Words by Noob Spearo’s Isaac ‘Shrek’ Daly.
Bill Corten is a local South East Queensland boating legend that’s seen more than his fair share of boating mishaps as part of maritime safety in Queensland. Bill, once a spearo himself, has been running coastal bar crossing courses in South East Queensland for many years on board his Cruise craft, Reel Affair. We recently spoke with Bill about coastal Bar crossings and what you need to know about staying safe when crossing a coastal bar.
Bill says that a common cause of problems is leaving your boat in the sun and poor maintenance. It may be months between a boat being used and the steering can gum up, electrical systems can become corroded or the bilge pump may become faulty. Having any of these systems failing on a bar crossing can be fatal.
- Do your home work
According to Bill it’s better to cross the bar when the conditions best suit the bar and not when it best suits you. The interaction between swell size, direction of swell, wind, and tide determine the suitability of a bar crossing. Bill recommends doing some homework and leaving when the conditions are at their best. It might mean you have to get out of bed earlier but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Crossing the sandbar at the Currumbin Alley creek mouth can be a real challenge.
- Crossing the bar
Study the swell from inside the bar and wait for a lull. Trim the motor down to minimise lift when going up and over the wave. Head for the shoulder of the wave and not the peak.
Throttle onto the wave and back off at the crest to land gently on the other side. Once you've landed, put the throttle back on and race to the next wave and repeat.
If a swell is big and steep, then approach from straight on. If it’s rounded, approaching at a subtle angle of 10-15 degrees works well as it allows you to approach the wave a lot faster and gives a softer landing.
- Stay calm
Don’t lose your nerve and bail out in the face of a wave. The speed of a swell and the time it takes to turn a boat around makes it highly likely that the wave will catch you side on and tip the boat. Bill says it’s best to stand by your call and hold on than it is to risk turning midway through the bar.
- Returning through the bar
Mark the best route on the way out (the deepest and calmest) with way points so you can find it for the return journey. Look for some physical features you can line up on the way out should your GPS die.
Choose a big wave in the set and motor high onto the back of it. If the bar is shallow this will keep water under the transom and stop you from bottoming out.