A cruising guide to Navigating the Great Sandy Strait West of Fraser Island. Part 1 Inskip Point to Elbow Point
Helpful ideas, local experience and inspiration for cruising dinghies and larger vessels heading up the West Coast of Fraser Island. Where to launch, navigation and anchorage tips.
The Great Sandy Strait is the body of water that separates Fraser Island from the Australian Mainland. Access to the Great Sandy Strait is made via The Wide Bay Bar from the South, or through Hervey Bay from the North. There are also numerous boat ramps on the Western side of the passage between Inskip Point in the South, and Hervey Bay to the North.
The Great Sandy Strait, is a sufficiently broad and open stretch of water to create the perfect playground for our adventures in Moonlight, or any small craft such as trailer sailers. Just keep an eye on the weather, and exercise sound judgement.
It measures about 33 Nautical miles (Nm) from North to South, starting at Inskip Point, near Rainbow Beach and extending all the way up to Hervey Bay. The Strait varies in width from 2 Nm at about the halfway mark, increasing to 8 Nm at its widest point in the North before opening onto Hervey Bay. The crossing from Inskip Point is approximately 1 Nm.
In places, the GSS is surprisingly deep, as much as 30 metres in the region of Inskip, which accounts for frequent landslips, often mistakenly called “sink-holes”, on the adjacent camping grounds at Inskip as the banks of the channel gives way under the relentless erosion caused by currents running at up to 3 knots. Larger vessels find their way into the Strait via the notorious Widebay bar, before making their way up to Hervey Bay in the cruising season which runs from April through to November.
Moonlight, a 12 ft Gunter rigged clinker dinghy built-in 1980.
Most of the way up the Strait, the channels are well marked and vary in depth between 7 and 9 meters, however, if you choose to go via the scenic routes, be prepared for 2 meters or less, in some places, especially around the middle sections where the tide retreats to both the North and South. Very low tides can make it impossible for vessels with a draft greater than 1 meter navigating the centre sections for short periods.
The bar is dynamic, and best navigated at high tide in moderate to low swells, using up to date way-points supplied by the TinCan Bay Coastguard.
There are several access points for trailer boats dotted along the Western shores of the passage. The boat ramps in the region of Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point are modern and easy to use regardless of tides. There is ample parking at Bullock Point, Carlo Bay and Tincan Bay at even the busiest times of the year. Bullock Point is the closest to the Strait, and it is simple to navigate safely from the ramp, out into the passage.
Once you are underway, there is just one sand island to make your way around off Pelican Point, just before you get into the channel that is covered at high tide but well marked. Inskip Point provided shelter from the prevailing South Easterly winds on the way towards the channel, however, the crossing itself is quite exposed and can cut up a bit when the tide is running against the wind. The area can also be impacted by swells coming across the bar in severe conditions.
There are a couple of vehicular ferries operating between Inskip and Fraser Island, and it is best to keep out of their way as they go about their business.
If you decide to use the Carlo Launching ramp, it is fine in most stages of the tide, but care needs to be taken navigating the narrow and winding channel that goes out into the Tincan Bay Inlet. Everything is well marked, but you need to be aware of the designated direction of the channel markers, which are set from North to south.
A copy of http://beacontobeacon.com.au/comes in very handy in this regard and I have found the https://www.navionics.com/aus/ Navionics app for my iPhone to be reliable and inexpensive for such a sophisticated tool.
Note: The links above are not affiliate links, they just show you where to get hold of some excellent products I use frequently and appreciate.
Beacon to Beacon is a tremendous tool showing you where all the markers are and what they mean. Navionics shows you exactly where you are on the page. Very helpful at night, as I discovered on a recent crossing from Garry’s Anchorage to Tuan, weaving between the islands and along the meandering channel into Tuan in the dark. It also made it safe when the fog descended in one of the broadest sections, without the aids, we would have had no idea where we were. The problem was not as big in the past, but these days, with motor cruisers at high speed on autohelm, it helped us to sneak along in the relative safety of the shoulders of the channel.
Fraser Island is a world heritage listed island, its vast forests are now protected for future generations.
Luxury Houseboats are available from both Tincan Bay and Carlo for those in need of a boat, having travelled to the region from further afield. The Great Sandy Strait is a perfect location for even those with little experience of boating.
Tincan Bay ramp itself is a state-of-the-art launching facility with abundant parking, and it has the advantage of possibly being a bit more secure, being closer to a population centre. If you are planning to launch from locations further North, tides begin to come into the equation, as the small towns of Tinnanbar, Tuan and Maroom are mostly on small creeks and inlets. They all have extensive tidal flats, with narrow winding channels occasionally shoaling when the tide is fully out, before extending out into the Strait. Tinnanbar is a good old fashioned boat ramp probably best suited to launching smaller tinny’s, while Tuan boasts a modern ramp with a small but ample car park, as does Maroom, however larger boats will need to be aware of the tides. Once out into the Strait itself you are in water that ranges from 20 – 30 metres deep in the Southern section.
The Strait offers plenty of sheltered water and is suitable for most trailer boats provided you keep an eye on the weather.
Pelican Bay is passed on your left providing excellent sheltered anchorage, often taken advantage of by larger keel yachts, motor cruisers and catamarans timing they’re run out through the bar on their way South. Most of the anchorages on the West of Fraser Island provide excellent shelter from the prevailing South Easterlies but don’t offer much help when the wind is coming from the North or the West unless you have a shallow enough draft to poke your nose into one of the mangrove-lined creeks.
Elbow point is the first anchorage you will encounter, with a very pleasant camping area away from the mangroves.
There are no rubbish facilities or toilets, and you need to bring your own water. Dingoes frequent all of the West Coast of Fraser, and being opportunists they will make fast work of any food they can get at. I have heard stories of dingoes jumping into unattended boats left anchored on the shoreline. Elbow point can be slightly affected by swells coming over the bar and wrapping around the South West of Fraser, making for a bit of rocking and rolling if anchoring over-night.
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