A beginner’s guide to sailing the Whitsundays…with kids

You’ve all seen the advertisements right? Calm, azure waters, sun drenched sails billowing in the breeze. Ah, the allure of sailing the Whitsundays. Wouldn’t it be relaxing. Stop. Right. There.

Welcome to Whitehaven Beach, where the wind is a fierce 25 knots, the waves are smashing against the catamaran, the kids are taking it in turns to vomit over the side and the toilet macerator has broken down. Yep this stuff can happen. There can be a mixed bag of weather conditions, including strong south easterly winds in winter, so be prepared to be unprepared!

To give some background to this tidal tale, we thought it would be a fabulous idea to hire a catamaran and barefoot sail around the Whitsundays. No biggy! We have a boat – no sails though – and Cam sailed when he was a teenager – does windsurfing count?

Sailing in the Whitsundays on a catamaran

It wasn’t until we were at Abell Point Marina, boarding Ruby Sunday that I realised that I really had no idea what I was doing and neither did our intrepid crew which consisted of 3 adults and 2 kids. Our dear friend Amanda, who was supposed to be sailing with us, was suffering from a serious case of 8 month pregnancy-itis and had to stay in port, for most of the time, at Airlie Beach.

After spending our first night on the boat in the marina, we had half a day of training. There was a lot to learn but, amazingly, Mike (our instructor) was happy to leave Ruby Sunday in our (somewhat sweaty) hands. Cam, Ant and I all looked nervously at each other as we powered out across the Whitsunday Passage.

All crews need a grounding force, a capable commodore that will take the lead, Captain Cam was our saviour. His only worry was berthing the cat at the Hamilton Island marina while dodging multi-million dollar vessels, but of course he sailed through the challenge (pun intended). It was happy days for him there on in.

Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays Queensland

Now, it is true that I’ve been known to add a touch of drama to my tales, but that could be because I’m a worrier. Just like my mum and her mum before her. It goes down the line. I think we could safely say we’ve mastered the craft of anxiety riddled thoughts. So imagine, my precarious predicament during our second night at sea when we were moored in Tongue Bay. I woke up to pelting rain, howling winds and what felt like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Yep, we were spinning. Round she goes.

I had always thought I could live on a boat and master the art of sailing the seas, but a salty dog I am not! That storm, which apparently was considered minor, and that everyone else slept through, nearly broke me but the good news is, I got over it and ended up absolutely loving the adventure.

Nara Inlet

This adventure was like an organisational team building exercise on steroids. There was a lot to do and it took a team to do it. We had morning and afternoon radio calls with Mike to track our position, get weather updates and plan our itinerary. There were navigational charts to decipher, tidal times to monitor, sails to tame and everything else that it takes to sail a catamaran.

Our intrepid crewThe beautiful thing about the adventure is the fact that the kids were so cruisey. Their biggest concern was finding the best coral to snorkel around, so they clearly had an inflated sense of confidence in our abilities. They would laugh and scream while lying down on the trampoline mats while the water splashed onto them, dress up as pirates and defend our boat from invisible foes and stare in wonder at the amazing marine life we were sharing the water with.

No pirates here

Here is my list of ‘must do’ things while sailing the Whitsundays:

  • Go to Nara Inlet and visit the Ngaro Cultural site.
  • Hire a stinger suit for piece of mind AND go snorkelling.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for whales, turtles, fish and bird life.
  • Berth for a night at the Hamilton Island marina. It was around $120 and is a good mid-point break where you can use all of the resort’s facilities, stock up on supplies, have a hot shower and do your laundry. Also, hire a golf buggy and whip around the place like a character out of Fantasy Island.
  • Watch the sunrises and sunsets.
  • When you actually get those sails up for the first time, play Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ on the stereo.

 

The sails are up and we are actually sailing the catamaran

I guess the obvious question is would I do it again? That is a resounding yes! This is bucket list stuff people and is so transformational in terms of personal growth. So if you do get a chance, go for it!

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks and appeared in Kidspot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airlie Beach

When I was a child my parents took our family to Airlie Beach. It was the 80s – Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, neon colours and shoulder pads were in vogue, and indulgence seemed to be on the national agenda.

Boats, catamarans and yachts at Abel marina, Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach

Airlie was booming! We stayed in town at a schmick new holiday resort. Everything was shiny and new and there was a buzz in the air.

Flash forward 15 years later when I’d just returned from backpacking around Europe and wanted to explore my own ‘backyard’. Airlie was a very different place – all of those lux resorts in the 80s were now budget backpacker digs. The town seemed totally transformed.

A decade later, and in the wake of Cyclone Debbie, I again returned but this time with my family. I had mixed feelings about staying in Airlie after the much publicised devastation caused by Debbie but I had nothing to worry about. Airlie is recovering! Yes, the trees aren’t as luscious as they once were but they, like the town, is regenerating.

Tropical oasis in Airlie Beach

Taking a trip to Shute Harbour, which bore the brunt of the storm, is a different story. Here you can see the devastation unleashed by the cyclone. The clean up process is still happening here. The reality of living in paradise clearly has some risks but many would argue it’s worth it.

Cyclone damage with catamaran in the trees

We camped at The Big4 Whitsunday Adventure Resort and it was brilliant. They were in the final stages of building a huge waterpark, which I hear is completed. Nightly movies were screened at the outdoor cinema and it was a great place to chill out and get prepared for our barefoot sailing adventure. We were able to store our camper trailer here for 8 nights while we sailed around the Whitsundays on a catamaran.

There was one particular night when the breeze was so balmy, the setting sun coloured the sky in amber, a crescent moon hugged the horizon and the stars lit up the night. It was just beautiful.

Crescent moon against the pink sky at sunset