Aground!

It is actually about 52 nautical miles from Bundaberg to Lady Musgrave Island, so when we left the marina it was 4 a.m. and quite cold at 11 degrees.  The wind was fair however and pushed us most of the way at a gentle 11 knots until it faded away in the afternoon causing us to start the engine and push on.  Main Event, the “Lady Musgrave Experience” tour boat based in Bundaberg passed by with a cheery honk of its horn at around 9.  When we got to the lagoon entrance on the north edge of the coral reef the tide was coming out, along with Main Event, which was now heading back to town.  When you’re fast you get places quicker!  Since the water level in the lagoon had fallen with the tide and was below the rim of the coral all the outgoing water was exiting via the man-made channel and the current was spectacular.  At 2000 rpm we just crept inside, but we did so safely and found a place to anchor among the widely spaced pleasure boats in the spacious lagoon.

During our trip up from Bundaberg, I had been discouraged to see Prince Diamond‘s stern light had been dim and before the sun had risen the light had faded out.  Bad connection somewhere.  It took me a long time to finally find the problem in a Wago cage clamp terminal block behind the electrical panel.  I’m like the blind leading myself when it comes to the Wago system of connecting wires, but somehow located the unexpected corrosion of the Wago’s terminals.  During this search we also had time to have a walk on the island, which has a lovely walking path and campground.  Carol found the water to be not too cold and snorkeled around the coral.  She was able to swim with a medium sized turtle which was the highlight of her swim!

When evening fell the crew of Scarlett, a nearby catamaran, invited us, and the occupants of the other nearby boats over for sundowners.  We were there for quite a few hours enjoying the company of Greg, Liz, Richard and a fellow Canadian, Carina among others.  I may not have the names correct, my apologies!  Corrections eagerly accepted!

After 2 nights at the atoll in which the weather was unexpectedly warm, sunny and light of wind, we departed Lady Musgrave for the mainland.  As we came out of the lagoon pass I saw what I assumed to be a tree floating on the water, and I steered carefully around it.  When Carol came topsides she immediately identified it as a sleeping whale!  Sure enough!  We did the right thing and left the fellow to his slumbers as we started off motoring west.  During the crossing we slowed at one point in confusion as it appeared we were approaching a reef.  It turned out to be vast areas of discoloured water, yellow with what appeared to be floating pollen.

Our next night’s anchorage was going to be Pancake Creek, a shallow bit of water to be entered only on a high tide, but when we heard some discussion on Scarlett about the number of permanently moored boats there and the lack of any good space in which to avoid ending up on a sand bank on a falling tide, we decided to look elsewhere.  The number of anchorages in the Rodd Peninsula area are few and we ended up deciding between a couple of anchorages up a tongue of water behind the peninsula.

We were approaching the mouth of Rodds Harbour and Seven Mile Creek in 4 and a half metres of water when we slammed into a river bar not on our charts.  We hit so suddenly the depth sounder didn’t react until after the strike, showing 1.6 metres of water.  Not enough.  There was an on shore breeze of 12 knots and small waves which immediately swung the boat broadside.  The autopilot was still active and the wheel went to full left turn trying to keep us on course, making me think the rudder was reacting to the sand.  Not until the autopilot alarmed “off course starboard” did I understand what was happening and put it to standby.  I had tried to give immediate reverse to the engine to slide us off backwards. but we were going sideways only and were now about 6 metres farther onto the bank of sand.

But the bow could be turned a bit by rudder and I held full forward throttle and tried to get the bow back into the direction we had come so I could use the full power of the propeller to get back into deeper water.  A couple of small power boats flew by gaily waving, not understanding what we were doing out here oddly teetering on our keel.  Now and then the keel would bump heavily on the bottom, a welcome motion as it meant each time we came off the sand for a second we could move in the right direction.  Suddenly, after about 20 minutes the boat had 2.5 metres under him and we were safely off.  This had been a falling tide, a bad situation in which any delay meant a worsening situation.

Now, shaken, we had to decide what to do.  I could see the faint impression of a sand bar stretching much of the way across the mouth of the harbour.  With this on shore wind and falling tide there was no way we were going to poke along the bar and try to see if it was deeper farther to the west.  We were outta there!  But where to go?

In the end we decided quite quickly to make the 20 mile run into the town of Gladstone and stay in the marina there.  We wouldn’t get there before dark, but what else could be done?  With the help of Gladstone’s Port Control we were able to make contact with the marina and they put aside a slip for us.  We advanced the throttle and flew toward Gladstone in sheets of salty spray.  We arrived about an hour after sundown.

We had been planning to go up The Narrows behind Curtis Island, a unique experience in that the channel actually crosses a cattle path taking stock to and from Curtis Island from the mainland.  This can happen because the tides in this area are around the size of 4 metres, and at high tide the channel for boats can be as much as 2 and a half metres deep, while at low tide the area is astoundingly 2 metres, or 6 feet out of the water!  I really wanted to experience motoring Prince Diamond over a cattle path!  But in doing the math we have come to a sober realization.  There is VERY little safety margin with the moon well on its way from full and now almost at three quarters.  The tidal range is lessening and when the figures are calculated we would have at most 4 or 5 inches below our keel.  Any mistake would have drastic consequences.  Going aground here is not a matter of waiting a few hours for the rising tide to make things better, as was my occasional experience on the ICW.  Here the boat if stuck, would be stuck in a world of horror, the water easing away slowly and completely until Prince Diamond was laying on her side on the grass.  Would the hull be strong enough to take the strain?  When the boat was lying so, would the water flood in leaky portlights or come through the companionway?  Salt water would destroy the electrics and our personal belongings, and the Prince would be unable to pump any of it out until he righted.  The obvious point is the risk is too great for the little reward.  We will not transit The Narrows, but will instead sneak out of Gladstone by the North Channel and gain the deeper water of the Curtis Channel outside the island.

The Cattle Crossing

The Cattle Crossing

It is not just that we’ve been unnerved by the grounding off Rodds Harbour bar.  We’ve been grounded before.  I’ve run aground at least a dozen times in the ICW.  It’s just too dangerous.  As the Godfather might say, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

One Comment on “Aground!

Please Leave a Reply!