Sailing South Australia

A Cruising Guide to Sailing in South Australia

Introduction

South Australia (SA) offers some of Australia’s finest summer sailing and yachting cruising grounds, yet these places are virtually unknown outside of the State. What SA lacks in tropical waters and coral reefs, it makes up for with clean, biologically diverse temperate waters, great snorkeling, diving and fishing, historical gulf ports, and - let's not forget - Australia's best wineries! The coastal climate is Mediterranean, meaning lovely hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters (seldom freezing). The prime sailing season in South Australia is therefore during the southern summer and early autumn months, with December through March being the best months. While it can rain during those months, fronts tend to blow through quickly.

These are my notes on sailing in this wonderful part of the world. It's a work in progress, so please give me feedback by commenting on my blog.

In addition to the anchorages described in this guide, you can use this handy SA anchorage finder to quickly look up any of the 70+ South Australian anchorages I've visited (plus a few more I've yet to visit).



Adelaide winds at 3pm during the summer are from the SW over 50% of the time.
Note: When describing which wind directions are sheltered at an anchorage I always go clockwise. So "protected NE through S" means protected "NE, E, SE, through S". Safe wind directions are show in green on wind pie charts to the right of the text (created with my wind pie tool). Miles refers to nautical miles. GPS coordinates use the WGS 84 scheme.

Gulf St Vincent

Metro waters

Holdfast Shores at Glenelg, Adelaide
Gulf St Vincent is the smaller of South Australia's two major gulfs. The eastern side of the Gulf is dominated by Adelaide, the State's capital city, and features dozen of kilometres of beautiful beaches, interspersed by jetties every few km. North Haven Marina is the hub of sailing in Adelaide and the home of my club, the Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia (CYCSA). Other marinas are the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron (Outer Harbour), Marina Adelaide (Port River), and the boutique Holdfast Shores Marina (Glenelg). The latter has a small visitor dock if you want to stop for a few hours or overnight, although it's like being in a fishbowl.

Adelaide's metro coastline makes for great day sailing and dolphin cruising.

Bow riding dolphin, Gulf St Vincent

The Port River, although not very scenic, provides shelter from all directions although anchoring is only permitted outside of the channel on the eastern side adjoining Torrens Island. The best spot is opposite the beach north of the old Quarantine Station jetty (34°46.395'S 138°31.146'E). It shoals up very quickly once outside of the shipping channel so check your depth regularly. (I have first-hand experience of running aground in the North Arm.) My post about the Port River.
Port River facing east towards Torrens Island.
One can anchor easily almost anywhere along Adelaide's metro coastline with good holding on the sandy seabed, but just remember that in any westerly you'll be anchoring off a lee shore.

Snug between 2 breakwaters, the small North Haven Beach (34°47.4'S 138°28.8'E) just north of North Haven Marina is the only anchorage on the metro coast that offers protection from N and NW winds. It is also a very popular kitesurfing spot.

Seacliff (35°2.1'S 138°30.8'E), 15 miles south of North Haven, is a particularly scenic place to overnight and a great spot from which to to enjoy Adelaide's night lights. Tuck in close and there is shelter from NE through S, although it can be a little bumpy with westerly swell.

For protection from westerly winds though, your options are limited to either the Port River, Barker Inlet or a marina.

Fleurieu Peninsula

As one heads south the urban landscape morphs into to the beautiful scenery of the Fleurieu Peninsula (pronounced Floo-ree-oh). The coves of Second Valley (35°30.5'S 138°13.1'E) and Rapid Bay (35°31.0'S 138°11.4'E) are pretty anchorages, and as a bonus both offer world-class diving and snorkeling with Leafy Seadragons. These anchorages are only protected from E through SW, so weigh anchor if the wind shifts to the N or W.
Second Valley
If you have more time, hug the coast and at the 27 mile mark from North Haven (or 20 mile mark coming from Wirrina) you'll be rewarded with the beautiful cliffs at Blanche Point. These cliffs at the southern end of Maslin Beach (35°14.7'S 138°27.9'E) offer shelter from NE through S to SW. In my opinion this is best place for a halfway stop between Adelaide and Wirrina. Anchor in close to shelter from a SW, and expect some swell to wrap around Blanche Point. Myponga Beach (35°22.3'S 138°23.2'E) further south is another option and offers better protection in SW winds. Read more in my blog post about sailing the Fleurieu coast.

