Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Monday, 15 May 2017

New Charter Boat for Sunshine Coast Pelagics


Crusader 1
I'm pleased to report that we will be trialling a big new boat for pelagic birding trips off Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. We will be able to take up to 23 people in what would be the largest and most comfortable boat doing pelagic birding charters in Queensland waters. The deal I have hammered out gives us 5 hours out on the shelf during a 9-hour day trip at reasonable cost. We'll have a huge deck, plenty of seating, hand rails and roofing for protection against the elements. The deep-keeled, high speed monohull will permit a relatively smooth ride, allowing us to go out in wind speeds of up to 25 knots at least, reaching the continental shelf in as little as 2 hours.

Ship layout
Many people are aware of the difficulties we've faced in the six years since I've been operating pelagic trips off the Sunshine Coast. Quite a few folk early on opted out of further trips because they thought conditions were too cramped on board, or that there was a lack of seating, or that the absence of hand rails was unsafe. Later, we had problems with reliability when prebooked trips were cancelled, or most recently when promised supplies of berley repeatedly failed to materialise. Also, the small boat meant we could not go out if anything much in excess of 15 knots was forecast, and as it was a catamaran, it could be pretty uncomfortable out there even in a relatively mild swell.

The new boat is Crusader 1, a deep-keeled, high speed Westcoaster designed for rough weather: 55ft long, 18.5ft wide, a draft of 2.1m and weighing 21 tonnes. It is more that twice the size of the boat we used previously. The main deck has a 3m boardroom style table with 6 seating pods, each designed to seat up to 4 people, with extra seating at the back of the deck. The cabin has a 4-person dining area. The water exhaust is dry-stack so the boat is quiet and the impact of diesel fumes on passengers is minimised.

Red-footed Booby, seen on our last pelagic 
There will be access to the bow deck up front as well as the expansive rear deck. There are solid hand railings all around the deck. A sea anchor will allow us to adjust our drifting speed in accordance with movements of birds at the back of the boat. Other bits and pieces include drinking water on the main deck, a rest area for anyone who is seasick, and a separate toilet for ladies. Apart from the skipper we will have a deck hand to help disperse berley. A good supply of berley is incorporated in the deal. I've had a good look over the boat and am most impressed.



Accommodation for six people on board will allow us in time to undertake 2-3 day charters out wide to explore the Coral Sea.

However, as this is a much bigger operation, we will need bigger numbers of people to make it work. For the boat we had been using, we needed a minimum of 13. For this boat, we will need a minimum of 17. The boat can take up to 23 passengers so hopefully nobody should be on a waiting list.



We had been paying $120pp. The cost now will be between $110pp and $140pp, depending on how many people we get. We had previously paid cash on the day but now, payment will need to be in advance, refundable if you are forced to withdraw with reasonable notice.



The operators, Sunshine Coast Afloat, have won multiple tourism awards and their charters are in high demand, so they are able to offer these trips only on a Sunday - not Saturday when we have previously run charters. If forced to cancel due to weather (which would be infrequent given the boat's greater capabilities) we would postpone to the following Sunday, or the next available Sunday.



My intention is to run these trips about once every two months, but we will do a trial run to see how we go with the inaugural charter in terms of attracting sufficient numbers of people; that's the biggest challenge facing this new venture. So the inaugural trip will depart Mooloolaba Marina at 6.30am on Sunday, July 30, returning at 3.30pm. Please email me (friarbird.roberts@gmail.com) if you can make it. I will be overseas from early next week until early July but contactable while away by email. No payments would need to be made until after my return in July.

POSTSCRIPT 16/05/2017

I thought we might be battling to get the numbers but I've been quite stunned by the response. The 23 spots for the inaugural July 30 trip were quickly taken up and there's a waiting list already for this trip. We will see how our initial trial run goes but it bodes well for the future. All going well, I'll set down dates for the 12 months ahead after the July 30 charter.

UPDATE 17/05/2017

Due to the high level of interest in this boat we have scheduled a second charter for Sunday August 27. Please let me know if interested.



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