Flagstaff Marine's guide to travelling north: Part 1 - getting ready

Every winter there is a pilgrimage north from the cool southern waters to the balmy tropics of the Whitsundays. No, we’re not talking about whales – although you’re sure to see a few humpbacks and southern right whales along the way – we’re talking about boats. The trip north up the east coast of Australia is a blue-water journey that we think every Aussie yacht owner should tick off their bucket list.

The promise of warmer waters, world-class racing at Hamilton Island and The Great Barrier Reef are a few of the reasons so many of our Flagstaff owners undertake the 1000-mile trip every year. Another reason is that with the right preparation and planning it’s totally achievable. Here’s our top advice from the Flagstaff team and owners on getting ready for your journey north.

Do your research

Do your research

One of the best things about the sailing community is that people are keen to share their knowledge. If you’re thinking about a trip north get out and talk to those who have done it already.

Keith Stronach who is taking his Oceanis 48, Premiere Cru, on a fourth trip north this year recommends first-timers really do their research.

“Talk to people – I had a couple of friends who are very experienced sailors and over dinner, we talked about preparation, route, places to call in to. Then I researched all the marinas and all the contacts. The other thing is to buy all the books … they tell you everything.”

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.

Maintenance and Servicing

Maintenance and Servicing

Before you set off, have your boat thoroughly checked and serviced. This might sound obvious but you need to plan ahead.

Ivor Burgess is a seasoned sailor taking Still Dangerous, his Oceanis 45, on their seventh trip north.

“You have to plan maintenance months ahead because you may not be able to get the boat slipped if you haven’t booked it in at least two months in advance.”

Ivor, who is 78, prefers to outsource all the work on his boat and offers some key points:

  • Coordinate your yearly maintenance and engine service and slippage for anti-fouling to save time and money.
  • Timing – autumn is a busy time of the year for boats, so book well in advance.
  • Check everything including all systems, lighting, safety equipment, rigging, rudder, lines and anodes – and outsource where necessary.

For Keith, “Preparation is really important. 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.” 

Before he joined Flagstaff Marine, Caju Barbosa sailed across the Pacific, single-handed on the leg from Fiji to Australia. He was also a professional sailor for 16 years, so he knows a thing or two.

Caju lists a couple of things he feels are often overlooked when preparing your boat.

Ground tackle is very, very important. Check the anchor, rope, and winches – the whole ground tackle.”

“Everybody likes to carry the big spare parts but I would be more concerned with the small ones like switches and lines and little things like that.”

Safety First

The consistent message on safety from both our team and experienced owners is that through careful preparation and planning it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to use your safety equipment.

Ivor recommends scaling to Category 3 safety for coastal cruising and don’t forget that you need to have your safety equipment serviced and checked.

Caju highlights good communication as a key safety aspect. AIS (Automatic Information System) allows you to register your boat so your position can be tracked online. The other is an EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) that will transmit your position to the coast guard and other vessels.

Know your boat

Know your boat

It’s important that you and your crew know your boat, how it handles, how all the systems work and of course where everything is located.

Caju’s top tip is about labeling. “You should take time to know exactly how the boat behaves and where everything is. If you don’t have time for that, just label everything, so when you look at a switch you know exactly what it does.”

Ivor and his crew make getting to know his boat part of their journey, so much so that it’s now a tradition. “Everybody laughs about this; our first stop is The Basin in Pittwater … we stop there and check all of our safety equipment, we check our life rafts … and we make sure everybody knows where everything is on the boat. We sit down there and we have a couple of wines and a nice dinner and get ourselves in the mood for sailing.”

Skill up

Skill up

Even the most seasoned sailor can have gaps in their knowledge. If there is an area that you are unsure about, consult the experts. Keith grew up sailing but still felt he didn’t have the skills to fully utilize the chart plotter and more advanced systems on his Oceanis 48. So 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.

Delivery Skipper

Delivery Skipper

If you are short on time or feel you’d like someone with more experience on board you can employ a delivery skipper.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be on-board with you for the whole journey – how you structure the trip is your choice.

Flagstaff’s Shane Crookshanks outlines the process: “Some people will pay a delivery skipper to take their boat up all the way; some just to the Gold Coast because after that you’re inside Fraser Island, inside the reef and there are a lot more ports to call into and you get warmer weather.”

Shane explains that “For a first-timer, we can introduce you to a delivery skipper to help you on the journey to take a lot of the pressure off, especially if it’s your first night-time sail.”

Flagstaff Service

At Flagstaff we love that so many of our owners share our passion for boating and are embracing the adventure of the journey north.

As Shane says, “We’ll provide whatever is required. It might be a safe port for a deep draught boat, how much fuel you might need on the trip, where to go, the best places to call in, our favourite spots – depending on what you want to do.” 

Flagstaff can help facilitate your journey be it with a safety and maintenance package, skipper training, appointing a delivery skipper, crewing for race weeks or simply good advice from people who know the journey.

Contact us to find out more – and stay tuned for Part 2 of Travelling North – The Journey. Please also read more Flagstaff Marine news.