Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race set to boost tourism in regional city after COVID-19 downturn

Peter Harburg was only six years old when he got his first taste of the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race.

“I saw the very first one in 1948. My dad took me to the start,” he said.

“I was very intrigued by these giant yachts, which are probably a third of the length of [the boats] today.

“They seemed big to me when I was six, and I’ve been interested in sailing ever since.”

The owner of yacht Black Jack is no stranger to Queensland’s flagship race, with his team, led by skipper Mark Bradford, winning eight times with the current yacht and its previous iterations.

He is also the current race record holder, having completed the race in 16 hours, 53 minutes and 57 seconds in 2018.

Last year, Black Jack made history as the first boat from Queensland to win Sydney to Hobart race honours.

“The race from Brisbane to Gladstone is one of the most important on the Australian calendar,” Mr Harburg said.

“It’s our big Queensland race, and it attracts a lot of good boats.

Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford and owner Peter Harburg (right) form a winning team.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The race sets sail in Moreton Bay near Shorncliffe on Good Friday at 11 a.m. before finishing in the early hours of Saturday morning near Gladstone.

Vice-Commodore Harley Cowlishaw of the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club said 38 yachts are taking part in this year’s race.

“We also have the two handicap winners from Sydney to Hobart in the fleet, who are Alive and Ichi Ban, so it’s a very high quality fleet in this year’s race,” said Mr Cowlishaw.

“The forecast is for 15-20 knots from the southeast, which should get everyone to Gladstone very quickly.”

Mr Cowlishaw said they had been unable to organize a proper race for the past two years due to COVID.

“We had a year where the race was canceled altogether, and last year there weren’t too many celebrations,” he said.

There will be nearly a dozen major events taking place in Gladstone over the Easter long weekend to celebrate the race, including special luncheons, food festivals, music festivals and parties.

A young woman in a black t-shirt, eyeglasses, stands in a park adjacent to a marina smiling at the camera.
Nicola Scurr says tour operators are reporting a recovery in bookings.(ABC Capricorn: Tobi Loftus)

The race attracts tourists after COVID

Nicola Scurr, head of tourism in the promotion and development of the Gladstone area, said advance bookings for accommodation in Gladstone were higher than they had been in years.

“The last few years have certainly been difficult, especially around Easter, given that it’s one of the biggest times in the region,” she said.

“I’m really excited to see the real results this post-Easter.”

A woman wearing a cap and a blue t-shirt stands smiling on the beach
Janina Speck says 1770 will be full of tourists over the Easter long weekend. (ABC Capricorn: Tobi Loftus)

Campers flock to 1770 and Agnes Water

The tourism boom is not only being felt in the town itself, the southern parts of the region including the towns of Agnes Water and 1770 are also experiencing growth in numbers.

Janina Speck owns and operates 1770 Liquid Adventures.

He said that although the school holidays had started slowly, term bookings had picked up for the long weekend, as well as Anzac Day and Labor Day weekends.

“We had some pretty choppy weather last week, but everything is looking good now for the Easter weekend,” she said.

Ms Speck said that overall the mood in the local tourism industry was one of optimism.

“There’s a lot going on. A lot of businesses have started in the last 12 months,” she said.

“There is also a bit of fresh energy.”

A smiling man, wearing a cap, glasses, sits shirtless on a paddleboard with his dog next to him.
Chris De Aboitiz says there are not many international tourists.(ABC Capricorn: Tobi Loftus)

Chris De Aboitiz runs a stand-up paddle board rental business alongside his loyal dog, Rama.

He said accommodation providers in the region were starting to reach capacity.

“It’s great to see the crew coming back for a vacation, and it’s all kinds of demographics,” Mr. De Aboitiz said.

“We notice that there are not as many international people.”

Fuel prices are not a deterrent

At nearby 1770 Campground, Sunshine Coast RVer Mike Kelly said high fuel prices would not interrupt his trip.

“We’ve been coming here for about 30 years to the same caravan park at Easter,” he said.

Marina of the 1770s seen in the distance from the promontory of the region
Agnes Water and 1770 are popular destinations over the Easter long weekend. (ABC Capricorn: Tobi Loftus)

Noni North lives in Gladstone but made the journey to 1770 via Tenterfield.

“It was a more expensive trip,” she said.

“High fuel prices don’t change our minds [on travel]because it is already going down.

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