Antipodean Adventures – Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands

Eight stalwart folk have flown to the opposite side of the earth to sail for 10 days among the Whitsunday Islands that are inside The Great Barrier Reef National Park in northeast Australia. Four of us (Val and Leslie and Mark P. and Cinda of San Juan Island , plus Ron and Kathy and Mark E. and PJ of Colorado Springs) came by various routes to meet together in Airlie Beach in Queensland at a very tropical set of cabins surrounded by palms and gum trees that host very squawky white cockatiels.

 Airlie Beach is a beach town that is recovering from Debbie, a category 5 cyclone that devestated the region last April. Now, the vegetation is coming back but many broken trees and buildings and docks remain.
The following day we adjusted our inner clocks and loaded our 48 foot catamaran with countless containers of food and water and other essential liquids. After a short training sail, we set off with Captain Ron helming and all others who wished hauling on lines and pulling on winches. Water Sprite, our Robertson and Caine 484, sped south, responding to the southeast trades. We dropped anchor at Happy Bay for the first night.
Each morning we chatted about where we might sail, given the fairly strong southeast trade winds that swooped around the mountainous Whitsunday Islands. Usually we stayed on the western sides of the various islands to avoid the windward, windier side.
Over our 10 days, Ron, Mark P., and Val variously helmed and tweeked lines and lowered and recovered the anchor as we visited isolated tree-lined coves and sparkling aqua water next to golden or pristine white beaches.  (Whitehaven Beach, on northern Whitsunday Island, is certainly aptly named.)
The crew of Water Sprite contributed in a variety of ways.  Couples teamed up at the helm, Cinda and Leslie coordinated cooking efforts,  P.J. was a sous chef extraordinaire, Kathy and the two Marks became anchoring experts, Ron was a superb navigator, and Val provided excellent problem-solving skills.  He heroically rescued a kayak paddle which had blown overboard, swam to a sinking bucket and pulled it in, and found a lost remote in the recycling bin at the Sunsail dock.
Our experience here is that this is a place for sailors! Our 48 foot catamaran fairly flew when on a beam reach with 20-25 knots of wind. We often reached speeds of 8-10 kts!
Most of our anchorages were moderately protected, though “bullets”, as they call them here in Down Under, would sweep down through the island’s valleys, rocking the boat with strong katabatic wind gusts.
The island topography is steep and the slopes are dense with dry, sharp and impenetrable vegetation. Only three times did we find tracks off into other places and these bushwalks were some of the high points of our trip.
All of our anchorages had at least some coral over which we could snorkel, though those “bullets” sometimes discouraged us from snorkeling or kayaking. But we did find good snorkeling and kayaking several times.  Our black suits are “stinger suits” that we rented to protect ourselves from the infamous and deadly box jellies and Irukandji  that inhabit these Great Barrier Reef waters.
We spent 2 pleasant nights at the marina in downtown Hamilton. Here we re-supplied our food, visited the ice cream store multiple times, and (finally!:-)) collected Ron and Kathy’s luggage that had gone walk-about a week earlier when they changed planes in Taiwan.
Twice we visited the Wildlife Park of Hamilton Island where our energetic and enthusiastic guide, Emily, showed us the ins and outs of caring for crocs, cassowaries, koalas, spotted lizards, pythons and more.  Visiting the park a second time for the 4 o’clock feeding was a fun way to learn more about some of Australia’s iconic fauna.


After this visit to this beautiful corner of the world that is clearly challenged by climate-change induced coral-bleaching, we are off to spend a week in Sydney.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Great to catch up a bit on your adventures down under. Hope you have a marvelous time in Sydney. We miss you on our own little island. Love and hugs, Robin and Tom

  2. Wow! Your photos, as always, are terrific! It looks like you are having a ball!


    Bill and Karen

  3. Good to hear from you and to live vicariously your adventure(s). Thank you for sharing!!
    Sam & Sandy

  4. Dear Leslie and Val,

    What BEAUTIFUL photos as always….thank you for sharing your adventures. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
    All is well here in East Sacramento and our Patriots are once again going to the Super Bowl!!!!

    Love, Janie and Don

  5. Thanks for sharing all your notes and photos – what a beautiful area of the world. Hope your time in Sydney
    is equally beautiful and I look forward to seeing you on SJI very soon.

  6. Amazing photos as always. It’s nice to experience so many amazing parts of the world vicariously, since I will probably never go to so many myself!

  7. The turquoise waters are beautiful with good warm tradewinds to help the sailing. Glad you found some coral and reefs to enjoy. I love the cute Koalas!
    Susan and Don

  8. Wonderful photos. It looks like a great adventure. Thanks for sharing.

  9. You are giving new meaning to the word: Explore!

  10. As usual I am duly impressed! Beautiful photos! Yet another incredible adventure! We sit here and watch the trees quaking from the wind and the rain is loud on the roof.

  11. I want to be like you when I grow up 🙂

  12. We are always looking forward to read your posts and see your pictures! Thank you for sharing your impressions! Hope to see you in 2018, maybe here in CA! Hugs, Anne

  13. Thanks for the visual break from cold, brown earth in January. Love love love to see you all so adventurous and in good health!

  14. Hello Leslie and Val, it was lovely to share Darwin’s adventures with you last night. You have his curiosity and energy – Wider Earth could be the subtitle to your travels. All the best, Diana

  15. What a wonderful adventure! Thank you for the lovely photos.

  16. Wow! another great adventure. Wish we were there with you.

  17. Fabulous photos. You all look great and it is wonderful to follow along with you on this adventure. Keep enjoying it all.
    va and bob garlitz

  18. So much fun to follow along your adventures! Smooth sailing!! ❤⛵❤

  19. Enjoyed your photos and narrative of yet another great adventure!

  20. What Marcia said! Love seeing all your adventures! xoxo

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