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Moreton Bay

We live in Brisbane, which is right next to Moreton Bay, on the eastern-most part of Australia. It's a part of the Pacific Ocean, or the Coral Sea if you're a tiresome pedant stickler for accuracy. The bay is protected by islands and is known to sailing dorks as a good place to sail. It's where Michelle and I did our keelboat lessons, out of the Manly Boat Harbour.

A photo of me pointing at "Moreton Bay" on a map. Here.

After a few leisurely river sails we thought we'd go out onto the bay for some more excitement. Our long-term goals are day trips over to islands in the bay. But first: paperwork.

Marine Assist

Volunteer Marine Rescue is an amazing institution. People who donate their time, effort and money to help make our waterways a safer place. If you get into a pickle they can send out a team to fish you out of the water and maybe tow your boat back to shore. They accept donations, but I figured it would be best to formalise the relationship by signing up for a marine assist service. This provides them a stream of income, $80 annually in our case, for our peace of mind. This also gives us access to their “Tripwatch” system where you can lodge a trip in their online system, with departure time and location, crew count, and expected duration without having to use the radio or ring them up. Seems worthwhile to me. They have a 24-hour cooling-off period between signing up and being able to use their system. This caveat paints a picture of someone hurriedly signing up on their smartphone as their yacht slips below the waterline.

I don't really have a feel for what constitutes a call-worthy mishap. I expect we'll know it when we see it. You don't need a policy for VMR to respond to your emergency, but relying on them for our safety without giving something in return feels… inconsiderate. Hopefully we'll never have to call them up.


Our boat cost AUD$1600. Insuring it would be silly. We'd be sad if it sank, but we wouldn't be in dire financial straits. Things would be more serious if we somehow managed to sink a boat in a marina worth three orders of magnitude more. Given that we wanted to sail out of the Manly Boat Harbour I organised some third party property insurance. Worse case – we somehow completely destroy another boat – we're covered up to ten million AUD. This costs us AUD$297 annually. Their system didn't seem set up to work with boats that don't have registration. Eventually we decided on using the sail markings to fill in that field in their database.

2024-01-10 Moreton Bay

The wind forecast was bumping around 10 knots, the boat was ready with our new mast step, and the family was keen to go out on the bay. When the ocean came into view we found it forested with sails. Looks like we picked a good day.

Our goals were to familiarise ourselves with the boat ramp, practice manoeuvring through the marina, and spend some time in the bay. A few days prior we'd been to look at the boat ramp just north of Pandanus Beach while the kids were at the splash park. It had a very steep ramp, and a narrow, treacherous-looking channel to get out to deeper water. We opted to launch from Manly Boat Harbour instead, as Michelle and I had sailed out of it before.

The wind was blowing directly into the mouth of the marina. Given the limited room to maneuver I figured it would be too difficult to sail upwind into the bay. I decided we'd paddle out of the marina before raising the sails. I rigged but didn't raise the mainsail and left the jib folded on the tramp. This turned out to be a dumb idea. Similarly there was bloke parked right at the top of the boat ramp waiting for a passenger before he launched. This was annoying, but we worked around him. This ramp was steeper than our usual, so we backed the trailer down with our Corolla and launched.

A photo of our boat on the trailer with only the mainsail half-raised.

We pushed off and started paddling. We did comically poorly. We made about three meters of headway thanks to the push-off, then canted sideways and drifted gracelessly back towards the dock. There were some VMR crew working on one of their boats next to the ramp who kept admirably straight faces and offered advice like “At least you're blowing back to the dock!”. We tried another paddle-launch but it quickly became apparent that the boat had too much windage for us to overcome with paddles. My second dumb decision for the day was to just raise the mainsail, and leave the jib down until we were out of the marina. This worked well enough to get us on our way, but there was very heavy weather helm that made for slow-going and poor manoeuvrability. Eventually we struggled out of the marina and out into the channel.

A screenshot of a chart with a drawn-on line showing our path out of the marina Artist's impression.

The wind had picked up to 12-15 knots while we'd been faffing about in the marina. There were the hints of whitecaps. I was trying to think of how I'd get the front bit (tack) of the jib tied off to the front of the boat while we were bucking around. Poor planning came to our rescue as we ran aground on a sandbar just north of the channel. We'd been warned about this sandbar during our keelboat lessons, but I was less concerned in the case of our beachable cat. I jumped in to the half-meter of water and rigged up the jib. Easy peasy! With all the sails up the boat became much more manageable. We did a few good runs back and forth between the sandbar and the channel, getting a feel for the stronger wind and choppier water.

We were having a hard time tacking. In retrospect I think this was down to my hurried jib rigging. Even with the jib-raising-rope (jib halyard) cleated as tight as possible, the leading edge (luff) of the jib was still floppy. We worked around this by doing some downwind gybe turns, which involve the boat and the boom travelling a greater distance during the turn. It was fun and a little bit scary. Scarier still was the prospect of getting back into the marina. I was eyeing a stream of expensive-looking yachts filling the channel as the day-sailors headed home. I was not looking forward to navigating into the channel and getting back to the marina.

Before too long Michelle lost her hat again. Fortunately we'd just had another encounter with the sandbar so I was able to wade over and pick it up. Michelle also hopped off the boat. Losing the weight of two adults was enough to float the boat again and start it merilly sailing itself back towards the channel with Alex and Sam onboard. There was some focussed panic as I splashed back to the boat. Luckily it was slowed by Michelle being dragged along behind. We got back onboard and I steered us back around onto the sandbar for a breather and to answer the call of nature.

During these events I became aware of a buzz in the air. I initially thought it was the wind through our rigging, but soon the kids were shouting “Look! A drone! A drone!”. I was engaged in another task at the time. After that concluded I gave the quadcopter a wave and we launched back towards the channel. I'm not sure who sent the drone out, but I would *dearly* love a copy of that footage. I'm sure it's hilarious. It would make a lot of sense for the coast guard/VMR to use drones to check on things close to shore before launching to help out.

It was around this point we noticed our mainsail had a problem. It has a boltrope sewn into the bottom edge (foot), and this is supposed to tuck into a slot in the boom. About half the foot of the mainsail had pulled out of this slot and the trailing corner (clew) was flapping in the breeze, only held on by the rope that pulls the foot of the mainsail tight (the outhaul). It seems there had been enough force on the sail at one point, probably during a gybe, to pop it out. I suspect this was caused by inexpert rigging. I had re-done the outhaul at some point to make it tighter, but neglected to loop it around the boom to tie the clew securely down to the boom. We'd been on the water for a couple hours by this point so we decided to call it a day.

We pointed back towards the channel and I searched the traffic for a spot to slip in. A sailboat downwind of another sailboat has right of way, and a sailboat has right of way over a motorboat, but you can never be certain of other boaters' knowledge of such things. It turned out to be straightforward. Everyone gave us a wide berth and we made it downwind all the way to the dock with only one gybe to keep us in the channel. We coasted up to the dock and got the boat back home without incident.

Our main lessons learned today: Never try to sail without both sails, make sure the clew of the mainsail is tied to the boom properly, and scan the skies before doing a wee in the ocean.

projects/sailing/blog/7_moreton_bay.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/01 04:04 by tjhowse