The Yacht Race In The Middle Of The Australian Desert
It's a pastime so familiar, but in an unfamiliar setting.
They're dedicated yachties, they know how to sail -- but their watercourse is surrounded by the harsh terrain of the Simpson Desert.
When floodwaters swell upstream, they begin a journey of up to 1000 kilometres to the vast expanse of Lake Eyre. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club has weeks to scramble members, from as far as Perth or Melbourne, to the middle of the Birdsville track, in South Australia’s outback.
A small band of desert sailors once again converge, for just the sixth regatta in the Lake Eyre basin system.
The Warburton River, flowing through the remote cattle property of Cowarie Station, is chosen.
The tracks in this barren country can be challenging enough to negotiate on four wheels -- so towing a fleet of a dozen yachts is quite a feat.
The tyre fitter, half way up the Birdsville track, became rather busy when the convoy pulled into Mungerannie Hotel for lunch.
So remote is the campsite, a fresh track is graded to allow access. But this bunch enjoys seclusion.
While the social benefits of the comraderie are obvious, the tranquility of isolation and solitude on the water is equally -- if not more -- enticing.
“You become almost part of the wildlife," explained veteran desert sailor, and yacht club commodore, Bob Backway.
“You get plenty of time to think about things."
The group has made the pilgrimage to enjoy five days of sailing, but what is clearly not lost on them, is the fact the floodwaters have arrived from the same deluge event that caused widespread devastation to Queensland cattle stations in February.
For properties in South Australia’s far north, the Warburton River flowing through has turned fortunes around.
After just 20 millimetres of rain fell in 18 months, Cowarie Station was preparing to destock its animals. Now neighbouring landholders are racing to get their cattle onto stations along the river. Cowarie Station’s Craig Oldfield expects to get at least 18 months of feed from the event.
“It really has quite saved us. A big change of plans and absolute reversal of what we were going to do,” he said.
Tourism operators are also gearing up for a bumper season -- as travellers descend on the centre of the continent, for the rare opportunity to see floodwaters spill into sections of Lake Eyre.
And a second surge of visitors is expected to arrive when the remnants of Cyclone Trevor reaches the region by mid-May.
They may have to dodge a few boat trailers along the dusty tracks, drawn once again to an outback rejuvenation.