June 30, 2009 - By rights we should all be sailing north. Cast the lines and kiss the cold weather goodbye. Follow the whales to the Whitsundays via Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave islands, the latter with the largest navigable coral lagoon in the Great Barrier Reef, after which the picturesque Percy and Cumberland island groups call “come hither”. Let it all hang out at the sailing soiree out of Airlie Beach and during Hamilton Island Race Week then wallow for weeks during the return voyage. Or take the passagemaker and potter at your leisure.

Right now, hordes of footloose boaties and sailors are preparing for that very exodus. For those with a competitive streak, the feeder event is the annual Sydney to Gold Coast Race starting July 25, a tactical 384 nautical mile Category 2 coastal challenge in which yachts may compete for the first time under the ORCi handicap system —
measurements are made by infrared technology rather than a string — which is the new incarnation of the previous IMS rule that is still used for proof of stability in ocean-going events.

The good news for us homebodies is that it need not be a winter of discontent. With fewer boats on the waterways, you will find room to swing a catamaran at your favourite anchorages. The chill nights make your cabin doubly cosy, by mid-morning you’re tucking into a big breakfast, lunch on deck follows, then there are all the cool-season activities to warm the cockles of your heart.

But I will premise this winter motivational piece with three key words: play it safe. The onset of the hypothermia can be rapid and take as little as 30 minutes after immersion to strike. Symptoms include exhaustion, apathy, difficultly with reasoning, slowed mental and physical reactions, poor sense of touch, slurred speech, and swollen lips, hands and feet (hey, I reckon I have it now). Seriously, though, always wear a lifejacket in winter, check the weather, ensure your boat is suitable for the conditions, carry all the appropriate safety gear and, if in doubt, don’t go out. Read up on hypothermia and how to avoid it at

With safety foremost in mind, some good boating sense, and a keen weather eye, you can sally forth for some brilliant winter boating. According to expert forecasters, it will be mild, dry and sunny for the next few months of what they forecast will be an El Nina season. Sorry, the Whitsundays will have to wait for me. It’s time for some backyard adventure.

June 1 was the start of the whale-watching season along the eastern seaboard and if past seasons are an indicator, you won’t have to wait long to find the humpbacks and southern rights. Providing the seas are agreeable, stage a winter whale-watching trip. Look for the telltale spouts, which create a rainbow effect in the morning sun, or the large explosions from breaching whales.

Better still, in known whale-watching ports, head for the flotilla of big catamarans and commercial boats plodding abreast of the whales. Put your VHF radio on ‘scan’ to pick up whale chatter between the charterboat skippers and monitor channels 10 and 21.

Remember, there are strict rules of engagement between boats and whales. When approaching whales and dolphins, start at an angle of 30? to their direction of travel. Go slow and keep your distance off, that is, no closer than 100 metres for adult whales, and 300 metres for those with calves.

Winter fishing can be more rewarding than trawling the fish markets or visiting your fishmonger. And you won’t pay $40 a kilo for flathead fillets. Catch your own for a song or sea shanty.

Start by looking for areas of seabed marked “G” for gravel on your admiralty or electronic charts. This way you won’t foul your tackle on a rugged reef. Water that’s 40 to 60m deep is a happy hunting ground for tasty flathead, snapper, trevally, and morwong.

Use 10-kilo breaking strain line, preferably the braid type as it has a thin diameter and no stretch, allowing you to feel the bites. Add two metres of Fluorocarbon 10kg monofilament line as a tippet and a paternoster rig with a sinker at the bottom and two hooks on short lengths of line above it.

Lower the baited hooks (mullet strips are preferable) to the bottom and let the offerings bounce along the seabed as you drift. The fish should start coming over the side. When you strike a hot bite, save the location on your GPS and return for more fish.

There’s nothing like good company and good food to warm the cockles of your heart. All those stews, soups, curries, casseroles and comfort foods have special appeal in winter. Cook them at home and bring prepared dinners aboard that only need reheating.