NB: Be advised the southern end of the beach is a nudist beach!
Blanche Point.
Swell rolling in from the west can make any of these Fleurieu anchorages a little uncomfortable though.
Marina St. Vincent a.k.a. Wirrina Cove

There is one all-weather anchorage on the Fleurieu, which is Marina St Vincent (35°29.9'S 138°14.4'E), more commonly known as Wirrina Cove, 44 miles from North Haven. For a marina Wirrina is quite pretty and is the best mainland departure point for sailing to Kangaroo Island. The marina holds back 20 berths for short-term rentals, in addition to berths available from owners. The marina has a fuel dock, shop and a basic toilet/shower block, but no other facilities. There is however a nice resort with a public restaurant 2 km away up the hill.

Wirrina is a short distance from Rapid Bay and Second Valley if the wind shifts to the west and you find that you need to avoid a lee shore.

Further south, Morgans Beach (35°35.6'S 138°6.3'E) is an open, sandy beach providing shelter from the SE quarter. The rocky reef at the southern end of the beach offers great snorkeling.

Cape Jervis (35°36.4'S 138°5.5'E) has a small boat haven and the terminus of the Kangaroo Island ferry but no place to moor, unless an emergency.

Yorke Peninsula

Troubridge Island Lighthouse
Yorke Peninsula lies 30 miles west from Adelaide on the other side Gulf St Vincent. Port Vincent is the most popular weekend destination for Adelaide yachties, and the Port Vincent Marina (34°45.96'S, 137°51.9'E) is the one all-weather anchorage on "Yorkes", as locals call it. The Port Vincent Hotel offers a complimentary pickup to take yachties to the pub.

Note: You need to avoid the Orrontes Bank when sailing to Port Vincent. From North Haven set a course of 275°T for the gap in the Bank (34°45.5'S 138°E). Then set course for 265°T to round Middle Spit pole (34°45.33'S 137°54.176'E).

Further south, 40 miles WSW of Adelaide, charming Edithburgh and nearby Troubridge Island are great long-weekend destinations from Adelaide. Edithburgh is protected from the west from S through N. The anchorage is quite weedy however, so take care when anchoring. For protection from easterlies from N through SW head across to the west side of Troubridge Island, which is known as the "Cutter Patch" (read my June 2014 blog post).

Note: The easiest approach to Troubridge Island is from the NW. From North Haven head for 35°5.8'S 137°47.6'E in order to round the cardinal marker that marks the shoals that extend NW of the Island.
Edithburgh and Troubridge Island anchorages

NB: When approaching Edithburgh from the south, be aware of the strong tidal flows in Sultana Passage. A 5 knot ebb flow is not uncommon.

Black Point (north of Pt Vincent), and Stansbury (between Pt Vincent and Edithburgh) are other popular destinations although I've yet to explore these places by yacht.

The CYCSA maintains moorings at Black Point, Stansbury and Edithburgh (more info).

Kangaroo Island (KI)

Western River Cove, Kangaroo Island. Simply stunning!
Captain Matthew Flinders bestowed many place names during his historic circumnavigation of Australia in 1802, but few more evocative than "Kangaroo Island", named in appreciation of the kangaroos which fed his hungry crew. Kangaroo Island, or "KI" for short, is Australia's 3rd-largest island and a sailing paradise. With over 500 km of coastline, there are countless bays and coves to explore and three all-weather anchorages: Kingscote, Penneshaw and American River. In fact, much of the Island's best scenery is really best appreciated from the water*.

Here are my blog posts on sailing to/from/around Kangaroo Island (in reverse chronological order):
During the summer, weather conditions are generally well suited to North Coast anchorages. High pressure areas form below the Great Australian Bight and move in an easterly direction across Southern Australia (shown below, 2 days apart). While a High is still well west of KI, the winds tend to be S or SW. Once the High moves east, the winds shift to E or SE. Close to shore the tall coastal cliffs tend to channel the winds such that a SE becomes an easterly and a SW becomes a westerly.

Note: Most North Coast anchorages are unsafe in northerlies, so be prepared to weigh anchor if the wind shifts to the North. Fortunately, pure northerlies are uncommon. Northwesterlies can be sheltered from at Western River Cove, Emu Bay, or Boxing Bay and northeasterlies at Snug Cove, Knob Point or King George Beach. Be advised that with the exception of Emu Bay, these anchorages are only big enough for one or two vessels in such conditions though.

Most of the South Coast of Kangaroo Island is exposed to the full fury of the mighty Southern Ocean and should be avoided in SE or E winds unless you are prepared to sail non stop.

* With the exception of the national parks, much of the Island is farmland.

Kingscote

Kingscote is the Island's capital and largest town. The town wharf area only offers shelter from the western quarter, but just north of town, the Bay of Shoals (35°38.2'S 137°37.7'E) offers shelter from all directions. The Bay of Shoals Winery is a short walk up the hill from the boat ramp.

