03 Jun Sailing the Whitsundays
One of the most anticipated stops on our three-week road trip along the East Coast of Australia was Airlie Beach, where we had our sights set on sailing around the famous Whitsunday islands. So, almost as soon as we arrived in Airlie we went on a search for Whitsunday sailing adventures, wandering around the harbour and checking out the beach and swimming lagoon while we were at it.
There are so many Whitsunday cruises to choose from, many of which involve snorkelling and visiting one of the Whitsunday islands, usually Whitehaven. Since we’d already enjoyed a full day of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef on a huge modern boat from Cairns, we decided it was time to forego the usual tourist boats and go for something a little bit different.
Sailing the Whitsundays with Tall Ship Adventures
The Derwent Hunter is a beautiful 68-year-old wooden sailing boat with a colourful history. Built in Tasmania it has been used for marine research, shipping goods, racing and even as the set for a TV series The Rovers. Now, the Derwent Hunter is owned by a family-run charter company, Eco Tall Ship Adventures, who run tourist trips sailing around the Whitsundays.
Intrigued by the story of this unique vessel, we signed up for a day-trip on board, excited to set foot on a real sailing boat for the first time. We were also impressed by the amount of eco and conservation awards Tall Ship Adventures had won and were reassured to know that our money would go to an ethically-run family business.
Whitsunday Sailing on the Derwent Hunter
We arrived at the harbour early. The sky was overcast and there was a definite breeze in the air but, we were told, this would make for a great day of sailing. Surrendering our flip-flops to the crew, we climbed aboard the ship. All 39 of us perching on top of the centre islands surrounded by ropes and pulleys, buoys and anchors; huge sails lay coiled above us, waiting to be unwound.
As we pushed into sea we could see the green furry islands all around us, far off and obscured by early-morning mist. It wasn’t long before the crew were asking for volunteers to help with hoisting the sails; Andrew eagerly stepped forward to heave open the ship’s enormous wings – then we really started rocketing along. Water sloshed onto the deck as we smashed into the waves, the wind roaring alongside us, sea-salt saturating our skin.
While the wind made for some exciting sailing, it also churned up the sea, making its surface choppy and its depths cloudy – this didn’t make for great snorkelling conditions. Normally the crew would anchor the boat at a couple of different snorkelling spots and we’d have the chance to check out a beach. However, since the wind was up the crew took us to just one place, Caves Cove, which had only a tiny slither of beach littered with rocks and sharp coral.
Nevertheless, we descended into the cool waves and squinted through the murky water, able to make out tons of colourful fish and an ocean-bed carpeted with spongy coral reef. After an hour we climbed, exhausted back onto the boat to be greeted by a feast of salad and pasta, meat and fish, bread and chilled fruit. Sleepy and full we set off again for an afternoon of fierce sailing.
The ride was so ferocious we all had to cling to the edges of the boat; it was too loud to hear much apart from the slamming of wood against waves as we soared across the ocean. Laughing, we were soaked more than once as water sprayed violently onto the deck and the crew rushed around, adjusting the sails.
We arrived back in the harbour with salty, tangled hair and wind-reddened cheeks. Dry land felt bumpy under our feet after a day of constant bobbing up and down – we definitely felt like we’d just been on a real sailing adventure.
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*A day-trip sailing the Whitsundays on the Derwent Hunter costs £121.70 per person, we received a 50 percent discount.