Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef just off the Queensland coast, are one of those “bucket list” destinations, known far and wide for great snorkeling, great sailing and some of the best beaches in the world. This past February, I had the opportunity to explore the islands aboard the 41-foot Seawind 1250 catamaran Seawindow, which proved to be the experience of a lifetime.
The first day out was a blustery one, with a low overcast and rainsqualls on the horizon. Sailing out from behind the lee of Hamilton Island, the area’s commercial center and site of a vast luxury resort, we found ourselves fighting a 20-25 knot headwind and a stiff chop as we made our way northeast toward Whitsunday Island. But that was fine with the 1250.
Seawind Catamarans, based just south of Sydney, prides itself on the seaworthiness of its boats, and the 1250—a development of the successful 38-foot Seawind 1160—is no exception. Beating toward Frith Rock and the narrow Solway Passage between Whitsunday and Haslewood Islands, the boat couldn’t have been happier. Although well apportioned, its narrow hulls sliced through the water as opposed to pounding over it. This is a boat designed with world cruising in mind (shortly after Hull #1 came out of the Seawind factor, company managing-director Richard Ward took the boat for a prolonged sea trial across Australia’s notorious Bass Strait) and it shows.
The boat is also a pleasure to sail when just tooling around for the day or harbor hopping. In addition to its easy motion, the 1250’s twin helm positions make it possible to sit well outboard on either track when driving, providing a clear view ahead and of the rig. The helm is also remarkably sensitive and responsive. I’ve never sailed a cruising cat that felt so nimble or sailed so well to windward.
Threading our way through the Solway Passage, we bore away toward world-famous Whitehaven Beach where we dropped the hook on the beach’s sheltered southeast tip. Stretching four miles in all, Whitehaven is renowned for its blindingly white sand and crystal-clear water. Even with the overcast, the beach was pretty impressive—and virtually empty.
After a brief walk, we weighed anchor and carried on with our planned two-day counterclockwise circumnavigation of Whitsunday Island, eventually dropping the hook for the night in Tongue Bay. It was here that I came to truly appreciate the magic of the Whitsundays in general and Whitsunday Island in particular. Mountainous and indented with dozens of anchorages, the archipelago bears a striking resemblance to the Northern Hemisphere’s own Virgin Islands, with one exception—they are virtually uninhabited. Beyond Hamilton Island, the wooded shorelines of the Whitsundays are almost entirely devoid of human occupancy. Whitsunday Island itself is one great national park. Imagine St. Thomas without all those lights peppering the hillsides after dark. There were times in the Whitsundays when it felt like we were the last people on Earth—again, magical.
It was also in Tongue Bay that I had my first opportunity to experience the wonders of Bundaberg Rum, or “Bundy,” thanks to my Australian shipmates, Paul Rogers of Adelaide and Brent Vaughn of Seawind Catamarans. With enough Coca Cola, it wasn’t half bad. Only in Australia would you find rum with a picture of a polar bear on the label—another kind of magic, I suppose.
The next morning, we grabbed a mooring off Border Island for a quick snorkel and then continued around the northern tip of Whitsunday Island. The sail out to Border Island was a truly memorable one. The overcast was now gone, leaving a sparkling sun and fleecy white clouds in its wake. We regularly hit 9 knots on a beam reach with the wind out of the east-southeast. After turning the corner and setting a course back toward Hamilton Island, the 1250 seemed to literally sizzle as it sliced its way through the flat water along Whitsunday Island’s rugged western shore.
That afternoon we anchored briefly for lunch and then continued on toward Hamilton Island. It’s amazing how quickly you can click off the miles aboard a spritely cruising cat with a fresh breeze! Short tacking back between Henning and Dent Islands toward the Hamilton Island Marina (all the while keeping close tabs on Plum Pudding Reef!), I was once again amazed by the 1250’s sailing ability. As I shuttled back and forth from one wheel to the other, enjoying finger-tip steering as I played the shifts, it felt, for all intents and purposes, like I was steering a very fast monohull. It was a great ending to a quick introduction to one of world’s truly great cruising destinations.
For more on the Seawind 1250, including Seawind charter opportunities in the Whitsunday Islands, Caribbean and United States, click here.