Strong northerlies will generate considerable chop due to fetch across the wide bay, so if it gets too bumpy, move to the lee of the Beatrice Islets (35°39.1'S 137°40.6'E). The Islets, which offer shelter from N through SE, are part of a large drying sand bank which stretches in a southeasterly direction from Cape Rouge (35°35.81'S 137°37.61'E) across the seaward (eastern) side of the Bay.

Note: From the mainland head for 35°40.2'S, 137°42'E to clear the Beatrice Islets, before turning WNW for Kingscote.

Penneshaw

Penneshaw, the second largest town on the Island, has a delightful little harbour at Christmas Cove (35°43.05'S 137°56.0'E), within easy walking distance of the town. The double-sided finger wharf has double pens which can accommodate vessels up to 12m in length. A strong NW wind will bring some seas through the opening into the cove though.

American River

American River anchorage, looking back towards Eastern Cove, with Ballast Head in the distance.
The River, as locals call it, is the finest all-weather anchorage on the Island, offering shelter from all directions. Once past the boat ramp, the narrow channel splits in two. Most moorings are in the southern branch, which dead ends at Picnic Point (35°47.86'S 137°45.84'E). The northern channel opens up into voluminous Pelican Lagoon. Tidal currents are strong so borrow a mooring unless you have complete confidence in your anchor.

Note: Due to the SW-NE orientation of the channel, the River can get a little choppy in a strong southwesterly. In such conditions anchoring immediately north of Picnic Point is your best bet. There are some moorings down there too and the 2nd-to-last one is reportedly well maintained. Alternatively, move to Newland Bay north of Ballast Head.

Marsden Point, North Cape

North Cape (35°33.68'S 137°37.31'E) is the most northerly point on the Island. Marsden Point (35°33.8'S 137°37.9'E) lies half a mile to the WSW and warrants a special mention as it is one of a handful of North Coast anchorages west of Kingscote offering protection from north-westerlies, the others being Emu Bay (7 miles west) and, in a pinch, Western River Cove (34 miles west). Anchor in close just south of the point for good shelter from S through W to NW. I've overnighted at this spot and been pleasantly surprised with how calm it is, since any W swell is blocked by North Cape.

Vivonne Bay

Vivonne Bay is noteworthy as it is most protected anchorage on the South Coast, providing shelter from all directions but E or SE winds. It might even be possible to ride out a SE by tucking in very close between the jetty and Point Ellen. Pick your weather window carefully if you plan to sail the South Coast.

Backstairs Passage

Backstairs Passage is the strait that separates the Fleurieu Peninsula from the northeast of Kangaroo Island (so named by Flinders because he considered it the "back" way into Gulf St Vincent, Investigator Strait being the other way). It is potentially a dangerous stretch of water and has claimed lives*, but with the proper preparation the Passage can be crossed safely under all but extreme conditions.

The tide runs northwesterly on the flood, and southeasterly on the ebb. Charts indicate tidal currents of 3 knots, but 5 knots can be experienced in places. In particular, the worst section is right off Cape Jervis (35°36.4'S 138°5.5'E) which is a tidal race, and extremely rough when the wind is against the tide. Keep in mind that a lovely 15~20 knot wind in Yankalilla Bay or Eastern Cove usually means a 25+ knot wind in Backstairs Passage, possibly gusting to 34 knots (gale force).

Here are my tips for a safe crossing:
  • Cross early in the day, i.e., before the winds pick up.
  • Check the tides (BoM tide calculator) and avoid wind against tide. If possible, cross at slack water.  Dodge tides are great, if you're so lucky.
  • Reef early. If coming from the mainland, reef before you pass Cape Jervis.  If coming from Kangaroo Island, reef before you exit Eastern Cove.
  • Do not cross if the forecast is for a gale (i.e., above 34 knots). Relax and spent another day on the Fleurieu or on the Island.
  • If sailing against the tide, (if you have a choice) tack out into Gulf St Vincent and give Cape Jervis a wide berth.
Time it right though, and sailing north across Backstairs Passage on a food tide, with swells from the W and winds from the W or SW, is an absolute blast!

Backstairs Passage on a 25 knot day with 3m swells.
* Very few sailors get in trouble crossing Backstairs Passage.  Usually it is fishermen in small vessels with inadequate floatation and inadequate safety gear.

Spencer Gulf

Spencer Gulf offers a diversity of sailing opportunities that is hard to beat, ranging from sheltered waters and beaches, to serious ocean sailing and rugged cliffs. Spencer Gulf is big; 322 km (200 miles) long and 129 km (80 miles) wide at its mouth!

Port Lincoln

Port Lincoln is the hub of fishing and nautical activity on Spencer Gulf. It sits on the fully protected waters of Boston Bay, which offers superb day sailing. The Lincoln Cove Marina (34°44.5'S 135°52.8'E) is a full-service marina with a Marina Hotel.

