Approaching the Gold Coast on my old quarter-tonner Skyebird after a few rough days at sea, alone and with a broken autopilot, I was heartily glad to see the neon-lit skyscrapers heave into view, writes KEVIN GREEN.

Behind the jagged facade of glinting concrete, sultry mountains loomed and then the roar of the surf met my salt-encrusted ears as I approached the seaward entrance and its sometimes-treacherous bar. So, with sails sheeted in tight and gunning the outboard, I surfed into the shelter of the Broadwater to drop anchor in the famous Bum’s Bay, a haven for many a tired sea vagabond. Just as I was going below for my first proper sleep in 36 hours, a head popped up over the transom to ask me many friendly questions, in the staccato nasal drawl the defines the accent of these parts.

The Gold Coast is a sheltered region on Australia’s Pacific shoreline, midway between the wild Southern Ocean and steamy tropics of the north. It’s an ideal year-round cruising ground that I was looking forward to enjoying after six weeks of sailing north from wintertime Sydney.

Carole at the helm navigating the shallow waters of Moreton Bay.
Required reading.

Located just south of Australia’s third major city, Brisbane, it’s sometimes called ‘Las Vegas by the Sea’ because of its ostentatious skyscrapers, night clubs and general decadence. Such as the bikini-clad meter maids that used to strut around the city, topping up parking meters to help motorists.

Yet another moniker is ‘Venice of the North’ because of the many canals affording grand houses their own waterfront access.


For sailors, there’s also glamour to be found in a myriad sheltered waters and quiet anchorages, but with shallow approaches, many are more suited to multihulls, a class of vessel that abounds in this region. The area is a popular destination for southern yachts making the voyage from Sydney to cruise the tropical islands north of the Gold Coast during the winter, before returning to the region to avoid the summer cyclone season.


This is just one reason why the Gold Coast has some of Australia’s largest marinas, tucked safely behind the outlying islands that shelter Moreton Bay and the city of Brisbane.

The Proyacht team epoxied and antifouled Skyebird with top quality Jotin paint
Skyebird’s cosy cabin.

Back on board Skyebird after a long, deep sleep followed by scrambled eggs and strong coffee, it was time to plan my schedule – first work and then some long overdue maintenance on Skyebird.

Work – the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show (20th May) coming up
the following weekend – saw me hauling the anchor and motoring north, then west up the shallow winding Coomera River. Closely watching the marked channel between the sandbanks, I weaved my way past jet-skis, paragliders, jetboats filled with screaming tourists and dozens of anchored cruising yachts nestled against the shores of South Stradbroke Island. Along with the much larger North Stradbroke and equally large Moreton Island, it forms part of a 60-mile-long barrier that protects this region from the worst of the Pacific swells.

While motoring along, the spluttering of the tired Mercury outboard nestled inside the transom well reminded me of its need for a service. Nevertheless, it pushed Skyebird along at six knots, aided by the flooding tide that propelled me west along the river to Hope Harbour Marina. The tidal range is not vast, usually about a metre, but given the shallow water (3-4 metres), the tide has to be used to your advantage.

Arrival at the Gold Coast after a stormy voyage with little sleep for 36 hours due to a broken autopilot.

Once at the marina, and after assembling my bicycle, I peddled into the boat show for the first of five hectic days. The second major show in Australia after Sydney, it attracts 4060,000 visitors to enjoy its hundreds of power and sail craft.

Another attraction of this region is the liveaboard lifestyle it affords, but not all marinas allow for that. Mine at Hope Harbour did, so I enjoyed showers and laundry, along with its friendly cafe.

Once the boat show and its aftermath of sea trials was finished, it was time to work on Skyebird. At nearly 50 years old, my 25-foot Contessa racer-cruiser had seen many regattas and more miles. Penned by Australian America’s Cup designer Peter Cole, the Contessa 25 has long overhangs, giving her sweet lines, just like her Admiral’s Cup-competing big sister, the Cole 43. Contessas dominated JOG racing on Sydney Harbour in the 1970s and about 50 were built by Bruce Fairlie.


My Contessa had many owners. Several had treated her GRP hull for osmosis, others had fitted various electronics and applied paint. But none had ever worked on the rig. The standing rigging was clearly ancient, but well proven – it had just come through 30-plus knots on occasions, sailing north from Sydney. Still, it was time for an upgrade, but late autumn is the busiest time for repair work, so it took a lot of waiting and some persuasion to get a rigger and then book a slot at the boatyard.

There are plenty of quiet anchorages to choose from.


Further up the Coomera River is Australia’s largest marine precinct, with two vast repair yards – the Boat Works and the Gold Coast City Marina. Despite the shallow river, these yards service everything from tinnies to superyachts.

Whisked from the water on the travel lift, Skyebird was wheeled to a slot amid dozens of powerboats, catamarans and monohulls. The excellent rigger ‘Cookie’ and I discussed the plan of action – hire a crane to drop the rig and then cut new shrouds based on the old ones while I rewired the mast.

With this plan actioned, I basked in the yard’s air-conditioned courtesy lounge before cycling to the Coomera Tavern to toast the upcoming work. The following day, Skyebird’s hull was scraped, epoxied and then given two coats of antifoul by local company Proyacht. The Boat Works hosts many independent trades, so I also found an excellent Kiwi canvas stitcher named Bevan at Marine Canvas Trimming, who did an excellent and fast job replacing my worn mainsail cover. Remembering the spluttering engine, I siphoned two litres of sludge from the bottom of the 60-litre stainless fuel tank using a suction pump and cleaned the fuel filter; then wire-brushed the Mercury’s two spark plugs.

