The Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef are a great lure for dreamers. Who hasn’t dreamed about the warm blue waters and beautiful white sands especially during Southern winters? Let’s buy a little boat and cruise up there next winter! And quite a few people do give it a go.
We lived in Bundaberg in the late sixties when there was an upsurge in interest in small trimarans, and Bundaberg was a convenient stopover stop for supplies and a rest, so we saw many boats on the way up the coast call in. But not quite so many on the way back, as the sail up the coast during the winter is relatively easy with mostly moderate South-East winds to help you on the way, but in the spring when it is time to return, the weather is not nearly as kind, as the westerly gales and the stronger southerlies at that time of the year make for hard going.
The owners of the trimaran “Petria” had a bad time coming back from the Whitsundays. They made it with difficulty as far as Bundaberg. They had been arguing and were sick of it all, so they stopped at the Burnett boat harbour, put the boat up for sale, and went home.
One day at work I received a phone call from a young man in Brisbane who stated that he had just bought “Petria” and would like the boat sailed back to Brisbane, and would I go and take a look over the boat to make sure it was seaworthy, and maybe take it back for him, or find someone who could. I went and had a look over the boat. It was a neat enough little boat, about 10 meters long and some six meters beam. It had a 40 HP outboard mounted on the centre hull; the spars and sails were in fair condition, and I considered it seaworthy enough for the trip.
Strange though, buying a boat sight unseen. It must have been cheap.
August is in the middle of the busy season in Bundaberg with the cane cutting season under way, and we could not find anyone willing to deliver the boat to Brisbane, except for a member of the Life Saving Club who would go half way if we took the boat. The new owner was keen to get hold of the boat, and you certainly can’t put a trimaran with a six meter beam on the back of a truck. It was finally agreed that we would sail the boat down to Urangan that weekend, and the new owner would take it from there on the following weekend.
Our son had been born just six weeks previously and we decided that the sail to Urangan would be a good introduction to sailing for him, so we fixed two hooks to the cabin roof, and he swung away quite happily in his bassinet on the way down. It was a pleasant overnight sail although it blew a bit and the strip planked cabin roof let squirts of spray in, but no problems. I can’t say that the very jerky action of a multihull is as comfortable as the slower action of a monohull, but it was a change to be sailing upright in a fresh breeze. We reached the Marina mid morning, organised a berth, and left the boat for the owner to continue the trip on the following weekend.
We were busy, and thought no more of “Petria” until the phone rang late on the following Saturday night. We received a second hand message from a passenger of a Coloured Sands Tour Bus to say that Petria was up on the beach in trouble on the Teewah stretch of the coloured sands, and could we come down and help them.
Early Sunday morning with our baby in the car we made the two hour trip down to Noosa Heads, and booked seats on the day’s first coloured sands tour. The driver agreed to let us off where “Petria” was stranded, and was fast becoming a tourist attraction. The bus would pick us up an hour later on its return trip. I was surprised when I first saw the boat. It was a long way up the beach, and as luck would have it she came up on the highest tide of the month, and, just as bad, had landed on a patch where a fresh water spring flowed out of the beach, and the sand was very soft, like quick sand.
The two pleasant young men in the boat didn’t seem too worried about their situation, and their story went like this:
They had arrived at Urangan on the Friday night, looked over their boat, slept on board, and left early Saturday morning motoring south on the inside of Fraser Island through the Great Sandy Straight. They cleared Hook Point at the southern end just as a full moon was rising. The Pacific Ocean was quite calm, but an Easterly breeze was starting to freshen, and having no sailing experience they decided to stay with the outboard motor even though they would have had perfect reaching conditions.
All went well and they followed the coastline about a mile out sea, they could see the shore line in the moon light, so navigation was no trouble. The night slipped by and at sunrise the next morning, they could see the coloured sands and in the distance, the hills behind Noosa,
And then the motor stopped !!! Not realising the amount of fuel an outboard will use, their 15 gallons was used up. But no worry, they would sail the rest of the way - there was a nice easterly breeze. All they had to do was pull the sails up and sail on.
It was here that it all went wrong. They had no sailing experience, but had read a book, and it all sounded easy enough. First raise the mainsail, but it wouldn’t go up because the sail slides jammed, and the boat wasn’t into the wind. But never mind, we will put the headsail up, that will do first.
It was here that the boat took over. With no one at the helm the boat just headed for the beach, and instead of getting the boat under control first, they persisted in trying to raise the mainsail, which was impossible to raise now with the boat square off the wind. The beach off the coloured sands is shallow a long way out, but today at near full tide it was deep enough for a trimaran to sail right in to where the four wheel drives would normally travel. And here Petria sat. If it was advice that the owners wanted, they didn’t seem too interested, they were enjoying the attention they were getting from the beach traffic, and their main concern was to get their battery charged to watch TV on that night. The boat was already sinking into its own little puddle, and with the tides falling for the next two weeks, their situation didn’t look too bright.
My advice was to get a tractor up from Noosa, drag the bow around and at low tide, have the boat pulled as far out to sea as possible, walk an anchor out for the next high tide, and with new fuel, get out of there as fast as possible.
The "Cherry Venture" suffered the same fate as "Petria", but she is still there today.
But no, they were not worried. They decided to leave it until tomorrow and do something about it then.
That was their second bad decision! We went home frustrated with their lack of action only to hear several days later that an attempt had been made to free them with a front end loader, but as fast as the machine dug away the sand Petria just sank lower into the bog. Finally two machines were called in and tried to lift the boat out, but one of the spars connecting to the main hull broke and the outer hulls had to be cut off, and the whole lot trucked away.
Do you remember the “Cherry Venture”? She came up on the same stretch of beach just three years later, and despite salvage efforts remains there to this day.