Rodney Stevens, Clarence Valley Independent
Booming boat sales and above 90 per cent occupancy has Yamba Marina looking to expand its berths from 95 to 145, enhancing the Clarence River’s reputation as a premier boating destination.
Yamba Marina owners Peter Sutton and Kay Cottee said they are looking towards their biggest expansion since they took over the marina.
“We’ve had the marina since 2004, a bloke called Kevin Harris built it, who also started off the Blue Dolphin Caravan Park and he sold that to the Mitchell family,” Mr Sutton said.
“Kevin developed the marina from nothing and when my wife Kay Cottee and I built a big boat we launched it at the marina in 2003.
“I got talking to Kevin Harris and asked what his plans were going forward, and he said eventually I’ll sell…I went round to his house, and we had a bit of a chat and within an hour-and-a-half we had a deal for us to buy the marina.”
In November 1987, Kay Cottee set off on a 189-day journey which saw her become the first woman to circumnavigate the world sailing, single-handed, non-stop and unassisted.
Mr Sutton said when they took over the marina, which is on 6.5 hectares of leased crown land, was operating at about 50 per cent capacity, a level that now is more than 90 per cent.
“We moved our boat building business into one of the shed’s and took over the management of the marina,” he said.
For the past 18 years, Yamba Marina has given free berths to Iluka Yamba Marine Rescue for its two vessels.
With marina berths limited as many around Australia are owned by yacht clubs, Mr Sutton said there is a concerted effort by owners to operate with minimal environmental impact, as very few new facilities are being opened.
“We’ve got a DA, we can put in another 50 berths, which can take it to about 145 berths, that’s approved, the next thing we have to get is a construction certificate,” he said.
“What’s changed over the years we’ve been there is boats are now a lot bigger, there’s more catamarans and therefore you have got to configure your marina differently.
“We’ll potentially start putting in the new berths next year, because we are over 90 per cent capacity.”
Last year, Mr Sutton said they contracted ENV Environmental Services to do an audit of the marina’s operations.
“That involved water samples, earth samples, samples from the marina floor that underwent all sorts of environmental testing to ensure what we were doing on the site was leaving the site in the same condition, if not better than when we took it over,” he said.
“That environmental study gave us a terrific bill of health for how we operate the marina.”
With booming boat sales, population growth and the boating asset that is the Clarence River, Mr Sutton said the increase in berths would be within the marina’s current site.
To enhance the marina precinct, Mr Sutton said low-level, low-density tourist accommodation could be built on the site in the future, without overdeveloping the area.
“We’ve had proposals from people (developers) we had to knock back for tourist accommodation because of the scale of what they were proposing,” he said.
“Yamba has a great reputation as a transit point, a stop for boats going up and down the coast, so we get a lot of transient boats and when they come in, they buy fuel and spend money locally.
“We are just getting so many enquiries because boat sales are up over 40 per cent around Australia, both new and second-hand boats.
“This was largely a function of Covid, because when Covid hit and people couldn’t go overseas they said what are we going to do for our holidays, and they said we’ll buy a boat.
“Suddenly boat sales took off, so you’ve got increased demand, but no new places to put the boats, so I think this is something the government has to look at, from the tourism angle.
“Usually once a year we’ll get 15 or 20 Riveria’s come down from the Gold Coast and they’ll do the river for a week, they do the seven pubs, they do the Jacaranda Festival and the council, to their credit, have put in new wharves along the river so they can get off at Maclean and Ulmarra, to experience the valley without clogging the roads.
“We see it (the Clarence River) as a terrific tourist opportunity for the council and the government to use the river for water borne cruising.”
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 28 September 2022.