Let the Wind Be Your Guide: The Top Charter Sailing Vacations

The Whitsunday Islands: Aussie Cruising Haven

The Whitsundays lie near Townsville in northern Queensland, a tropical region with year-round sunshine and warm, clear waters. The charter fleet is based at Shute Harbor, which can be reached by air from Sydney or Brisbane. On the other side of the Whitsunday Channel is the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's natural wonders. Crewed charters are quite popular here, and there are many fine yachts to choose from. More adventurous sailors venture out on their own, on a bareboat in the 30- to 45-foot range. Reserve a yacht well ahead of time, as the local demand is strong year-round.
The Whitsundays themselves are not part of the barrier reef. They are craggy islands with indented bays, rugged ,and snow-white sandy beaches, rimmed by protective coral reefs. The barrier reef itself is 15 to 40 miles offshore, and bareboats are forbidden to visit it. However, some local outfitters will arrange to actually pick you up in a seaplane from your yacht and take you for a half-day excursion to the low, sandy cays and reefs far offshore.

The Whitsundays are like the Virgins in one sense: you can combine days of quiet solitude with occasional congenial evenings ashore at the various resorts, such as Hamilton Island, that dot the area. Many maintain moorings for floating visitors, and dinner and a few drinks is a wonderful way to meet the locals on their own turf. They are some of the friendliest people in the world. If your tastes run to the unspoiled, have no fear. There are 74 Whitsunday Islands, and you can lose yourself for days among them. This is a "lunch hook" charter area where you can anchor off any number of pristine white beaches and walk ashore, your feet scuffing sand that may not have seen another soul for months. The choice of overnight anchorages is unending, including such famous spots as Butterfly Bay and Macona Inlet, where you can lie in solitude and snorkel among colorful coral heads, or simply climb ashore to admire the view.
Practically Speaking
The trade winds blow steadily here, lighter in summer and with greater, more predictable force during the Australian winter (May through August). You can sail year-round, but we prefer the southern winter months, even if the winds are stronger. Temperatures will be comfortable, and the sailing is simply better.
This is not a cruising ground for beginners, as the currents run strongly between islands and sudden downslope winds can put you on the coral at the entrance to an anchorage in seconds. A newcomer is best advised to engage a local skipper, at least for a couple of days, until you are used to Whitsunday sailing. Having said that, anyone with solid anchoring experience, and some familiarity with eyeball navigation and reefing should adjust rapidly to these waters. Anchoring in the Whitsundays requires care, and you will find yourself using plenty of anchor chain, and running your engine rather more than you might in home waters.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 1 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »