Windchaser down the Fitzroy River, Central Qld

Windchaser down the Fitzroy River, Central Qld

Postby Troppo » Sat Aug 22, 2015 11:16 am

Being moored on the Fitzroy River in the Rockhampton reaches does have its challenges with going sailing. For the past few years as I slowly worked on Windchaser, I have made motoring forays down river. Every time I go down I explore new areas, either on a rising tide or going in first with my dinghy and depth sounder. The muddy river with its fast tidal flows and multitudes of mud and sand banks is notorious for groundings. Three months ago I did an exploratory trip over to Curtis Island in the mouth of the river. Took two days to get there. With that information, I was able to undertake a more relaxing week trip.

The distance from Rockhampton to Pacific Creek on Curtis Island is 36 nm. Having gone over to Curtis Island once, I had collected all the depth data I needed to utilise a dropping tide and make a faster journey.

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Rockhampton to Pacific Creek
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With a bit of planning to ensure I had enough water to get through about four places I could ground, I did the trip in one go. Started at 7 am and arrived at 2 pm. The last shallows, over the bar into the creek, I had a whole 60cm under the keel so I was doing well.

The forecast winds blew up during the week but I had prepared for that and simply spent most of my time exploring the beaches.

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Pacific Creek nice and calm.
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The mornings were cool, the days sunny and sandflies plentiful. Nighttime mosquito coils were essential. Huge amount of history in the area that is slowly being lost. Used to be a small town there back about 1860 when Rockhampton was a booming port and pilots lived at Seahill beside Pacific Creek to guide the ships up the notorious Fitzroy River. Still four houses left from that time, the lighthouse, and signs showing vacant areas that were once stables, school and graveyards.

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One of the beaches. Certainly shallow. Dangerous to walk out on the flats. I started to sink. Later heard about a guy who did. He survived.
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Had some frustrations with the winds due to Windchaser's love of sailing around at anchor. Especially bad when the wind and current are from different directions. The wind would gust enough for Windchaser to sail up her anchor rode, then the gust would stop and the current would drag her back. By this time she was likely to have done a circle and have the rope around her keel. I have a few different techniques I have developed for handling this problem. Unfortunately, none of them worked for all the times it was happening so I tried some new ones. Ended up with something that worked really well for me so was happy about that.

One time with wind-against-tide I trialed running the anchor rope around to the stern and attaching it to a bridle. Windchaser sat quietly with her bow pointing into the wind which was a fantastic improvement over doing circles and the rope getting caught around the keel. The problem was that Windchaser did move around a little, and the rope got caught around the stern ladder and with my depth sounder transducer on a pole over the stern, it could have been damaged. So, scrap that idea.

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Anchor rode tied off from stern. Sat nicely with wind-against-tide but won't do it again.
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One of the tricky things in a creek that is 80 metres wide is having enough scope with the anchor to hold fast but not swing into the trees. At high tide and 8 metres of water, a decent scope of 7:1 would give 56 metres of rope out, a swinging circle of over 100 m. At 5:1, the circle is 80 metres. The winds were changing so on one day at still water between tides, I was almost touching the northern bank, the next day or even later that day, I was almost touching the southern bank.

It's kind of like playing 'chicken'. I would be sitting in the cockpit having a cuppa and watching as the tide slowed and the wind blew. The wind would start swinging me over to the bank and I would watch the mangroves approaching. Do I pull in a few metres of anchor rode? Or do I leave it a bit longer? Will I ground close to the bank? Is the wind blowing hard enough that I might drag even a metre at this scope? Should I keep sipping my tea or get off my butt and do something? Having the depth sounder transducer over the stern was useful as it showed the rise of the bank while the keel was in slightly deeper water. Never ended up having any problems.

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Mangroves look a long way away but amazing how a breeze between tides can bring them up close.
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The trip home was in one go. Took 5 1/2 hours which I was exceedingly pleased about. At some points, the tidal flow was pushing me along at 8 knts. Motor was set to what is about 5 knts in calm water. By having done small trips first and collecting the information, I am now able to cover in one day what it was taking me two days to do previously. Certainly has paid to learn how to work with the conditions.

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Bit of chop
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Overall, the trip was thoroughly enjoyable even if my sails did not get much of a workout. Again I realised why I love my Top Hat. She is fantastic doing this sort of cruise, I could easily have stayed another two weeks without running out of water and other supplies. Nor would I have felt cramped.

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Location: Rockhampton

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