Sail Away

Sailing with whales during Audi Hamilton Island Race Week

Sailing with whales during Audi Hamilton Island Race Week

There are few places on earth to compare with the Whitsundays for sailing. From experienced sailers to those only just discovering the joys of this timeless pursuit, the Whitsundays offer the perfect location to harness the breeze and enjoy this spectacular part of the world under sail.

Story Rob Mundle photography courtesy Sunsail, Jack Atley, Andrea Francolini and Dick Sweeney

The Whitsundays – 74 island wonders…’. These well chosen words say it all. This is after all, unquestionably one of the most beautiful tropical destinations on earth and it’s here for all to see and experience. The islands of the Whitsundays are considered by many to be Australia’s answer to the Caribbean – only better.

This is a region that is special beyond belief, and every one of the 74 islands, plus the Great Barrier Reef and a sizeable chunk of the Australian mainland (which locals often refer to as the largest island in the Whitsunday group!) lie within a 30 nautical mile radius of Hamilton Island.

With so much to be enjoyed within such a relatively small and well-protected area, the logical question is, ‘How best can I explore the Whitsundays?’

Well, as a ‘Whitsunday tragic’ I can tell you there is one truly great way to explore the Whitsundays and absorb all it has to offer, and that is by charter yacht – sail or power. It is the option where you are captain of your own ship and master of your own destiny. Most importantly, it’s a simple and carefree way to travel – not to mention extremely therapeutic. The most popular mode of travel is a bareboat charter; one where you and your friends can step aboard a fully provisioned yacht and set sail. Alternatively, many companies also offer a crewed charter where their qualified staff come aboard as your crew and your guides for the cruise.

My love affair with the Whitsundays started more than 30 years ago. In fact I know the date: 29 June, 1980. A friend, Evelin, and I set off to cruise the Whitsundays aboard a 33ft yacht chartered from one of the very first charter organisations established there. Hamilton Island was not a resort destination back then, so we departed from Shute Harbour, near Airlie Beach, and headed for what we expected to be a stunning destination: Whitehaven Beach on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. We had seen photographs, and they looked too good to be true – kilometres of fine and bleached white sand, turquoise water, dense, verdant vegetation. Much to our delight, the photographs did not lie, as Evelin’s diary revealed: ‘We could have been the first people ever to have sailed through here. It was not hard to imagine…what a sight to behold as we turned the corner and saw the beach! A pure white ribbon of sand and lush green vegetation – like a beautiful full green skirt trimmed with frothy white lace. It was a feast for the eyes.’

Whitsundays sailing with Sunsail

Whitsundays sailing with Sunsail

Through these waters on 3 June, 1770 or ‘Whitsunday’, but it was probably ‘Whit- Monday’ because there had been no allowance for the international dateline back then. The amazing thing is that despite the number of islands and notable topographical features that surrounded him on that day, he gave names to only the Whitsunday Passage and Pentecost Island (south east of Hamilton Island) before continuing on to the north.

Bareboat charter cruising through these islands is easy: easier in fact than driving a car and using a street directory, electronic or otherwise. For a start there’s no traffic and plenty of room to manoeuvre, and finding your way to your next secluded destination is a simple and satisfying procedure. The controls and sail handling equipment on charter sailboats these days is so straightforward that a near novice can manage things single-handed. However, if sailing is not your scene then you will find there are plenty of purpose-built motor boats, particularly catamarans, available for charter. When it comes to sailing through these generally deep waters it takes only common sense and some simple navigation to see you enjoy your cruise in total safety. Most importantly, your highly experienced charter company operators will best guide you to ensure a safe and carefree voyage.

The best time of the year to be on the water in the Whitsundays is between April and December, with the last four months of the year being the prime time. Even so, when sailing or boating you must remember that you are dealing with a tropical climate and it can be cantankerous. One tip is to try to organise your cruise around the time of a full moon as this brings a beautiful new dimension to the experience; and don’t forget that in July, August and September you get the added bonus of it being whale season in the Whitsundays.

‘We could have been the first people ever to have sailed through here. It was not hard to imagine…what a sight to behold as we turned the corner and saw the beach! A pure white ribbon of sand and lush green vegetation – like a beautiful full green skirt trimmed with frothy white lace. It was a feast for the eyes.’

One other point to consider is the increasingly popular stay-and-sail option. This allows you to fly into Hamilton Island and stay for one or two nights before going out on your cruise. Then, when you return, you have the option to stay another couple of nights before flying home.

So, where are the best destinations? Whitehaven Beach is a must, as is Stockyard (or Chalkie’s) Beach on Haslewood Island to the east. It features the same amazing talcum powder sand you find on Whitehaven Beach, and it has the advantage of having a series of small coral reefs close to shore that are great for snorkelling. To the north of Whitehaven, past the stunning but shallow Hill Inlet, is Tongue Bay. Butterfly Bay on the northern shore of Hook Island is another safe and interesting anchorage – especially if the butterflies are in season, and to the east of there you’ll find some excellent snorkelling. My preference is Manta Ray Bay.

There are two other satisfying anchorages on Hook Island: Stonehaven Bay, Nara Inlet, and directly south of Nara, on Whitsunday Island, is the picturesque Cid Harbour.

No matter where you decide to go, you can not help but be absolutely delighted with this stunning area and discovering it by boat (sail or power) will afford you that special perspective that is absolutely priceless.

To see more by Rob Mundle, be sure to read his new book Bligh: Master Mariner.

Whitsunday Sailing Options

From instruction for beginners to offshore skipper and international qualifications, stay and sail packages, bareboat or skippered charters, Sunsail Whitsundays can help you get out and explore the Whitsundays by sail. For more information please visit or call 07 4948 9509 (59509).

Ocean Dynamics
Ocean Dynamics provide a range of private fully-crewed day or overnight charters, allowing you the opportunity to relax and explore the Whitsunday waters in style. For more information please visit or call 07 3268 4074 or 0400 744 850.

You’ll also find a range of other tour and activity options that allow you to get out on the water in the Whitsundays. Visit the Hamilton Island Tour Desk for more information or call 07 4946 8305 (58305).

The Above Article was originally published in the January 2011 Edition of REEF Magazine