Refreshments beside the water
Boat ramp and jetty at Jacobs Well.


With Skyebird renewed and the arrival of wife Carole on the plane from Sydney, it was time to enjoy some rest and relaxation before heading north on our cruise. The friendly South Port Yacht Club is one of my regular watering holes. Located at the busy suburb named Broadbeach, anchoring near here is perfect for victualling. A short dinghy ride away is the vast Australia Fair shopping centre and behind it the eateries of China Town. Another favourite is Cavills Steakhouse, which served us grain-fed beef, washed down with a sturdy shiraz. Handily, Whitworths Chandler is up the hill behind Broadbeach.

Satiated, it was time to leave the neon lights behind, so we hanked-on the genoa and ran north. Our voyage plan was to spend two weeks circumnavigating the dozens of islands in this southern end of Moreton Bay before returning to the Gold Coast. Sailing between the sandbanks and estuaries towards the top end of the Broadwater takes the cruising sailor to tranquil anchorages protected in all weathers by a myriad of islands – the major ones mentioned on the outside, while inside them are dozens of smaller islands to cruise around.

The inhabited islands include Coochiemudlo, Karragarra, Lamb, Macleay and Russell. Some of the inhabitants live an alternative lifestyle to most of Australian society and some aboriginal place names live on. Before the European settlers began arriving here in the 1850s, this had been the lands of the Yugambeh nation, nomadic hunter-gatherers who came through with the seasons, using bark canoes to move among the islands. Some of their middens can still be seen.

Walkers on the beach at South Stradbroke Island, one of many great beaches.
Amphibious landing at the estuary of the Coomera River, as I prepare to cycle for shopping.

On the way, the marina at Couran Cove is a handy place to await a high tide for the shallow labyrinth that lies ahead. As the afternoon wore on, Skyebird eventually drifted into the anchorage at Tipplers at the top end of South Stradbroke Island where we stayed for a couple of days to catch up with our friend Jill Knight – an intrepid woman who has circumnavigated singled-handedly on her ancient New Zealand-built former fishing smack Cooee.

Local sailors generally describe this northern region as ‘muddy with mud crabs and mosquitoes’ while the wide expanses of Moreton Bay further north hold ‘clear water, sand and sand crabs’. Both areas have many attractions, such as the delicious, sweet meat of the mud crabs that can be found hiding in mangrove holes or caught in a crab pot. Navigation is tricky and tides run strongly between some of the outlying islands, so care is needed at all times.

With this in mind, we motored off to snake our way north to the estuary at Jumpinpin. Passing low-lying islands, the occasional mast was seen protruding above the mangroves, until we eventually anchored amid the roar of the surf and the growl of outboard-driven tinnies chasing the abundant fish at Jumpinpin. Views west showed the mountains of the Great Dividing Range cascading down to densely forested lowlands, while to the east, vast swathes of beaches and sand dunes met the Pacific rollers.

Carole enjoys a lie-in.

Despite a favourable weather forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology (, a strong southerly forced us to seek shelter behind the nearest island, Crusoe, where the snug anchorage of Perry’s Hole proved a tranquil respite for several days as the wind howled through the mangroves around us. Here we marvelled at armies of marching crabs that paraded on tidal mudflats while overhead, birds of prey aimed their beady eyes on us. Evenings rewarded us with caramelised sunsets, enjoyed with locally distilled Beenleigh rum.

Braving the strong wind a few days later, and under genoa alone, we flew north. Skyebird revelled in the flat water as we skimmed over the ground with only inches under our keel at times. To starboard the vast brooding North Stradbroke Island funnelled the southerly wind down hard as we gybed around the top end of Russell Island. The most populated and largest, its well-stocked IGA supermarket replenished our victuals and the locals at the bowling club had a good yarn with us before driving us home in their courtesy bus.

Surprisingly, the islands are well-serviced by ferries, which proved a hazard for us as we sailed further north, past Lamb Island and sought shelter from the wind at pretty Macleay Island. Among its attractions are a most scenic bowling club, a pub and the local dinghy RAID club, which I befriended. Beyond Macleay lies the vast open water of Moreton Bay, an incredibly shallow area, with only one major shipping lane leading into the Brisbane River.

Tipplers anchorage on South Stradbroke Island is a short walk from the resort at Couran Cove, so handy for a drink and a meal.

However, this was for another cruise, as work commitments turned us south again, with wind and tide in our favour, to cruise along the mainland side, past the busy suburb of Redland and the smoking chimney of the Rocky Point sugar cane mill, before anchoring at the only small town in the region, Jacobs Well.

We’d passed the vast swathes of sugar cane, the main crop favoured by the white settlers once they drained the swamps, but not enough to prevent this region from remaining mostly a hidden backwater regularly cut-off by floods. Place names such as Steiglitz and Heck testified to the early German immigrants – generations of Hecks have owned the sugar mill.

The winding backwaters made it a good place for illicit activities, such as rum distilling, and there was even a famous boat, the Walrus, that was a floating distillery. So, another reason to breakout the rum yet again and toast the end of our cruise amid the flowing cane fields of south-east Queensland. BNZ


The bright lights of ‘Las Vegas by the Sea’.


• Nautical Chart AUS 236 – Moreton Bay

• Cruising the Coral Coast by Alan Lucas (essential)

• Moreton-Bay-guides

Snug at Hope Harbour Marina, a handy location for working at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show
Kevin and Carole enjoy shade and views.


• Coastal Patrol app

• Navionics Charts app

• Aussie weather (radar) app

• Willyweather (detailed location app)