The Freshield food vacuum machine was a big hit with boaters at last month’s Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show. Some foods can apparently be stored for up to eight weeks without freezing. More at

Thermal cookware is another winner. The slow cooker equipment uses vacuum technology and much like a Thermos, holds its heat for hours. Start the meal at home and carry it aboard. Then tuck into a hot dinner six or more hours later. See

Alternatively, unleash the galleying gourmand within and cook up a storm, if not for your family then raft up with your friends. Find inspiration betwixt the pages of Great Ideas Galley Guide by Sue Betts and Two-Burner Stove Chef by Mary Marion. Both authors are Queensland cruising buffs with a wealth of onboard cooking tips. More from

For a quick fix, you can’t go past a lunch in the sun. The key to the success of your winter feast lies in picking the right anchorage. You want to soak up those sunrays while escaping the biting winds. A spot tucked away from the passing parade will ensure you don’t spill the drinks.

While backyard barbecues are a fading memory, there’s no better daytime cooker for a boat in winter. There are gas-fired, electric or charcoal models, rail or gunwale-mounted, amounting to a barbie for every boat. The stainless steel Magma models from, say Whitworths chandlery (see take some beating. Barbie buffs lean towards the less expensive charcoal model for extra flavour.

Every major city and many coastal ports have terrific waterfront eateries offering everything from Yum Cha to big steaks and seafood overlooking your boat. You could write a book about them all, suffice it to say, berth and eat at the Southport Yacht Club and Marina Oceanis (accessing Marina Mirage) on the Gold Coast; Darling Harbour in Sydney; Docklands in Melbourne; Constitution Dock, Kings Pier Marina and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in Hobart; the marinas in Adelaide; and, Fremantle in the West. See

Forget the boardshorts, bikini and beach setting. Winter is a better time for upstream contemplation before the mangrove stands, towering sandstone cliffs and tall gums. Swing on the anchor, head into the creeks, and watch the mist rise off the water at daybreak. A good book, a deck chair, a hot drink and the float therapy is complete.

Instead of the wet-bum kayak, plant your posterior on the thwart of your tender or tinnie for a tour of the tributaries. Pack a picnic lunch, a thermos of tea, the camera, and tell someone where you are headed. Surprisingly, those seemingly small creeks often wend their way west for many nautical miles. Enjoy the serenity, bird and fish life, and soak up the milieu.

The devil finds mischief in idle hands, so keep busy in winter with your boat-maintenance program. Start with a through keel-to-masthead inspection, compile a list of what needs attention, prioritise the items, then hop to it. Prepare your boat for future passages, ensure it’s shipshape, and re-provision for the season ahead. And in winter, while getting your hands dirty, the engineroom and cabin are cosy retreats.

When the ocean is gnarly, head to an impoundment or lake. But do play it doubly safe if you are boating in the highlands, where blizzards can be extreme. But given clear skies, you can usually catch some trout or native fish, perhaps hire a tinnie, or launch your trailerboat for some dam fine exploration.

Every yacht club has a winter series in which to sharpen your racing skills. If you haven’t got a yacht, then become indispensible crew. Learn the ropes with your club’s in-house sailing school, complete the courses to spinnaker level, and you have a good chance of crewing aboard a yacht in a race.

Now’s a smart time to further your education. If not learning to sail then undertake a first-aid course, enrol in a diesel-engine maintenance course, sit a radio operator’s course with your marine volunteer rescue organisation, and find out how to catch a whopper with a local fishing guide. Contact your local Boating Industry Association, volunteer rescue organisation, TAFE, boating and sailing schools to find out what marine-related courses are available.

With today’s light and comfortable outdoor wear, excellent wet-weather gear, electronic communications, press-button nav equipment and prevailing warmer-than-usual currents, there’s more reason than ever to enjoy some winter boating. And look for all those winter deals at chandleries and boat shows to help keep your boat shipshape.

Last but not least, the Boating Industry Association of NSW has launched a safety check scheme to help us ready our beloved boats for the new season. The 50 Point Safety Check has been developed in partnership with the Marine Industry Mechanical Repairers (MIMR) Association to improve maintenance procedures for boat owners. Although no remedial work is carried out during the check, the $99 keel to masthead inspection is touted as a foundation for keeping your boat in reliable working condition. Authorised MIMRA members carry out the checks and boat owners are provided with a full report. See the checklist and authorised providers at

Meanwhile, close to my home at least, Rowell Marine at Heron Cove Marina at Newport is offering top-class Altex ablative paint for free with every antifouling in June and July. The paint is guaranteed for 12 months, although you still need to use your boat every few weeks for the ablative properties to keep your hull clean. A small price to pay. For bookings, contact Luke Nicholson, phone (02) 9997 1764. More at

See you on the water and keep sending your news leads to

David Lockwood,