Non-sailors often think of sailing as a flashy, glamorous and expensive pastime. Sure, there is a wonderful element of sailing that is all of these things, but perhaps this misconception exists because a large amount of sailing goes unnoticed. If you look beyond the big and impressive yacht clubs, you’ll find small and unassuming clubs – the unsung heroes. On the weekend, these clubs open their doors to sailors of all ages and abilities.
One such club is the South Gippsland Yacht Club on Victoria’s south east coast. Set on an inlet off the Bass Strait, the clubhouse is little more than a shed. While the local sailors enjoy ocean breezes from the Strait, they do have to contend with constantly shifting sandbanks and narrow stretches of open water. The moving sand certainly provides a challenge for race management, who have long since given up on setting regular triangular courses. Instead, courses weave back and forth around sandbanks and challenge the local knowledge of the sailors. There are serious sailors who dismiss such a course as “not a real race”, but the untraditional course is a great adventure. At this club, the first race of the day is scheduled at a respectable mid-morning time before the sailors return to the beach for a hot, home-cooked meal. Better still, after you’ve hungrily devoured your hot soup, you’ll have to try one of the delicious homemade desserts. The apple pie is highly recommended. Sailors compete in the afternoon’s race with very full stomachs! Away from the coast, there’s the Cairn Curran Sailing Club. Set on a large reservoir in country Victoria, winter sailing here is positively freezing. But don’t let that deter you – the clubhouse boasts a huge, open fire. Even the iciest water can be forgiven when there’s a crackling fire to dry your sailing gear and provide a dramatic backdrop for post-sailing bragging.
Then, over in South Australia, there’s a shack affectionately known as the Milang Regatta Club. This is very much a no-frills club that sits amongst rustic Aussie beach houses. The highlight of this club’s sailing calendar is the legendary Milang to Goolwa Race held over the Australia Day weekend. On the morning of the race, an excitable festival atmosphere builds as locals come to see the sailors off. Everything from vintage river boats to dinghies compete in what often ends up a very long day of sailing.
Finally, up in Queensland, there’s the Lake Cootharaba Sailing Club. The club sits right on the bank of the brackish, shallow, tea tree-coloured lake and hosts hundreds of enthusiastic dinghy sailors on long weekends.
And that’s just to mention a tiny few of the many more fantastic little clubs on Australia’s coasts, lakes, rivers and dams. If you’re lucky enough, there might even be apple pie at your local club!
Memberships at these clubs are inexpensive, and you don’t have to spend a great amount to own a second-hand boat that gives you a fighting chance at winning races. A few generations ago boats were built by hand in garages, but these days the cheaper option may actually be the “plastic fantastic” kit boats.
Coastal and ocean sailing on a bigger boat is of course going to be a little more expensive, but there are an incredible number of lovely yet modest yachts. Cruisers often live on-board their boats, travelling to amazing destinations, supplementing their provisions with hand-caught seafood and only paying for a marina berth when they need to resupply.
Even at the more impressive yacht clubs, sailing doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune. For every lucky boat owner, a number of crew are still needed to sail the boat. And it’s often said that it’s the crew who have the most fun sailing without any of the pressure of owning the boat.