Stories from the South Pacific: Whitsunday Magic - Sail Magazine

Stories from the South Pacific: Whitsunday Magic

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.
Author:
Publish date:
Whitsundays2012

For many world travelers, the South Pacific is little more than a dream, a place where the tantalizing scenery seems slightly out of reach. But for sailors, thanks to the many charter bases scattered around the region, it’s ours to explore. The question is: Where will you sail first?

Here are a few of our favorite trips to help you get inspired.

Time Out in Tonga

Entranced in Tahiti

Read on for Whitsunday Magic

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. The combination of a mild tropical climate—with highs in the 70s even in the depths of the Austral winter—and a well-established charter infrastructure allows the region’s charms to be easily accessible year-round. 

In early 2011, when I explored the islands aboard the 41-foot Seawind 1250 catamaran Seawindow, it didn’t take me long to realize the area’s reputation is richly deserved—despite the blustery overcast and rain squalls on the horizon that served to remind me that January through March constitutes the region’s “wet” season. 

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 is no exception. (Shortly after Hull #1 came out of the Seawind factory, the company’s managing director, Richard Ward, took the boat for a prolonged sea trial across Australia’s notorious Bass Strait.)

Whitsundays2012_2

Threading our way through the narrow Solway Passage between Whitsunday and Haslewood Islands, we bore off toward world-famous Whitehaven Beach where we dropped the hook on the beach’s sheltered southeast tip. Four miles in length, Whitehaven is renowned for its blindingly white sand and its crystal-clear water. Even with the overcast skies, 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 appreciate the magic of the Whitsundays in general and Whitsunday Island in particular. 

Rugged and indented with dozens of anchorages, the 74-island archipelago bears a striking resemblance to the Northern Hemisphere’s own Virgin Islands, but is virtually uninhabited. Beyond Hamilton Island, the wooded shorelines of the Whitsundays are almost entirely devoid of human life, looking much as they must have when Captain Cook first laid eyes on them in 1770. 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 first experienced 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 truly memorable. 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 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 sprightly cruising cat with a fresh breeze! 

All too soon, we were motoring into the well-appointed 243-berth marina at Hamilton Island, home to both the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, with its striking modern clubhouse, and Hamilton Island Race Week. Road traffic consists exclusively of golf carts, and the airport is within walking distance, making travel arrangements a snap. I confess, it was almost too easy getting off the island, as I was in no particular hurry to leave. It came as some consolation, though, knowing it would be just as easy to someday go back there again.

CONTACTS:

Charter Yachts Australia

Queensland Yacht Charters

Sunsail

Whitsunday Escape

Dream Yacht Charter

Photos by Adam Cort

Related

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more

albinheaters

Albin Pump Marine: Marine Water Heaters

IN HOT WATERSweden’s Albin Pump Marine has introduced its line of marine water heaters to the United States. Complete with 130V or 230V AC electric elements, the heaters can be plumbed into the engine cooling system. They feature ceramic-lined cylindrical tanks in 5, 8, 12 and ...read more

03-squalls4

Squall Strategies

Our first encounter with a big squall was sailing from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico. We left at 0200 to ensure we’d get into Ensenada before our 1300 haulout time. The National Weather Service had forecast consistent 15-20 knot winds from the northwest, which was perfect for the ...read more