How to go bareboating in The Whitsundays
Get this: The Whitsundays is the only place in the world where you can rent a multi-million-dollar sailing yacht without a licence.
Think that’s crazy? I did, too.
But the thought of gliding through the turquoise waters of the Whitsundays on my own yacht, flitting from one tropical island to the next, snorkelling at secluded bays and determining the course of my own adventure, at my own pace, left me wondering how difficult it could be.
Possessed by an urge to road-test the whole ‘no licence, little experience required’ concept of bareboating (I had neither) and to prove to my soon-to-be-30-self that I was still just as adventurous as in my early 20s (but with a lot more style), I decided to book a bareboating holiday in the Whitsundays. Together with seven of my friends, we set sail with Whitsunday Escape and had one of the best holidays yet.
And it turns out, sailing the Whitsundays is easier than you think. So don’t wait as long as I did and follow this step-by-step guide to booking your bareboating holiday in the Whitsundays.
1. HIRE YOUR CREW
This is the first and probably most important part to a stress-free bareboating holiday. Your crew is both your lifeline and your biggest handicap. Choose wisely.
Keep in mind that you will spend 24-hours a day together in a confined space. And if things don’t work out between you, there is no easy escape.
While you and your partner sailing into the sunset may sound like the ultimate romantic holiday, having a larger crew will help, especially if this is your first bareboating holiday. More hands on deck (literally) and more eyes on the water mean your holiday will be more relaxed.
Why not invite your friends to join you? You will not only create unforgettable memories but form a bond like no other over the achievement of sailing your own yacht.
While you don’t need a licence, a little sailing experience is required, so friends and family who know a thing or two about boats are always handy to have on board. If you don’t have a boatie in your circle of friends, anyone with a good general knowledge of how stuff works is an asset. By ‘stuff’ I mean the physics of wind power, mechanics, that type of stuff. As long as you don’t pick the crew from Gilligan’s Island, it will be smooth sailing.
TIP: Before you depart, divvy up the responsibilities and appoint a skipper, first mate and deck hands responsible for handling the ropes and sails, a marine radio operator in charge of the two daily scheduled calls with your charter company and, of course, a head chef.
2. PICK THE RIGHT YACHT
Ahhh! Your own yacht. It sounds so grand and fabulous!
And the choice is all yours.
First, decide whether you prefer a monohull (that’s the sleek kind you see slicing through the waves while on a lean) or multi-hull (the more stable catamaran with two hulls).
If your idea of a bareboating holiday is sailing past secluded beaches and secret bays while you lounge in the sun, cocktail in hand, and if comfort trumps speed on your trip around the Whitsundays, a sailing catamaran is perfect for you. While they are slightly slower than their monohull counterparts, catamarans are more stable because they don’t lean over – heel– while under sail. This means they’re almost unsinkable (don’t take our word for it!) and great for beginners and those prone to seasickness like me.
My favourite part about catamarans is that they have a lot of space for you to entertain and lounge on deck, which was perfect for our group of eight.
If you take to sailing like a fish to water or are an experienced sailor, you’ll love the speed and performance of a monohull. And let’s not forget the good looks as they glide through the smooth waters of the Whitsundays.
Once you’ve decided on the type of sailing yacht, it’s time to compare the size of boats, number of cabins on board and level of comfort to make sure it’s right for your crew.
If you’re unsure which boat to choose, contact the team at Whitsunday Escape, Charter Yachts Australia or one of the other Go Bareboating charter yacht companies (a collective with over 100 yachts between them!) who will help find just the right boat for you.
TIP: Whatever you decide on, make sure you pimp your yacht with all the essentials such as snorkel gear, kayaks, stand up paddle boards and fishing rods to make the most of the aquatic playground that is the Whitsundays. Trust me, there’s nothing like waking up in a remote bay and slicing your paddle through the crystal clear and calm water on a morning paddle.
3. LEARN TO SAIL
While you don’t need a licence, you do need basic coastal navigation skills and basic sailing experience if you wish to hoist the sails.
I didn’t have either. I have been on a sailing boat once and paid close to zero attention to the art of sailing. I was more interested in the pastel-coloured sunsets and bubbles in my glass.
