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Fraser Island (Part 7)
  |  First Published: May 2004



Boat fishing – Waddy Point

SECTION: Local

Facts

I KNOW I promised you all I’d write a feature on fishing the waters off the Eastern side of Fraser Island, but I’m going to postpone that until next month. In this issue I’m going to give you some valuable tips on boat and 4WD preparation for beach travel and launching.

Towing the boat up the beach and fishing the waters out of Fraser is really an adventure. While the trip up the beach can be a breeze in a 4WD, latch on two tonnes of boat and a heap of gear and it’s a whole new ballgame. Smaller boats of around 4.5-5m aren’t going to cause too many problems, but bigger boats will.

BEING PREPARED

First up, make sure you’ve got adequate clearance under the vehicle and the trailer. That soft sand will quickly drag you down on the southern end of the island, and also while you’re going around a few of the headlands and the odd back track.

I have an 80 Series petrol LandCruiser which has been modified with heavy-duty springs and shocks, giving an increase of 72mm. The slightly bigger tyres I’m currently using (285 x 75 Bridgestone A/T) increase it a little further. Overall, it’s only around four inches – but that really pays off when you load the vehicle up and drop the boat on the back. Instead of sagging right down and dragging the tail in the sand, a big load will only drop a few inches, which is still higher than the standard height of the vehicle.

If you have a spare tyre that hangs under the body of the car I recommend that you take it off. If you do get stuck in soft sand and start to bog down, this tyre ends up resting on the sand, which takes weight off the wheel and makes the situation worse.

Trailers also need to have as much clearance as possible. You can achieve this by running tyres with as large a diameter as is practical, and by not overloading the boat with too much gear, causing it to drag. I have three-tonne springs on my trailer to allow for some increase in weight, and the axle has also been placed on top of the springs. The support legs of the rollers have all been cut close to their support bracket so they don’t hang down and catch. These are all little things, but they do add up and make a difference.

When it comes to launching the boat in the surf gutter at Waddy Point, you’ll find that an extended drawbar is a real blessing. It adds another couple of metres to the length between the car and the boat trailer, so you can back the trailer farther into the water without drowning the car. You’ll still end up with water around the wheels though; it’s not like a boat ramp with a hard surface that backs down into deep water. I’ll discuss launching in more detail a little later on.

STICKY SITUATIONS

You should count on getting bogged somewhere along the track, so some beach recovery gear is a must. A snatch strap and an easily accessed shovel are essential, and a high-lift jack can come in handy. Remember that the jack will be resting on soft sand, so bring a decent block of wood to put under it.

I’ve yet to get the big boat along the sand track behind Indian Head without being snatched through, as the track’s surface is often deep, chopped-up sand. Getting stuck in soft sand with a boat behind puts a whole new meaning on trying to reverse.

We usually go up with a few boats so the second vehicle’s boat is unhooked first, and that vehicle is snatched strapped to the 4WD with the boat. That way, the chance of getting stuck is greatly reduced.

There’s another back-up that we carry and these have proved invaluable over many years of beach travelling, trips to the Cape and treks to the Kimberley. They are four feet lengths of heavy mesh. They are actually bottle crates which have been cut and folded flat. The steel wire on them is about 8mm so they are quite substantial.

One in front of each front wheel and in front of each rear wheel gives a firm base to climb up onto. Scoop the sand out a little in front of the wheel and shove the mesh under. You might move only the length of the mesh before you get stuck again, but at least you’re moving forward and out of trouble. I just stretchy strap two pieces of mesh on either side of the trailer. That way I can move really quickly if I need to get them off and under the vehicle in a hurry.

HITTING THE BEACH

When it comes time to hit the beach, you’ll need to be on the barge about an hour before low tide. That way you have good, hard sand to drive onto as you come off the barge and around that soft sand on the bottom end of the island. Definitely let the tyres down before you even drive onto the barge or you’ll get stuck.

Wait any more than about two hours after low tide and it’s unlikely that you’ll get around that bottom end of the island. The old mining track is an option, but it too has soft sand right at the start off the beach and a few messy patches before you get onto the pothole-riddled track. Best to hit the beach and get off to a good start.

Depending on beach conditions at the time, if you’re travelling around low tide you should be able to drive right up to Indian head without a problem. Low range, third gear is recommended for the soft track behind this headland. That way you’ll have a bit of speed and momentum as well as some quicker power.

Traversing the track up Middle Rock and around the back down to Waddy Point usually isn’t too bad, although there are a few soft patches that can be powdery if there has been no rain for a while, or if the track has recently had a lot of traffic.

