Sailing The Whitsundays

I had never stayed overnight on a boat, prior to visiting the Whitsundays. In theory, it seems perfect; falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, waking up to turquoise blue waters, salty air, endless tanning… but is it too good to be true?

If you haven’t heard of the Whitsundays, let me tell you why this tropical paradise should definitely be on your Australian bucket list. The Whitsundays consists of 74 tropical islands off the coast of Australia, near the small town of Airlie Beach. It’s considered to be a national park in a national park (The Great Barrier Reef), with a protection status on roughly 70% of the islands. The largest and most famous island, called Whitsunday Island, is home to one of the most incredible beaches in the world – Whitehaven Beach. With an average temperature of 25C year round, there really is no wrong time to visit.

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Whitehaven Beach (photo from Google)

We went to the Whitsundays back in February 2018, while travelling up the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns. We had chosen a 2-day / 2-night sailing adventure on the OzSail boat, ‘Avatar’, as recommended by a travel agent in Sydney. This trimaran is said to make sailing more comfortable and stable because it has three hulls, offering better balance in the sea. The 2 large nets in between the hulls would be perfect for laying out and taking in the views of the Whitsunday Islands, but you could still get a little wet! We were most looking forward to snorkelling, the guided walk to a Whitehaven lookout and free time on the beach!

The rules for our overnight trip were simple: pack a small bag with bathing suits, towels, sunscreen and a change of clothes. Alcohol was BYO, but no glass or red wine. Everything else we needed would be found on board, including a place to sleep, linen, food and snorkelling equipment.

The trip turned out to be nothing like we expected, but it sure was an adventure.

It Wasn’t All ‘Smooth Sailing’
Once we departed from Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach, there was no turning back! Unfortunately, the sail was broken during the time of our trip and we were unable to use it. Instead, the motor pushed us around, and what should have been a quick, smooth cruise (assisted by the sail) turned into a long, bumpy ride over the waves to each stop. It was like being on a rollercoaster. This also meant there wasn’t much shade unless we went underneath and into the hull, so we spent the time working on our tans!

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I quickly learned I was not blessed with sea legs and got terribly seasick. I’d recommend having a pack of motion sickness tablets on hand, for any first-timers out on the water for a few days!

The Skyline
My favourite part of sailing the Whitsundays was watching the sky change colours. I’d never seen a sky so pink at sunset, and it reflected off the water beautifully. Everyone had this rosy shine to them and it made the end of each day that much more special. I mean, look at it.

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We were fortunate the weather held out and it rained very little. There were both beautiful blue skies by day and bright starry nights!

The ‘Private Room’
Surprisingly, Avatar fits 26 passengers and 3 crew members. Most people slept under the boat in the main hull’s ‘shared accommodation’. That left 6 ‘private rooms’ spread over the two outer hulls, that we each had to unscrew the hatch and hop in.

There were a foam mattress, two pillows and a light (no window), but most importantly, there was NO ROOM. It was about 3 feet tall, and 5 feet long, meaning we could just about sit in it, but Matt couldn’t even lie down (as he’s 6 feet tall). We dubbed it the ‘sea coffin’. At night, Matt closed the hatch twice, but it left me feeling terribly claustrophobic. One night, I actually slept on the net alone, while it was raining.

If you think that’s bad, there was a couple who closed their hatch and weren’t woken up the morning we went to Whitehaven Beach. We had been there a good hour before someone finally realised they had miscounted and passengers were missing. The couple had a good laugh about it though, and we made it a joke for the rest of the trip.

The People
Sharing the space on Avatar to sleep, eat, drink and party together, gave everyone a sense of ‘family’ while on the trip. Of course, we continued the ‘Avatar’ tradition with group photos on Whitehaven Beach…

The friends we met are what really made this trip special for us. Some we continued to cross paths with as we continued up the coast (like our Valentine’s Day skydive), whereas others were travelling in different directions after Avatar. When we returned to Airlie Beach, we had an after party at the local bar to say our goodbyes. I think there’s a good chance we’ll see some again elsewhere, especially these two.

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Our sailing adventure sure was interesting. Some of it could not be helped, but overall I did enjoy the trip. Would we visit the Whitsundays again? Yes, but perhaps next time it would only be for a day trip.

I highly recommend doing your own research on overnight boats beforehand. Take the length of the trip into consideration, along with the size of the group, atmosphere and included activities. Don’t forget to look at the weather, as it varies in the wet/dry season.

More on Whitehaven Beach coming soon!

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