However, the north-easter had blown big rolling swells into the bay, and the anchorage was horrible. We had to make a decision – either wait it out, in the hope that the south-easter would arrive and clean the bay up, or head back to Mooloolaba and hope the south-easter would stay away long enough for us to make it without beating into weather (again).
We chose the latter – I really wasn’t keen to bob around in messy seas and feel queasy all over again. We had to put up a lot of sail, had the genoa out in front and made great progress – about 8-9 knots. Unfortunately BOM-weather turned out to be accurate this time, and the north-easter swung round to a strong south-easter when we were about half way to Mooloolaba. The last 2 hours of our trip turned out to be the roughest of our whole 4 weeks at sea – churned up swells, a 30-knot headwind, and a patches of rain. Marco put out the jib, and floored the engines. It was a race against the clock – the longer it took us, the bigger the swells would get, the stronger the wind would get, and the more unpleasant the sail. We had to alter course twice and head right out to sea in order to get passed Mudjimba Island. This was not the time for the engines to fail! The starboard engine appeared a little strained to me – I noticed more smoke than usual, and the fumes were more potent … I just stood by her and stroked the engine compartment cover saying “come on old girl, just a little further” …
After a tense hour or two, we made it to the Mooloolah river entrance. We were a little worried about waves that could be breaking over the bar, but the entrance is mostly protected in a south-easter so was actually pretty calm. My mom was there to welcome us at the river mouth, and took a video of us entering the bar. It looks very calm and peaceful – nothing like the conditions further out beyond the headland!
It was wonderful to be back in Mooloolaba, and be welcomed by my mom and our “neighbours” Ron and Toni from the marina. What an adventure we’d just been on. Some rough, stressful times, and some amazing times. Overall, a real learning curve and something we’ll never forget. And what did we all feel like doing that evening … getting Thai food with fresh crispy vegetables … and then falling into bed, safely tucked up in a nice calm marina!