Sailing Moreton Bay
Maggie and I feeding Dolphins, Tangalooma Resort

Sailing Moreton Bay Continued…

So …we have a boat for sailing Moreton Bay …big enough to sleep on, small enough to sail single handedly and possessing something our good ship Laafin couldn’t boast – a keel that lifts up when we need to get into the shallows, or away from the sand bars that we inevitably find with uncanny precision, or lack thereof. …and it’s about an hour away – although this time it really is under an hour’s drive from our home in Toowong. With ten minutes to go, the hereto outer suburban road reaches a crest and a breathtaking vista opens in front of you of blue water dotted with green topped islands, boats at anchor, and ferries leaving dotted white lines like a seventies tourism animation.

Moreton Bay has around three hundred and sixty  islands (the Whitsundays a mere seventy four) created since the sea levels rose 6,000 years ago, engulfing the Brisbane River flood plains and making a lagoon from the off-shore barrier islands restricting the tidal flow. Of these, nine are populated, including Bribie which is the only one to be bridged.

Our vessel lives close enough to Coochiemudlo Island that you could row the tender there, but that would be silly when we have a sailing boat, and has direct access to the southern bay islands. There are sixteen islands within a ten kilometre radius of us, with six of them populated offering services like kiosk, pub, shops and restaurants. Macleay Island has free courtesy busses that shuttle you from where you come ashore to the pub or the sublime bowls club overlooking Moreton Bay and offering dining, bowls or entertainment.

Being bought up on English sailing adventures, the idea of sailing Moreton Bay exploring uninhabited islands appeals to me, particularly ones with visible history like Peel Island or Saint Helena. There’s a remarkable account of three castaways in 1823  treated wonderfully by the local aborigines – then stealing their canoes – a poignant allegory of the injustice repeated all over the country. By the 1860’s they no longer held the land, and the new settlers weren’t anywhere near as hospitable. In respect, I’m now calling Moreton Bay their name, Quandamooka.(LINK –

Our first big family trip was delayed due to rain, followed by beautiful weather for the next four days, although the last included no wind. The kids really took to it; spotting dolphins and turtles, taking it in turns steering, sitting at the bow or below decks. We spent the first night at Horseshoe Bay, Peel Island (the aboriginal name, Teerk Roo Ra, is now the name of the national park comprising the whole island), a crowded-but-beautiful anchorage a short, easy sail from our mooring, but enough to get us into yachtie mode.  That time around we didn’t even step ashore, but there’s a walk around to the wreck of the Platypus that we’ve done since.  There’s ruins under restoration on the Northern side of the island of the Lazaret (Leper Colony) closed in 1959, scandalously disclosing afterwards that the particular strain of leprosy it was isolating wasn’t even contagious.

Sailing Moreton Bay
Horseshoe Bay Peel Island Teek Roo Ra National Park

The following day was even better, a brisk early breeze driving us over the Amity Banks on a rising tide, confident that if we did hit the bottom we could raise the keel, or if we stuck, the tide would float us again. We sailed seventeen nautical miles (about 33km)in about four hours to a magnificent anchorage creatively named Big Sandhills. It had big sandhills.

Sailing Moreton Bay
Anchored for the night at BIg Sandhills, Moreton Island

There we spent a bit of time once we’d anchored for the night cruising the shallows of clear turquoise water in the tender where we saw a lot of stingrays. The kids having been in their formative years when Steve Irwin met his demise, there was no possibility whatsoever of getting either in to swim, or even wet their feet by jumping out at shore. At about one in the morning, some people camping on shore let off what must have been leftover fireworks from New Year’s, so we all woke and sat groggily on the deck watching an impromptu fireworks display in the middle of nowhere. Jayne and I finished off the red we’d left from the evening and it was a sublime family moment.

Waking up early, sitting drinking coffee in the cockpit overlooking our sleeping children was exactly what I’d envisioned when I’d started planning, and it took a bit for us to get motivated enough to move. Jayne and I eventually cast off under sail and left with the kids still asleep. By the time they rose, ate breakfast and joined us on deck we were halfway to the next destination; the eight nautical miles (nearly 15km) to Tangalooma.

Tangalooma on Moreton Island saw aboriginals for two thousand years, World War two batteries and for a brief time (until they nearly decimated the humpback whale population), a whaling station, parts of which are still visible in today’s Tangalooma Resort. It is a gem of a resort, filling in the morning with day-trippers and boaties, then emptying after the nightly dolphin feeding to a beautiful, informal island resort. I love the way it isn’t the standard cosseted resort isolating you from the outside, blending together different people, cultures and intents. The kids (and Jayne) loved the fact that it was where the Scooby Doo movie was set.

By this stage we were all getting a little cabin fever, and stepping on shore felt good. We ate in the large dining area dotted with cafes, eateries and bar, and made ourselves comfortable by expanding into our new, much larger environment. Jayne snuck off and came back with a price for a family room, which was reasonable, so we elected unanimously to stay on shore, do the free dolphin feeding offered with the room. We then settled into resort life, supporting the bar and exploring the resort. Cal and I retrieved the necessities from the Norse, locked the tender to a pole and wandered up to the Wrecks, an artificial breakwater offering shelter to the anchored boats, and a great place to snorkel amongst the fish, turtles and old boats.

We left at around nine the following morning, the return home being our longest leg, greeted by an extreme dearth of wind. We raised the sails, but most of the trip was using the motor, until probably the last hour, giving us the satisfaction of sailing back to the mooring. In pretty much the centre of Quandamooka, we shut the motor down in the doldrums and just floated for about half an hour until it got too hot. What an amazing sight to see such a huge body of water like a mill pond. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, we saw a snake swimming along heading for the mainland. I don’t know if a snake shows a great deal of expression on their face, but he or she looked contented enough, and we didn’t want to give it a ride, so we waved it on.

Since that trip, we’ve explored and discovered more of the southern islands sailing Moreton Bay. Our standard afternoon trip for friends is a loop from the mooring, sailing towards Peel but turning short and going between Macleay and Coochiemudlo Islands to anchor at Coochie for a swim and an ice cream, then completing the loop under power via Victoria Point. Cal went through a phase of inviting two of his friends each time, along with me as skipper , and we’d go out exploring the bay for a couple of nights, learning to sail so they can take it out themselves.  Jayne and I take it out by ourselves, and we have a few favourite haunts like the pub at Macleay, Blakesly’s Anchorage on Stradbroke Island (South of Dunwich) or just testing our sailing through the narrow channels heading towards the Gold Coast. There’s always something to see, and the occasional change in plan. My nephew Clancy and I went out for a day sail only to run aground on the mud flats on a falling tide and ended up staying an impromptu night aboard.

In short, all of us have discovered a new focus on our spare time, so the initial response of using it for a season then selling it has gone by the wayside. Last Christmas we put the boat into a marina berth at Manly for a month to investigate the waters around there, taking it up the Brisbane River a way. Jayne and I spent New Year’s Eve down there just sitting at the marina. It gets us out and about, teaches us about tides, weather, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, each other, the maritime world, knots, engines, rowing …the list goes on. For Christmas this year we’ve rented a waterside house for the week on Russell Island with deep water mooring and a jetty in the yard, planning to take it out on day trips sailing Moreton Bay.

We have a world class cruising area on our doorstep full of a variety of experiences, from deserted islands and small artist communities to whale watching, fishing and exploring in sheltered waters all the way down to the Gold Coast and as far North as Bribie Island (or Caloundra if we dropped the mast to go under the viaduct).

…but don’t tell anyone.

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