Whitsundays by Sunsail
Trade-a-Boat’s yacht tester, ALLAN WHITING, recently crewed on an X-43 during Hamilton Island Race Week, but on previous Whitsunday visits he’s chartered Sunsail boats. Here are his tips for taking the reins of one of the local yachts…
If you don’t have time to bring your own boat to the Whitsundays, you can always charter a yacht from a local operator like Sunsail. This is hardly news, as all the Sunsail yachts were snapped up during this year’s Race Week. The comfortable cruisers are popular with crews who knew they couldn’t compete with the full-on race boys, but who want the experience of participating in this famous event. And some did quite well in the fire-up-the-rail-mounted barbie cruising divisions.
Mind you, the charter boats are built and rigged for comfort, not for speed, and six knots is about all you'll see on the speedo. After Race Week, it’s possible to further enjoy this relaxing sailing tempo as you yacht from anchorage to anchorage. Instead of winch handles in the holders, you can have refreshments quietly dripping condensation. And just relax.
The trade winds normally blow briskly from the southeast, but that’s not a problem when you're looking for an overnight anchorage because the Whitsunday Group has numerous bays and inlets that are sheltered from the prevailing wind. When we’ve been in doubt about the suitability of an anchorage we’ve simply called the Hamilton Island base and checked with the experts.
When you charter a boat from Sunsail, on Hamilton Island, you’ll have an in-depth briefing on boat systems and the Central Whitsunday Island Group. You’ll also be given a copy of the excellent publication 100 Magic Miles that provides all the information and navigation charts you’ll need.
We always opt for the full-catering package that includes all the food we can possibly eat and supplement that with refreshments from the island watering hole.
Boat handling of the charter vessels is easy, thanks to deliberately undersized sail plans, with roller-furling headsails and easily stowed mains, but put a bunch of racers on board a cruising boat and they'll try to make it 'go'.
The only 'go fast' we’ve ever devised to increase speed of a monohull charterboat downwind was to jury-rig a boathook as a jockey pole, to improve the aspect of the headsail. However, after a day of futile efforts to turn this cruiser into a racer, we accepted the inevitable and drifted into Whitsunday Islands pace.
In a week's charter we’ve comfortably circumnavigated Whitsunday and Hook Islands, and sailed past South Molle and Long Islands. We’ve dropped the pick into the glassy waters every afternoon around 4pm and got underway each morning — after an extremely leisurely breakfast — at nine or so.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Highlights have been visiting Whitehaven Beach, Butterfly Bay, Happy Bay, Macona Inlet, Stonehaven Anchorage, Turtle Bay and Nara Inlet. We have snorkelled at all these locations — except shark-prone Nara Inlet — using the gear that came with the boat as part of the charter. A bonus at Nara was going ashore and walking up to a decorated Aboriginal cave.
The guidebook, 100 Magic Miles, was all we needed for precise navigation around the Whitsundays. It would be hard to go wrong, given the detailed sailing and mooring instructions included in this bible.
The optimum time to sail around the Whitsundays is during the southern winter, but 'shoulder' periods — just before and just after The Wet — can be great, too, though more tropical and humid.
Our advice is not to under-boat yourselves. Four couples sharing one head will strain any friendship and a minimum two-toilet boat is a much safer option.
Four couples are probably best accommodated in one of the Leopard catamarans, because they have double berths in each corner and an en suite for each cabin. Cats also offer much greater deck area and are more stable entertaining platforms, which brings us back to the chilled glass dripping condensation.
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