Sailing Journey: Brisbane to Townsville

The sailing journey continues after living in Brisbane for a couple of years and setting sail for some extended cruising to Townsville, far north Queensland.

I need to apologise for the poor quality of photos in this post, which are taken during 1994. The 35mm colour negatives suffered damp on the boat, heat in storage and are in poor condition with some also stuck together.

sailing Brisbane to Townsville, Australia, Oceania

Setting sail again

Brisbane, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, OceaniaWithout any real plan apart from sailing, discovering islands, diving and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, catching up with sailing friends, and enjoying ourselves, we exit the lights of the big city, Brisbane.

Ambling slowly up Queensland’s far-reaching coastline, Naiad’s reigns are free to take off until dropping the anchor at some secluded island or reef.

Although we stop at loads of places along the coast, I don’t have a lot of photos to share as many are just too ruined to include, so sharing some of my favourite spots.

Lady Musgrave Island Cay

The extensive Great Barrier Reef starts off Bundaberg and stretches some 2,300-kilometres north off Queensland to the Cape York Peninsular – a massive ecosystem.

Around 55NM northeast of Bundaberg and Part of the Bunker Group of islands is Lady Musgrave Island.

Care when crossing the entrance is critical as if missed, bommies (coral heads) can hole a boat. Once anchored inside, during low tide the surrounding reef is exposed creating a calm crystal-clear perfect lagoon. Although at high tide, the submerged reef offers no protection during rough weather, bringing in its wake rough seas and large swells. You can’t do anything but ride the weather out as the entrance is too dangerous to cross in bad weather – not to mention the 8-hour sail in a small boat back to the mainland.

Free-diving in search of lobsters, crabs, coral trout, or anything to snag for lunch and dinner…

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Diving and snorkelling in this area are exceptional and memorable.

Fitzroy Reef

Fitzroy Reef is only 25NM north-west of Lady Musgrave Cay but the entrance is even more dangerous than Musgrave’s. Typically, trawling vessels anchor inside the reef, which should only be attempted in calm weather.

Diving near Fitzroy Reef and encountering a pod of around 40 dolphins, these gorgeous creatures curiously check us out. Swimming towards the dolphins cause them to flick away whilst swimming away causes the pod to approach again. Such an incredible experience, which lasts for around half an hour…marvellous.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Both areas are pristine and untouched although I believe that these days, more boats venture to Musgrave and Fitzroy.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Snorkelling is much easier than donning diving equipment…

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
…as the corals are visible without diving too deeply.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Sailing further north, it’s not long before bumping into pretty islands dotting this part of Queensland’s coastline – we stop at many where there’s an anchorage.

Scawfell Island

Another of my favourite anchorages is Scawfell Island, which sits around 32NM northeast of Mackay and just a little further east than Keswick Island and St Bees Island.

The island’s horseshoe-shaped bay provides a safe-haven and great anchorage. Scawfell is also picturesque, provides great holding, and sheltered during a southerly blow.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Snorkelling is fantastic and you don’t really need to don the usual diving gear to see luminous corals, vivid-coloured fishes, and graceful Manta Rays.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania

Due to Scawfell’s distance from the mainland, it’s a little less-visited than the busy Whitsunday Islands Group.
snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
The skipper’s catch. Starting to spear-fish Coral Trout and lobster whilst free-diving.

snorkelling, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Photo credit: Colin Palmer

Airlie Beach Fun Race

Sailing around the marvellous Whitsunday Islands and rendezvous with sailing friends to hitch a ride on Nkwazi for the famous yearly Airlie Beach Fun Race.

Airlie Beach Fun Race, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania

Maybe you haven’t heard of this fun race that takes place for a day each year. Started back in 1977 over a bet for a bottle of rum, these days loads of boats participate. The atmosphere is electric.

Airlie Beach Fun Race, Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Boats entered into this crazy race are draped with exotic decorations over decks and participating crew dress up as pirates. An ’empty bottle of Mount Gay Rum mounted on a block of Mackay Cedar’ is the race’s trophy. Each boat’s bow displays a figurehead, typically female, which enters the ‘Miss Figurehead’ contest.

When everyone is back on the beach after the race and contests are over, an extended party continues throughout the night and into the morning – it’s mad and loads of fun.

Back to sailing

Always trolling whilst underway, the occasional Kamikaze fish throws itself on one of Naiad’s lures and is snagged. Hauling this monster isn’t easy and takes the effort of 2 people. A bloodbath ensues in the cockpit.

Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Photo credit: Colin Palmer

Eating fish for several days means that we can stay out longer not having to sail back to the mainland to replenish food. The longer out, the better.

