The extensive waterways which make up the Coffin Bay complex offer many good anchorages to the cruising yacht. However, the area is not without problems and a measure of caution is called for. The problems are caused by the shallowness of much of the water, the strong tides and the frequent strong winds. To assist in meeting these difficulties the navigational beacons in the channels have been upgraded and by proper use of these aids it is possible to enter the bay and proceed to the town of Coffin Bay with minimal risk. Vessels with a draught of under two metres may safely do this at most states of the tide but care should be taken and it should be remembered that the wind may sometimes cause the tide to fall below normal levels. Indeed, the effect of the wind is so great as to make the tides in Coffin Bay close to unpredictable. For example, in 1992 the wind forced the tide so high that it covered the yacht club jetty to a depth of nearly one metre. According to the Australian Pilot, the flood and ebb tidal streams at the entrance change one hour after low and high water at Coffin Bay respectively.
A plan of the area will be found on chart AUS 121. The inward passage begins at the white light at the entrance. This must be left to starboard. The area around the first two beacons is actually the shallowest in the passage, with soundings of as little as 1.5 metres at Indian Springs Low Water. The channel gradually widens and deepens after the first red beacon. The beacons have been so placed that they mark the edge of the shallow water and they should be passed at a distance of around 40 metres. Take particular care when passing the three consecutive green beacons near the entrance, as these are very close to a large sandbar. At this point the outgoing tide tends to push the vessel sideways onto the bar, which dries at low tide. Further in, there is a greater margin for error, but this should not be an excuse for reduced vigilance. The total distance from the entrance to the mooring area at the town is about 13 miles. If difficulty is found in finding the beacons in daylight it may be necessary to plot the bearings between the more widely separated ones and to steer by compass until the next beacon is identified.
A small yacht with a small auxiliary engine will experience problems in entering if there is much outgoing tide or a strong head wind. If the two are combined the task may prove almost impossible. The speed of the tidal stream varies widely, depending on the configuration of the bottom, but must average one knot at least, with stronger current in certain places, notably at the entrance and the Horn. Port Douglas is very exposed and in a strong wind a violent short chop will develop, greatly slowing a short, low powered yacht.
If conditions are unfavourable for entering it may be possible to wait at Farm Beach. In the common summer southeasterlies good anchorage may be found in the lee of the sandhills at the southern end of the beach and to the east of the sandbar which extends into the bay from the western end of the beach. To leave this anchorage it will be necessary to proceed to the entrance beacon, taking care to avoid the sandbar.
If entering at night, it is probably best to anchor under the lee of the sandhills in Port Douglas and await daylight. On arriving at the town it will be found that space is limited and it is advisable to obtain the use of a mooring from one of the local boat owners.
|Yachts moored near the town jetty. The channel runs between the yachts and the power boats in the distance. A shoal lies between the channel and the power boats.|
Coffin Bay can supply most foods from its two stores and a butcher's shop. Other shops include a hairdresser and a pizza shop. Yacht parts and other equipment are obtainable from Boat Supplies of Port Lincoln, as one of the staff lives in Coffin Bay. Liquor is obtainable from the hotel/motel or from the general store near the yacht club. The Coffin Bay Yacht Club is open on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday evenings during the sailing season.
|Coffin Bay jetty, seen just before low tide. The seaweed marks the normal high tide but in 1992 the tide covered the grassy area and the lower jetty. The slipway is immediately east of the jetty.|
In southwest to southeast winds anchorage may be obtained in the small bay at Point Sir Isaac. The holding is good in a sandy bottom, but if there is much of a swell outside, the bay becomes uneasy. The place is known locally as Seasick Bay.