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Australia – Why not Australia?

How about a year or two cruising the east coast of Australia?
It is now not such a far-fetched idea as it was a few years ago.

Captain’s Log by Captain Joe Russell

I FIRST VISITED North Queensland, or to be more precise, Cairns, during my first round-the-world cruise in 1986 and enjoyed every day of the five or so weeks we stayed there. Not only was it a fun place but also a very practical place for routine maintenance work done on board a 45 metre yacht. That was over 25 years ago. During four subsequent visits to the coast, I have seen the infrastructure increase in leaps and bounds and it is now as good as Europe. But more on that later!

There is almost 2000 miles of the east coast offering a great variety of un-spoilt cruising areas, ranging in climate from tropical to temperate. Choosing the time of year for cruising an area can ensure that one gets Mediterranean weather all the year round, greatly extending the time of use and enjoyment of the yacht. Winter in the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef ensures clear skies, average 25ºC and summer in Sydney is much the same, giving year round cruising in conditions that only exist in the summer in the Mediterranean. Enough has been said and written about the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef to not require further expansion here, but suffice for me to say that after many hundreds of days cruising the area over the years, I am still in awe of the reef and island cruising, deserted beaches and secluded anchorages.

South from the Great Barrier Reef there is a variety of safe cruising grounds, reasonable distances apart, stretching the full length of the coast. Choices vary from deep inlets, like Broken Bay just north of Sydney, to wide estuarial layouts such as Port Stephens and Port Macquarie, and natural harbours such as Coffs Harbour and Jervis Bay, not forgetting one of the world’s most beautiful natural harbours, Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). Of course, the entrances to some of the estuaries are not for the feint hearted in strong onshore weather. Some estuaries require several days exploring the wild life and complex waterways to get full enjoyment of these nature playgrounds.

So why not continue past the Caribbean after the winter cruise? If you can reach the Caribbean, you can reach Australia! If not on your own keel, then with Dockwise who now have regular voyages to the east coast, dropping off and picking up in the USA and Pacific Islands. This means that a whole new world of cruising grounds can be accessed on route; quite a big difference since my first trip when we had to strap 40 x 200 litre drums of extra fuel on deck to make the big jump from the Marquesas to the Galapagos Islands.
So we know why we want to go and how to get there, but what facilities and services are there for us when we arrive? In the 1980’s, facilities existed that were copying those in Europe and USA and offering just adequate services. In thirty years the yachting world has moved on and Australia has caught up and is running neck and neck, poised to take over the lead any day now!

Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city has its own superyacht marina in the heart of that city called Docklands Superyacht Marina, built for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Just a short overnight’s cruise from there is the beautiful island of Tasmania which boasts some of the most picturesque cruising grounds found in a temperate climate.

Further north, in Sydney, the Rozelle Bay Superyacht Marina, constructed just in time and specifically for the 2000 Olympics, is a well laid out facility just off the city centre showing good forethought in anticipating the needs of the industry by a government. Recently sold to a private sector group, the marina is currently being redeveloped into an even greater facility. Major repairs are well catered for by a large new purpose built yard for superyachts, Sydney City Marine, in Rozelle Bay; managed and run by people well experienced in yachting. It has an 800 ton ship lift and a paint shed specifically designed for superyachts up to 55 metres and operated by Superyacht Solutions.

An awesome site for superyacht berthing in the heart of Sydney is Campbells Cove in Circular Quay, adjacent to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and right outside the 5-Star Park Hyatt Hotel. This is definitely now one of the most prestigious positions in the world in which to moor a superyacht, especially for the city’s famous New Years Eve celebrations.

Further north on the Queensland / NSW state border is Surfer’s Paradise / The Gold Coast.

While the Gold Coast is a brash, flashy holiday area, there are some excellent facilities for repairs and servicing in the area. The Marina Oceanus and the Southport Yacht Club are expanding their superyacht facilities, and with the Gold Coast City Marina and Sanctuary Cove up the Coomera River, a full infrastructure exists that makes this a modern superyacht haven. New marina developments have been completed and thus enhance the previously limited facilities around Brisbane. These include the Rivergate shipyard and marina, the Brisbane Marine Industry Park and Brisbane Slipways all located on a stretch of the southern shore of the Brisbane River south of the airport.

Marina and repair facilities for large yachts are available at a few strategic locations on the Queensland coast inside the Great Barrier Reef, Mackay and Cairns being the major players. Hamilton Island at the heart of the Whitsundays, probably the best island group in the Great Barrier Reef region, has recently deepened the marina and can take well over four metres draft, (but) is still only 100 metres from it’s own jet airport capable of handling very large executive jets and regular airline flights from Sydney and Brisbane. Mackay has recently opened a deep water marina capable of berthing 60 metre plus superyachts together with the planned expansion of existing repair facilities. New marinas are also at nearby Airlie Beach.

Cairns is possibly the icing on the cake as far as access, weather, cruising, marina services and repair facilities are concerned on the East Coast. There is nothing for which a large yacht could want if they based their Australian tour in Cairns. Marlin Marina is a large modern marina with amenities as good as the best in Europe and USA; very secure, deep water, 80 metre alongside berths a five minute walk into the centre of town and 15 minutes to the Cairns International Airport. All manner of repairs can be done to the most demanding standards by Cairns Slipways, where they can handle 80 metres with ease.
The above is a very brief idea of what cruising on the East Coast in Australia can offer.

Superyachts venturing out here would be well advised to consider visiting the other excellent cruising areas found in the country as well, such as Darwin, in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley Coast in Western Australia. Further excellent refit and repair facilities can be found in Fremantle, the port city of Perth, home to the former Oceanfast shipyard and now base of Austal Ships and other superyacht enterprises that ensure that this remains a vibrant hub of superyacht construction and maintenance expertise.

So why not come on down? I visited Cairns and Australia once too often to forget the place; and I’m now staying!

Joe Russell is now a resident on the east coast of Australia and is available to answer your questions and help plan your cruise or refit. Tel: (Aust) + 61 419 608 382; E-mail joe@therussellsofoz.com