Lincoln National Park

Memory Cove.
Just 13 km SW of Port Lincoln as the crow files, Lincoln National Park boasts some of South Australia's most scenic coastal sailing. 

Memory Cove is a gorgeous, tree-lined cove within a pristine wilderness protection area. For the sailor it offers shelter from the SE thru S to NW and for the hiker it offers a number of scenic trails.

Williams Island, 3 miles offshore, has a beautiful little cove (35°1.5'S 135°58.4'E), with excellent holding over sand and sheltered from all directions except the northern quarter. The only small negative is that this anchorage is a tad bouncy during an ebb flow due to wrap-around swell.

NB: The waters around Cape Catastrophe (34°59.2'S 136°0.3'E) can be challenging. Strong tidal currents flow through Thorny Passage, so the key thing is to avoid sailing in the Passage or around the Cape when an ebb flow opposes the swell and seas. 

Nearby Thistle Island, though not part of the Park, also offers a number of very scenic anchorages.

Sir Joseph Banks Group

The Sir Joseph Banks Group of islands is a marine park located in lower Spencer Gulf, only a 3-hour sail from Port Lincoln. It is surely one of the most under-rated cruising grounds in the whole of Australia. Reevesby Island (34°31.45'S 136°16.84'E) is the largest island and offers good shelter from all wind directions. Reevesby Lagoon refers to the semi-protected waters between Reevesby, Lusby, Partney and Marum Islands. I first visited in February 2014 and this is my blog post.

Morton Cove, Reevesby Island, Sir Joseph Banks Group.

Sir Joseph Banks Group and Whitsunday Group Comparison


Sir Josephs Banks GroupWhitsunday Group
Best time to sailSouthern summer & early autumn (December thru March)Southern winter & spring (July thru October)
Number of islands2074
Towns and resortsNoneMany
Length~20 nautical miles~100 nautical miles
Above waterLow-lying rocky islands and sandy islands, vegetated in scrub, beautiful beachesHigh rocky islands and low coral islands, densely vegetated, beautiful beaches
Under waterRocky reefsCoral reefs
ClimateMediterraneanTropical
Mean maximum temp *25°22°
Mean minimum temp *15°18°
Mean 9am wind speed *8 knots12 knots
Mean 3pm wind speed *12 knots12 knots
Mean rainy days/month *24
Mean annual rainfall490mm1445mm
TidesUp to 1.5mUp to 4m
Nearest airportsPort Lincoln (mainland)Hamilton Island,
Airlie Beach (mainland)
Bareboat charters possibleNoYes

* = average for 3 best sailing months (January thru March for SJBG, August thru October for WG)

Upper Spencer Gulf

NB: This section is incomplete and is based on observations from a diving trip. We stayed at Point Lowly in N/NW conditions and it would make a fantastic anchorage in such conditions.

Whyalla, the largest town in the region, has a fully-protected marina (33°2.5'S 137°36.0'E) with a single finger wharf and is the home of the Whyalla Yacht Club. The Beach Cafe is a short walk from the marina. Further north, the southern side of Point Lowly (33°0.042'S 137°47.072'E) offers protection from NW thru E winds with anchoring over sand. Just be sure to stay out of the port exclusion zone though. Fitzgerald Bay (32°56.1'S 137°46.4'E) 4 miles north offers protection from SW thru NE.
Sunrise over Fitzgerald Bay from Point Lowly.
For protection from southerlies, head 7 miles across to the other side of the Gulf to the northern side of Ward Spit (33°0.6'S 137°55.8'E).

SA's West Coast

To date I've only explored South Australia's West as far as Coffin Bay, which you can read about here.
Coffin Bay anchorages.
I recommend reading Graham Scarce's "Cruising Guide to Historic West Coast Ports."

Bareboat charters

Unfortunately no bareboat charter companies currently operate in South Australia. It is BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat)!

Additional resources

About the Author

My name is Alan Noble. I learned to sail keelboats while living in Northern California in the early 90s, and well before that I sailed windsurfers for many years. Since returning to Australia in 2002 I've become a convert to catamarans, which are well suited to coastal cruising in South Australia. In 2009 I purchased Arriba, a Lightwave 38 (cruising cat), and have been exploring every nook and cranny of South Australia's coastline ever since. I still have thousands of miles to go though!

Disclaimer

Please note while I've made every effort to ensure the accuracy of information on this site, it is not a substitute for your own independent advice and readers should therefore obtain any appropriate advice relevant to their particular circumstances. In particular, be very wary of moorings, many of which are poorly maintained. In general, I find that moorings are no substitute for using your own ground tackle. I am not liable for any losses, damages, costs and/or other consequences resulting directly or indirectly from using or relying on (wholly or partially) this site and any information or material available on it. Fair winds!