Not far from the Heads, at the southern end of Victoria’s Port Phillip, lies what must be one of the world’s most unique yacht clubs.
Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club is unique in many ways. Not just because it sits on an island shared with the Department of Defence and is accessible only by boat; or via a manned security gate. Not just because it is a destination for those who stay there a night or two before heading out through the Heads and into Bass Strait, or who seek comfort there at the end of a long passage home. No, there is a sign outside the clubhouse that sums up its uniqueness, it simply says ‘Paradise’. It is a little haven from the world, you will not find a television, or Wi-Fi, or even a power supply to your boat. But you will find hospitality and friendship.
Anyone who has ever tied up at the wharf and discovered Paradise with the welcoming clubhouse, will appreciate the foresight and determination of the small group of yachtsmen who, in the early 1960s, recognised the potential of the small spit of land which then nudged the shores of Port Phillip.
Following skillful discussions with the major players at that time: the Borough of Queenscliffe, the Public Works Department and the Defence Department, three of that group (Arthur Webb, Ross Farrow and Ranald McAllister) were granted occupancy as the first Trustees in October 1962. Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club was founded in January 1963 and the clubhouse was officially opened in December 1964.
To this day the clubhouse built by those foundation members largely stands intact, although substantially extended, modernised and improved. Throughout 2013 and 2014 it underwent extensive refurbishment, largely by a band of volunteer members.
The relatively modest clubhouse now has a kitchen that is the envy of many commercial restaurants, as well as a large lounge, separate recreation room and outside barbecue areas. Upstairs is a bar, manned by volunteer members, where the views from the balconies are as wonderful today as they would have been in 1964. The sunsets to the west can be magnificent at any time of year.
While the original clubhouse is still recognisable, the geography of the spit has changed significantly over time and the clubhouse no longer sits on Port Phillip but behind reclaimed land that shelters it from the beach some 400 metres to the east.
In its lease agreement with Parks Victoria, the club has a well-defined boundary with the Department of Defence. Any person stepping outside that boundary is likely to be promptly interviewed by the military. Far from being restrictive, this has the advantage of making QCYC one of the most surveilled and secure yacht clubs in Australia, possibly anywhere.
The 200 metre long wharf has been strengthened in recent years and will accommodate vessels up to 18m, although those over 15m must obtain prior approval from the club committee.
During peak periods it is generally necessary for yachts to raft up alongside one another. The berthing area is dredged to 2.3m but has some shallow spots and a soft muddy bottom. The wharf faces northwest and is exposed to strong westerlies, a good fenderboard and fenders are essential.
QCYC currently has over 550 members, including over 140 family memberships.
The club is unusual in that, for over 95 per cent of members, QCYC is not their primary club. Rather it is a secondary destination club, with members visiting from around Port Phillip and beyond. They come for a night, or a few days and sometimes a week or two. New members are welcome, as are visiting yacht crews.
The club exists to provide a safe harbour close to the entrance to Port Phillip for members and visitors while also promoting sailing and cruising in particular.
The fundamental premise of the club is that it is run and operated by those who use it, both at an organisational level and day-to-day operations. This extends to everyone who uses the wharf, clubhouse or causeway: members and visitors alike.
All those staying at QCYC are asked to chip in and make sure that they and their crew, undertake some of the daily tasks listed on the board in the foyer of the clubhouse. In this way, the club could be considered to operate in the same way as a ski lodge or a youth hostel.
The costs of maintaining the wharf, causeway and clubhouse are covered solely by the club and its members, not just through membership but also through pay-as-you-use wharfage fees. Charges for wharfage for visitors are shown on the club website, where fees can be paid online.
During winter it can be beautifully quiet and serene and makes a wonderful place to escape for a few days solitude, allowing you to sit peacefully in front of the log-fire and self-cater in the club kitchen. Unfortunately you will have to drag yourself away to sleep on your boat as sleeping is not permitted in the clubhouse or grounds.
During holiday periods the club takes on a different vibe, with up to 35 boats rafted alongside the wharf and a buzz in the clubhouse and grounds. The club is especially popular during the Christmas and summer holidays and there can be few places that offer such safety and security for young sailing families.
Over the recent Melbourne Cup long weekend almost 40 boats tied up at the wharf at some stage, almost a third of them being visitors.
There are a number of club highpoints during the year. These include the Goorangai Memorial Trophy Race from Royal Brighton Yacht Club to Queenscliff; the day before the annual opening day in November and an annual summer cruise into Bass Strait and beyond. This summer will see a three-day regatta for the inaugural Queenscliff Cup when, in keeping with the ethos of the club, the emphasis will be on taking part and having fun.
Club-based visits from around Por Phillip take place throughout the year and, while some have long traditions, new ones are encouraged. The clubhouse hosts a number of regular social events and is also available for members and their friends to use for private functions, the only restriction being the opening hours of the Department of Defence security gate.
How to get there
From the port lead outside the entrance to the Queenscliff Cut, follow the line of the Cut watching for vessels manoeuvring into or out of the Queenscliff Harbour to the south.
The Cut has a good depth throughout, although it is best to stay clear of the shelving rock wall on the north side. The tide can flow at over four knots and many will prefer to enter when the flow is minimal, an hour or so after slack water at the Heads.
The Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry leaves on the hour and the inbound Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry returns at 40 minutes past the hour. The ferry berths at an angle on the south side of the entrance to the Cut. Beware the backwash from its propellers if you enter or leave the Cut when it is berthed and make allowance as you pass astern. Do not be tempted to sneak in or out just before the ferry leaves or arrives, you will not be popular with either the ferry operators or with the Club.
Care should be taken when leaving the Queenscliff Cut to enter the mooring area on the right, as a flood tide will swing the stern quite quickly.
There is an 18m fairway parallel to the club wharf and to the east of the swing moorings that is dredged to approximately 2.3m. Proceed along this fairway and make sure that fenders are deployed. Boats should continue to at least level with the north end of the clubhouse and then swing out west towards the moorings before turning to starboard and proceeding south to the wharf.
Boats should berth with their bow facing south, i.e. towards the Cut.
Members and visitors have full use of the kitchen, dining room, hot showers, recreation room, barbecues, pizza oven and outside areas. Communal refrigerators and storage space are available to decant food and a few belongings from your yacht, but take them when you leave, as there is a high turnover during peak periods. Ice is also available for visiting yachts. The clubhouse has a small laundry and plenty of outside drying areas.
Queenscliff is a short trip across the Cut in a dinghy, either your own or the club’s, beware the tidal flow. If you have access to a car, the town centre is just a few minutes drive across the causeway, but be back before the security gate closes.
Historic Queenscliff offers much, including a range of cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as a licensed supermarket and plentiful shopping opportunities, with a good book shop.
The Queenscliff Harbour fuel jetty is accessible in the Cut 24 hours a day.
Who to contact
As QCYC is a volunteer club, there may be no personnel on site to take phone calls or respond to VHF calls. Advance planning is therefore important. The website provides arrival information including the club handbook and the contact details of current willing and helpful committee members.