Sailing Tall Ships: Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Sailing Tall Ships: Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Steering a World-Class Racing Yacht

I’ve just taken the helm of a refurbished former world-class racing yacht and I’m cruising around some of the 74 mostly uninhabited Whitsunday Islands, which lie along Australia’s Queensland coast in the Coral Sea. The sails have been trimmed and there doesn’t appear to be a breath of air, but we’re still moving at almost 6 knots. This is one of the many former racing yachts you can charter for 1, 2, or multi-day trips to the islands bordered by the Great Barrier Reef and providing miles of sheltered water for ideal sailing. With the wind in my hair, the sun on my brow, and the yacht at my command, I sail on—a thrilling experience for anyone who loves boating or the sea.

Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.

You can ride the rails on mono-hulled Maxi Racers such as the Matador, British Defender, or Spank Me. Matador is a 26m (85-ft.) high-tech racer that was undefeated in more than 50 races. The British Defender is a 25m (83-ft.) high-tech yacht raced by the British Armed Services in an Around the World Race. Spank Me won the 1990 Sidney to Hobart Race in 1990. For those that prefer a boat that doesn’t heal over, the 20m (67-ft.) trimaran, Avatar, is a screamer that rides flat.

For those excited and anxious to get hands-on sailing experience, most of these charters provide instruction and the opportunity to raise, lower, and trim the sails, take the helm, or just relax, enjoy the ride, and search for local dolphins or whales. Depending upon the charter you choose, you can snorkel or dive from the yacht, or arrange a rendezvous with a dive boat and dive the Great Barrier Reef. When you contact an operator make certain that you specify the type of trip you want, ask what you should bring aboard. Many of the boats provide drinking water, but soft drinks and alcohol are BYO. Food is provided. Also check out the sleeping and bathroom accommodations. Don’t expect a private cabin or bath. For those who don’t want to overnight, day trips are available with several operators.

For those that wish another sailing experience, century old, wood-deck tall ships such as the Solway Lass are available for charter. Get up in the rigging and reef the sails. For experienced sailors there are numerous bareboat (sail it yourself) charters. Most of the boats are in the 9 to 12m (30–40-ft.) range, with numerous Catalinas and Bavarias available. Crews can be arranged for some of the larger boats.

The Whitsunday Islands are the closest point between Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. Diving and snorkeling opportunities are abundant in the area and trips to the Reef for diving can be arranged. Big game fishing, ATV trips, and golf are also available. —LF

Whitsunday Tourism ( 1300-717-407;

Tours: Blue Paradise Sailing ( Southern Cross Sailing Adventures ( 61/7/4946 4999;

When to Go: Apr–Nov; best whale-watching is July–Sept.

Whitsunday Coast Airport, Proserpine, and Hamilton Island Airport.

$$ Long Island Resort, Whitsunday Passage ( 61/7/3391-2890; $–$$ Summit Apartments Airlie Beach, 15 Flame Tree Court ( 61/7/4946- 3400;

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