The guys at Whitsunday Escape reassured me that we would be fine (after all, we weren’t the first inexperienced charterers) and recommended we sign up for a bareboat charter preparation course. Sailing schools and clubs around Australia offer this type of training with courses ranging from one day to entire weekends spent on the water.
Together with Logan (our newly appointed skipper), I signed up for the 1-day Bareboat Charter Preparation course with Southern Cross Yachting in Brisbane. After we almost ended up on Tony’s 40th birthday cruise rather than our training vessel (true story!), we spent the day with our teacher Mike, a seasoned sea dog, and five others learning to sail around Moreton Bay.
The Bareboat Charter Preparation Course will teach you how and when to hoist the Main Sail, unfurl the Head Sail, tack (sailing into the wind) and jibe (sailing downwind), safely sail into a marina and tie up the boat. You will learn basic navigation skills (from how to read charts and measure distances to the meaning of the various markers), the ins and outs of the boat and what to do in an emergency.
This course will be your safety buoy and will teach you everything you need to know before you clamber on board your own yacht. It’s money well spent, trust me. And if you’re still a little unsure, your charter company can organise a sail guide who will accompany you for just a couple of hours or days until you are confident on the water.
TIP: Brush up on basic nautical terms before you go. Knowing the difference between the jib sheet and mainsheet, bow and stern, starboard and portside means you will be less confused at the start. If you prefer a few more practise rounds, check if your local yacht club offers twilight races. These social events are a great way to gain hands-on experience with an experienced crew.
Stocking your floating hotel with the goods needed to feed your hungry crew is paramount. And carefully planning your meals, snacks and drinks will make all the difference when you anchor at the world’s best beach for lunch. Because, let me tell you, seafood platters and champagne taste a million times better on the back of your own yacht.
There are a couple of options to filling the cupboards of your kitchen – galley – with all the provisions you desire. If you don’t want the hassle of planning your own meals, you can have it all done for you by a provisioning company. The guys at Whitsunday Provisioning have over 30 years of experience in fulfilling the culinary dreams of yachties and have a range of platters and packages to suit even the strictest dietary requirements.
If you prefer to DIY, you will find easy-to-follow meal plans online and can shop at a local supermarket and specialty stores prior to departure. Plan carefully and cross-check your shopping list and basket because once you’ve untied your last bowline, there’s no turning back.
We used the ‘click & collect’ option of the local supermarket which meant we had a hassle-free start to the holiday and more time to enjoy the Whitsundays.
TIP: Make sure you check your fridge and freezer capacity and kitchen facilities prior to planning or ordering your meals. Most yachts have plenty of capacity, including the option to rent additional eskies if needed.
5. CHART YOUR OWN COURSE
The best part about a bareboating holiday is the freedom to chart your own course and sail the Whitsundays at your own pace.
Think about what you would like to do and see on your way around the islands of the Whitsundays. Do you love snorkelling with colourful coral and fish? Do you want to climb the highest peak for 360-degree views of the Whitsunday Islands? Or are you interested in following in the footsteps of the Ngaro Aboriginal people?
That’s all you need to worry about at this stage. Because before you leave the dock, your bareboat charter company will set you up with a briefer who will not only show you all you need to know about your yacht but teach you how to read tide tables, charts and the latest weather information to determine the ideal course and best anchorages for you.
During the twice-daily scheds (scheduled radio calls) with your charter boat company, you can then discuss and amend your plans to suit conditions on the day and your own desires.
TIP: If you are unfamiliar with the Whitsundays, purchase your own copy of 100 Magic Miles by David and Carolyn Colfelt. This book is the ‘bible’ for all things sailing in the Whitsundays and is available on board all charter boats.
6. READY, SET, SAIL!
Get packing (with this handy list), lift the anchor, hoist the sails and feel a rush of euphoria roll over you like a Mexican wave. The feeling when you’re finally sailing across the turquoise sea reminds me of when I was a teenager, about to leave the nest, cutting the cord. You feel anxious at first but then you realise everything’s gonna be alright. You have your eyes firmly on the horizon, eagerly anticipating what’s ahead of you.
And after a while, you stop worrying about what could/might/will happen and enjoy the moment.
This is it. You’re free. Your adventure has begun.
If you’re considering a bareboating holiday in the Whitsundays, all I have to say is: DO IT! It’s easier than you think and if I had known what I know now, I would have done it years ago.