Once you drive down onto the beach just North of Waddy Point, it’s an awesome feeling as you come over that last dune and spot the water. Mission accomplished! Time to set up camp and get that boat ready.

LAUNCHING

Launching into the gutter really is a team effort – you need someone in the boat, two to unhitch and guide it off, and one at the wheel over the car. Four is the perfect team for a big boat but you can do it with less.

The gutter at Waddy changes all the time; sometimes it’s shallow, sometimes it’s deep. Whatever the case, just be sure to drop the boat in water deep enough for the boat to float, and be aware that the surge of even a small wave can push the boat back onto the trailer – and not how you’d like it to.

Don’t let the 4WD sit in the one place for too long, as water washing around the wheels will soon see you start to sink. If there’s too much water and wash moving around the wheels, move back or forward a foot or so, so you stay on firmer sand. Just be sure to yell out and let everyone else know what you’re doing.

Launching is generally easier than retrieving. When the boat is back on the trailer you’ll be trying to pull it from a standing start, on soft ground, and uphill, so keep this in mind.

When traversing the gutter make sure everyone puts their lifejackets on. I know that the water isn’t that deep and it’s close to shore, but you can’t swim if you tip over and the boat knocks you out or you break a bone or two. It can happen!

Most of the time you’ll run along level with the beach before turning at the opening at the end of the gutter and out to open water. Have a good look at the waves before you run the gauntlet between swells. If you find that you haven’t quite judged it right and a wave is pushing you dangerously close to the shore, shallow water and more breaking waves, you’re better off turning to face into the wave.

If you run aground on the shore it’s hard to get out of trouble when you can do nothing but jump out and try and push the boat and this is where accidents start to happen.

If you have to turn and take on a wave, don’t take it so fast so that you become airborne. Tell everyone else in the boat to hang on and take the wave with reasonable power, not speed.

Out in the open water you can take those jackets off and let that bit of adrenalin finish pumping through before focusing on where you’re going to fish. It’s not a bad idea to mark a waypoint where you go in and out of the gutter, as this will make it much easier when it comes time to head back in. A few landmarks such as your car, camp and prominent land structures also come in handy when lining up to come back in.

Keep in mind, too, that at dead low tide you might not have enough water to come back in the gutter.

Next month: fishing the waters off the Eastern side of Fraser.

Facts

Ground rules for 4WD on Fraser Island

• All vehicles travelling to Fraser Island must have a permit from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. To find your nearest QPWS office call (07) 3227 7111 or visit www.epa.qld.gov.au.

• Before driving onto the beach, check that your wheel locks are in the right position to engage 4WD.

• Adjust your tyre pressure before driving on the island. Generally, tyres should be 25psi. Some areas on Fraser have signs recommending a tire pressure of 15psi for driving through soft, dry sand.

• The normal ‘keep to the left’ road rules apply, as well as using indicators for turning. Speed should be kept to below 80km/h on the beach and 35km/h on the inland roads.

• Some stretches of the beach are used as aircraft landing/take-off strips. Take note of the signs and watch for aircraft.

• Standard drink-driving rules apply. Police patrol the island and test drivers.

• Watch your speed. You can easily overturn your vehicle on a gutter, even a gutter that has small banks, if you’re travelling too fast.

• Beware the rising tide, as vehicles driven too close to the water can become trapped in wet sand. Drivers of hired vehicles lose their bond if they drive in saltwater.

• On ‘good’ beach days the sand is hard packed, but on bad days the tides may not have been high enough to wash away the ruts from the previous day’s traffic – resulting in a build-up of sand banks. When driving in deep banks of dry sand, keep the car in a low gear, don’t change gears, keep the revs high and don’t lose momentum.

• Where possible, follow someone else’s tracks. Choose a set of tracks and stay on them. Don’t stop the vehicle in soft sand or in creek beds.

• Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service produces a Park Guide to the Fraser Island World Heritage Area, with a section on sand driving safety. If you haven’t driven a 4WD before, the Kingfisher Bay Resort on the island has a ‘how-to’ course for its house guests.

For more useful information on visiting Fraser Island, visit Tourism Queensland’s website at www.qttc.com.au.

[CAPTIONS]

1) If you don’t hit the beach at around low tide you’re in for trouble before you even drive on the barge.

2) An extended drawbar makes a big difference when it comes to launching the boat in a surf gutter.

3) Even with an extended drawbar you don’t want to sit still in the wash for too long or you’ll end up like this.

4) On a good day it’s relatively easy to traverse the gutter, just stick to the green water.

5) Coming back in after a day out on the reef is easier if you’ve logged a couple of waypoints in and out of the gutter.

6) The surf lifesavers show how not to come off the front of a wave....

6a) [INSET] …or how to hit one.

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