Travelling north on Premier Cru - Keith Stronach

Keith Stronach will be taking Premier Cru, his Beneteau Oceanis 48, on her fourth trip north this year. He’ll start his journey in Port Stephens and arrive at Airlie Beach in time for Hamilton Island Race Week.

We talked to Keith about his experiences sailing Australia’s east coast and asked him to share his top tips for sailors gearing up for their first journey north.

Premier Cru

Premier Cru

Keith has been a keen sailor all his life. As a boy, he sailed on Lake Macquarie in the little boat his dad built in the garage. As he grew older and gained more experience he graduated to larger yachts and is now the proud owner of Premier Cru.

Keith says buying Premier Cru, named in honor of the boat’s French heritage and her owner’s love of fine wine, is “One of the best things I ever did … I’ve loved it ever since.”

Flagstaff Marine introduced Keith to the Oceanis 48 at the Sydney International Boat Show back in 2014. Keith loved the yacht’s features, great layout, and competitive price point. Six short months later he took his first trip up to Hammo – now an annual pilgrimage north with family and friends, that’s fast becoming a tradition.

First trip north

First trip north

Keith’s first trip north took three weeks with plenty of stops along the way. His daughter, Emma, joined him for the whole trip with one or two mates accompanying them on each leg. They chose to take their time so they could fully appreciate the experience and soak up the beautiful surroundings.

Keith is not a keen night sailor so he plans his trips carefully around day sailing, stopping overnight at either a marina or a protected bay. On this trip they only did two overnight sails, to avoid hazards like sandbars in areas where Keith felt he did not know the waters well enough.

Daylight Sailing

Daylight Sailing

Keith’s daylight sailing schedule gives him plenty of time to enjoy the journey. He and his crew take time to do some fishing and take in the odd sunrise. They simply enjoy being out on the magnificent waters.

Keith likes to make sure everyone eats well. He overnights at marinas with great restaurants close by. The Yamba pub is one of his top recommendations for a good steak.

One of the great advantages of the trip north is that you’re always close to the coast so there are airports nearby. Picking up or dropping off family and friends or facilitating crew changeovers is easy.

Keith often leaves Premier Cru berthed for a couple of weeks so he can return to Newcastle for work. It makes juggling commitments for a long journey very doable.

Preparation is key

“Preparation is really important,” says Keith, “I check every shackle and every nut to make sure nothing is loose. I check every rope and all the pulleys to make sure it’s all just right.”

Keith also relied on the Flagstaff team to do a thorough maintenance check on Premier Cru in preparation for the trip. Shane Crookshanks, Flagstaff’s technical expert, explains the process: “We’ll get the mast checked, we’ll do the servicing of all the units, we’ll get the safety gear up to scratch and we’ll check all of the deck gear and fittings on his boat.”

And of course, whenever Keith needed advice, help was only a phone call away. “Anything I had trouble with, I’d call Shane,” says Keith. “Now that I know what I’m doing I don’t need to ring so often but initially I was ringing him fairly regularly about things I didn’t understand.”

Navigation and planning

Navigation and planning

“It’s not just as simple as going up and keeping Australia on the left,” says Keith, who identifies planning your course and understanding your yacht’s navigation systems as “critical for anyone going north.”

Realizing that even with years of sailing experience he did not have the skills to utilize Premier Cru’s chart plotter and more advanced systems, he chose to call in the experts. He recommends first-timers either do a course or, better still, follow his lead and get one-on-one training on their boats with their own systems. “I now feel fully competent with navigation in every respect,” says Keith.

Plotting your course

Having mastered the chart plotter on the Oceanis 48, Keith compares it to the difference between doing maths on a calculator rather than an abacus. Both get the job done but one is much faster and a lot more accurate.

Keith does keep paper charts as a manual back up along with a portable GPS. In fact, he still likes to plot his course on paper so he can identify any hazards before inputting coordinates to the chart plotter. He finds knowing exactly where potential hazards are helped him be more relaxed at the helm.

Do your research

Keith took a three-pronged approach to research his first trip – talk, read, google.

To troubleshoot his trip, Keith took a few mates, who have also experienced sailors, out for dinner and talked over his plans, to get feedback and ideas. One of the great things about being part of the sailing community is that people are keen to share their knowledge. The Flagstaff team is always on hand and ready to give advice on planning your trip north.

Next, he read all the books he could find. There are a number of good books about sailing the NSW and Coral Coast that contain detailed maps, photos and useful information on anchorages, tides, marina berths, and weather. Keith suggests you buy as many as you can and keep them on board for easy reference.

Lastly, he turned to the internet to research locations for overnight stays. Keith keeps a folder for quick reference to coordinates, contact details for marinas and other essential information.

Essential equipment

Essential equipment

The chart plotter is the on-board equipment Keith finds absolutely essential. But like most sailors, he’s a big fan of the autopilot. “It’s one the best inventions since sliced bread … it takes away the stress of sailing an eight- or nine-hour day.”  But he stresses that while the autopilot will keep you on course, you still need to understand your navigation.

Keith also has everything you need for category one safety on board, including flares, personal EPIRB, dan buoys, inflatable vests, and a life raft. But the good news is he’s never had to use it. As he says, “With good planning, you won’t get into too much trouble.

Creature comforts

Creature comforts

With a name like Premier Cru, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Keith prepares an impressive wine list for each trip. He stows a few cases of wine on board so the crew can enjoy a good bottle after a day’s sailing – but he notes, “Not a drop while we’re sailing of course.”

What’s great about cruising north is that you’re always close to the coast so it’s easy to keep your provisions well stocked. Keith notes that once you get further north, past Yeppoon, there are fewer regional centers so you need to plan ahead to make sure you have enough food and supplies.

Keith’s other essential creature comfort – the BBQ. Perfect for overnight stays at a secluded bay and for those times when you snag a huge Spanish mackerel and a bluefin tuna – on the same day! If you’re interested, Keith recommends the Percy Islands as the perfect fishing spot.

Traveling north is all about the journey but there’s also the excitement of the destination. Hamilton Island Race Week is an iconic event that every sailor wants to tick off the bucket list.

The Flagstaff team helped Keith navigate the event for the first time. Flagstaff’s Director, Graham Raspass, joined Keith onboard Premier Cru. “Graham sailed with me on a few of the race days and he was terrific,” says Keith, “he’s a great sailor and understands it really well. He was a great help.”

A big event like Hamilton Island Race Week can be daunting for first-timers. The team at Flagstaff are all passionate sailors and are on hand to help you make the most of the experience.

Keith's 2018 course

Keith's 2018 course

First Leg: Leave early May from Port Stephens to reach Southport in time for Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show. Stops along the way include Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, and Yamba. Keith will leave Premier Cru in Southport for a few weeks and return home for work commitments.

Second Leg: Returning to Southport, he’ll do an 11-hour stint to Mooloolaba and stay a few days. From there to White Bay Bar at the southern end of Fraser Island and overnight nearby at either Inskip Point or Garry’s Anchorage. From Fraser it’s onto Gladstone or Yeppoon then McKay before arriving at Airlie Beach ready for Hamilton Island Race Week.

Keith's Top Spots

Keith's Top Spots

  • Esmeralda Cove, Broughton Island
  • Yamba Pub, Yamba
  • Inskip Point and Garry’s Anchorage – southern end of Fraser Island
  • Yeppoon
  • Percy Islands – great fishing

Please contact us for information on Beneteau Oceanis, and see our other boat owner stories.