Sailing the Whitsundays

After joining the sailing club this semester and going out to a few social sailing days I was completely sold on the idea of spending a week sailing Australia’s famous Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsundays are a drowned mountain range that now encompasses 70-some odd islands just inside the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Our group of 35 assembled in Airlie Beach–the primary departure point for Whitsunday vacationers. Our fleet was comprised of two 42 ft. monohauls and two catamarans (that would later become known as party cat 1 & 2 respectively for radio communications). I was on one of the monohauls–with an estimated worth of $250,000–called Waterman with 6 others.

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Our first sailing day was a rough and rainy one. This weather was pretty much a dream come true for all the sailing enthusiasts on the trip and a worst nightmare for people wanting to work on their tan. Despite the weather the sail was pretty exhilarating, as we spent most of our time cruising on a 45 degree keel. We spent our first night moored at Nara Inlet–a nice bay of Whitsunday Island.

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A typical day on the boat followed the following rough itinerary: wake up and have some breakfast on the patio, sail until noon, go for a snorkel, lunch on the boat, sail to our next overnight destination, go for a hike, make some dinner, and have some bevvies. The second day was no exception and we enjoyed the best snorkelling of the Whitsundays off of Hayman Island. The colourful coral and diversity of marine life rivalled the first stop of my Great Barrier Reef excursion up north. We happened to be at the tail end of jellyfish season so we had to get decked out in stinger suits to be safe but I also personally felt like it upped my cool factor tenfold.

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On the evening of the third night a group of about 10 of us went on a fairly rigorous hike to Whitsunday Peak. We arrived at the top just in time for sunset and with the most amazing view of the surrounding islands. The walk down was a little dicey in the pitch black but luckily a few eager beavers had headlamps.

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On the fourth day at sea we arrived at the Hamilton Island Marina. Hamilton Island is essentially one huge resort; you get a whiff of wealth every time a 16 year old boy drives by you in a golf cart. We were overjoyed to arrive here because all marina occupants have access to all the facilities of the island. This meant hot showers–something you take for granted before spending a week at sea. A couple of us did another hike to the tallest point on Hamilton and then spent the afternoon hanging out in the pool. The entire group went for a nice meal out at one of the restaurants in the small village and later checked out the island pub.

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The next morning we set off for Whitehaven beach–the most iconic place in the Whitsundays. On this journey I also got to try my hand at driving the boat an I must say, harder than it looks. MUCH more finicky than driving a car and resulted in a new found respect for my skipper…but at least I looked the part.

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The beach is miles long and despite the fact that is likely the most frequented beach in the Whitsundays, it is pristine with beautiful white sand and clear blue water. The group had a bit of a party on the beach and then I went on a 2.5 hour walk of the entire length of the beach with a couple people from my boat. The following day we went for a hike to a lookout point of Whitehaven beach at high tide. The view at the end of the trail is the image you normally see on postcards of the Whitsundays and was quite possibly one of the most breathtaking views I’ve had on my trip. We spent the night moored in Tongue Bay–a bay known for it’s turtle population. We actually had two sea turtle sightings over the course of the week which was pretty neat.

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Our final sail back to the marina was pretty intense, with the wind gusting to 30 knots. We enjoyed one final night together in the marina before an early flight back to Brisbane the next morning. Overall, it was an incredible week spent in a beautiful place with great new friends.

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