You quickly become creative in the galley conjuring up new fish creations, even pickling fish in jars like the islanders to extend its life.

Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania

Naiad’s 2 solar panels provide the power for lights, instruments, and also keeps the fridge ticking over after initially cooling it down by running the engine.

Continual stops where possible to enjoy towns, the spectacular Great Barrier Reef chain of islands, and the marvellous Whitsunday Islands is typical when cruising.

A little on cruising

Cruising is not only about exploring new places at a relaxed pace, but also about meeting other cruisers/yachties and the locals when sailing or pulling into towns and cities for supplies.

The cruising community can be as close-nit or aloof as you choose it to be – a balance is always a great approach. I don’t enjoy living in anyone’s pockets.

Meeting loads of yachties result in loads of excellent beach and BBQ parties. Also, progressive (boat-to-boat) parties and meet-ups at future cruising grounds or destinations.

The Trade Winds in Australia dictate whether you sail north typically during the winter months or south, during the summer months – many yachties sail these routes.

Stopping in Townsville

Some 6 months of awesome exploring and sailing this magnificent coastline and it’s time to stop in far north Queensland’s city of Townsville for another spot of work. Don’t get me wrong, you also experiencing foul weather along the coast.

Townsville, sailing, Sydney, Australia, Oceania
Photo credit: Colin Palmer

In 1994, the then Townsville Motorboat Club in protected Ross Creek offered piles similar to BrisbaneSailing Journey: Sydney to Brisbane but on a much smaller scale and a little more expensive. Ross Creek is a great location right in the city, but I’m hoping that we’re not marooned here for too long…

If you’d like to know more about how I got into this sailing journey, check the building and launching of Naiad in Part 1, Part 2, and Launching.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Australia at Image Earth Travel.

20 responses to “Sailing Journey: Brisbane to Townsville”

  1. Travel2me Avatar

    Hi, I thoroughly loved this post. I m new to blogging and not very proficient at writing down my travel stories though it’s all there in my head. But reading this post has given me lots of boost and confidence.. the pics were amazing and I look forward to many more of your experiences ❤️

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thank you! I’m happy that you enjoyed this read and its given you a little confidence. The photos aren’t great but I’m not big on post-production. 😉
      I’ve popped over to your blog site and enjoyed reading your posts!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment – much appreciated and best of luck with your blog! 🙂

  2. Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad Avatar

    Fascinating stories! And I bet the reef was in much better shape back then. Love seeing older photos like this too, as it feels familiar and yet like it was a different way of life.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your great comment!
      Living as a floating gypsy is a fascinating lifestyle and definitely a different way of life. I have many friends still living this way and sailing the world. 😉

  3. Dave Ply Avatar

    Looks like fun. I dove the ribbon reefs for a few days on a live aboard out of Cooktown in the late 80s, as well as a couple days off a sailboat in the Whitsundays. They were in pretty good shape back then, but I’ve heard more dire reports lately thanks to global warming. What have you heard?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Dave, sounds like you had a wonderful time exploring along the coastline.
      Sadly, I hear that the reef is becoming more dire with each passing year. It’s not only global warming but also our politicians (regardless of which flavour is in) making deals with overseas mining companies that disregard everything apart from making money.

  4. Giovanni Avatar

    Absolutely amazing!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your kind feedback Giovanni! Hope all is OK with you in Italy.

  5. the eternal traveller Avatar

    Your adventure goes on and on. How beautiful to be able to see the reef like this.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it does, for 21 years really!
      I haven’t been to the GBR in such a long time and often wonder if the places visited are still the same or in bad condition.

  6. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

    Very nice post Nilla
    I actually subscribed to your YouTube channel
    I was searching for some natural wonders photography videos and I found your channel
    My username is Mohamad17playz

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Mohamad for the feedback and subscribing to my YouTube channel.
      I already subscribed to your channel a while back. 😉

      1. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        Thank you
        I really enjoyed reading this part

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you! More sailing chapters to come…

      3. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        Can’t wait to check them out
        I just wanted to ask,
        What did you think of Wei Chen’s character in The Last Triad?

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        A strong character but I haven’t finished the read yet as I’m working 12+ hours/day, 7 days/week renovating! Lucky I wrote and scheduled 14 weeks worth of posts as I haven’t had time to write for the last 7 weeks! 😉

      5. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        It’s kinda tough to work full time
        Thank you for reading

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        True but a great way to lose the weight I gained in Italy! 🤣
        My pleasure, I will get back to your novel.

      7. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        I guess you’re right
        Thank you for your feedback

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