Untouched beaches. Easy to navigate deep water. Predictable wind. Bikinis and rum.
Picture yourself at the helm of a 40’ catamaran under sail. You’ve just left last nights mooring, warm mug of strong coffee in hand. The 80-degree wind is a gentle 12 knots just forward of the starboard beam and you’re feeling alive, relaxed and content. The biggest choice you have to make today is which island and unspoiled beach you want call home tonight. The deep green islands that surround you pop out of water that present an impossible combination of blue hues. Where are you?
If you are a sailor or type of person who lives life along the coastline and between the tan lines like me, you’re likely thinking the Virgin Islands. And who could fault you? The US and British Virgin Islands are tops for renting a sailboat and striking out on your own adventure. But today you are half a world away in the Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland coast of Australia.
Does it sound like a long way to go to sail? Maybe, but certainly worth it. You can get to Airlie Beach, which is where I chartered my boat, by flying into Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine (PPP). Normally connections to this small airport will come out of Sydney or Brisbane. The flight from New York is around 24 total hours and from LA about five hours shorter. I’m finding airfare on Qantas for around $1,500.
My boat was chartered from Charter Yachts Australia, whom I recommend them. The staff is through and friendly. I arrived the day before my charter and stayed onboard, saving me a hotel. The best part was I got a chance to grab a beer and familiarize myself with my boat, “No Ties”. The next morning one of the captains showed up and gave me a very detailed briefing on the entire vessel. He also filled me in at length on the islands and waters that we would be striking out to enjoy.
We got underway with the captain onboard, pulling his dinghy behind. Once we got out onto Pioneer Bay we hoisted the main sail and he put me through some tacks to make sure I knew what I was doing. Satisfied that I was qualified to sail and do no harm he waved ‘gday, jumped into his dinghy and off he went. Sweet.
I need to come clean here. This catamaran was the largest sailboat I had ever been in charge of. My family had no idea how to sail, so I was effectively solo, in strange water with no direct experience with local weather patterns. We set out to make the long transit across the Whitsunday passage and anchor between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island before sunset. Everything went smooth. I started to relax. These are very easy waters to bareboat in.
Why the Whitsunday’s? Simply for the sheer undisturbed natural beauty of the 74 islands that make up this chain. Captain Cook named these islands when he passed through on Whit Sunday. Though some say it was really Monday. Who cares what day it was, I’m sure the beauty hasn’t changed much since. Sitting in the Coral Sea the combination of weather, water and islands provide a tranquil comfortable environment for easy sailing. These are perfect waters to holiday on and enjoy without feeling the weight of being the captain of a decent sized sailing vessel.
Charter Yacht Australia really helped make the process of sailing each day easy. In the morning every boat in the fleet checked in via radio. They did roll call then reviewed how everyone did overnight. If there were no problems to discuss they moved on to a weather brief. Thereafter each boat reported their intentions for the day and where they were going to tie up for the night. This process was repeated each evening before sunset, when you were required to be anchored by. There really is no reason to be sailing at night, considering you are on holiday.
We found “No Ties” to be in excellent condition, very clean, the lines were new and the sails were in excellent condition. The heads and kitchen were all very clean when we stepped aboard. Based on the great briefing we got, we had not stress handling her.
With all of the details reported let’s get to the reason we are really sailing. Fun! We had plenty to be sure. The Whitsunday’s don’t provide the daily choice of which beach bar you are going to enjoy a painkiller at. This sail is much more about unspoiled charm, and feeling in touch with this special place. Hey, you are in Australia, load the boat up with great wine, beer and Bundaberg rum. Make your own party. Tie up early, check your mooring and get into some serious eating and drinking on board. We rented scuba gear and dove a few times. On one night we invited our neighbors in the mooring field over to drink. We were all instant friends, as island people tend to be.
Depending on how many days you sail, we did six, you will eventually head over to Hamilton Island Marina. You can stock back up on ice, wine, beer, fresh water, diesel and food. There are a few restaurants in the Marina and a decent nightlife. It can be nice to get off the boat for a while and party with some different faces on land. What struck me the most was the wild Cockatoo’s that filled the sky as we enjoyed some rum and music. It was one of those nights that you know you’ll remember when you are looking back on a life well lived.
No sail is complete without sailing over to Whitehaven Beach. Situated on the southeast corner of Whitsunday Island, it is rated amongst the finest beaches in the world. It was an easy sail from Hamilton to find the beach. The beauty stunned me. Boat or float plane is the only way to get here. The beach stretches in a lazy crescent shape for just over three and a half miles, ending at the north side at Hill Inlet. Also on the north side is Tongue Point, a high point of land and the finest place to look back on the beach. After enjoying the beach for the day we anchored in Tongue Bay on the north side of Tongue Point. This is a great location to spend the night. We rose before the sun and hiked up to Tongue Point. Watching the sunrise over the Coral Sea and bath Whitehaven Beach in a warm orange blanket has to rate as one of the top things I’ve seen in my life. We were the only people there.
Being a bikini man at heart I have to confirm that the micro and thong bikinis you can find in my Conch Republic Bikinis line are very welcome in the Whitsundays. Nude and topless beaches are officially banned in Queensland but Australians aren’t too uptight about this. As long as you are on a secluded beach and children aren’t around nobody is going to complain. So bring along all those great bikinis you have, they don’t take up much room. You’ll look great on the bow of the boat with a glass of cold white wine in your hand and a white sandy beach a few yards on the bow.
The Whitsunday Islands might be a long way away but well worth it. I would suggest that an itinerary where you also visit the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney could make for an amazing 2-3 week holiday. The combination of natural beauty, easy sailing waters, good support infrastructure and laid back Aussie style make this sailing destination one of my finest memories ever.
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