Backstairs Passage to Adelaide, South Australia

backstairs_route between mainland and kangaroo  

Despite being seasick, we made good time with the southeast winds. Cups doesn't get sick, only the crew. We hoped to arrive at the Backstairs Passage, the narrow channel between Kangaroo Island and mainland Australia, in time for the flood tide. We only missed it by a few hours.




There were no ports to duck into to wait. Our options were to heave-to and wait 11 hours until the tide changed and arrive in Adelaide a day later than planned or brave the passage during the middle of the night on an ebb tide. A small dragon raised his head and breathed a little fire and smoke. Looking at the electronic charts, large breakers and a tide race showed up prominently. This could be a rough transit with 30 knot winds and big waves against a strong current. We reasoned, however, that the pass was wider than it originally looked (nearly 6 miles wide) and the tides were small this time of month. Also, we would be transiting at the beginning of the ebb tide when the current would not be at its strongest.

Despite the concerns, knowing I needed to get home, we were hell-bent to get to Adelaide as soon as possible. We decided to go for it. The timing was terrible. Not only would we be going through the passage at the wrong time, it would be on MY watch. Midnight came and I clambered up to the cockpit, tired and all bundled up in foul weather gear, watch cap and gloves. We weren't sleeping on off-watches because of the boat movement, but it was warm under the blankets below and definitely better than sitting topside. David made it clear to wake him if I wanted/needed him there with me when we entered the passage.


backstairs_breakers and tide rips


The anticipation heightened as I watched our progress closer and closer to the passage entrance. The half moon, previously occluded by clouds, now shone brightly and lit a path on the water in front of us. I kept expecting to see a 20' standing wave barring our way. The wind calmed down, as did the waves. I spotted a flashing light on our portside and counted its flashes to confirm it was the Cape Willoughby Light and then the St. Albans Cape Light came into view. The South Page Light flashed every 10 seconds to starboard. We were right where we needed to be.

I peered at the water before us, no big standing waves loomed. In fact, it looked fairly calm. We were gliding through at 6 knots. No roiling waters, no sea monsters. Though drama makes for better stories, I'm sorry (and relieved) to report, there was no drama at all. I woke David at 0300 for his usual watch. We were through the passage without incident.

The day dawned bright and beautiful as we headed north up the Gulf Saint Vincent towards Adelaide. We were berthed by 2pm. Despite yesterday's egg disaster, Neptune really was looking out for us.

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