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INDULGENT ADVENTURES - Travel, adventure and windswept dreams.

Sail the Whitsundays by Bareboat Charter

Bareboating in the Whitsundays

Hill Inlet, Whitsundays, Queensland

Hill Inlet, Whitsundays, Queensland

Chartering a yacht or a catamaran and sailing the high seas to desert islands unknown and unexplored is surely a dream for every avid holiday adventurer. Fearlessly they sign up to be captain, crew, chef and cocktail maker, because they know in their heart and soul they can do anything. Lucky for us then, that the wise heads at Cumberland Charter Yacht also know that anything can happen on the high seas of charter yachting, and stand ready with a fabulous support crew to bail you out if necessary…

Be assured this is an adventure holiday. Things don’t always go to plan. This is a holiday where you work hard for the pleasure of turtle spotting and walking deserted beaches…but ahh what a holiday it is!

Cumberland Charter Yachts are based in the Queensland coastal town of Arlie Beach at Able Point Marina. They delivered our gorgeous catamaran ‘Fluffy Muffy’ (I know! what a name!) to Hamilton Island for us. We flew from Sydney to Hamilton Island for a night at The Beach Club prior to meeting up with our Cumberland Briefer and Fluffy Muffy the next day at Hamilton Island Marina.

Top 5 things we have experienced in the Whitsundays

Sailing with a Humpback Whale Mother and calf.

Baby Fish jumping on our deck to escape bigger fish at night

Snorkelling at Blue Pearl Bay off Hayman Island

Walking on Whitehaven Beach in the early morning

Scuba Diving off the back of our boat

Turtle Spotting at Tongue Bay…oops! That’s 6! Oh well!!!!

It was not an auspicious start to our adventure when the rendezvous with ‘Fluffy Muffy’ was an hour late and we were left waiting at the marina in the pouring rain wondering what was happening. ‘Are we on Fiji time?’ I asked DC. DC was busy trying to protect our electronics from saturation.

‘No, just a mix up in arrival times’ our Briefer for the afternoon’s crash course on catamaran sailing assured us. Sadly our Briefer was new to briefing and had not sailed Fluffy Muffy before, so our brief left a little to desire. Our prior experience with a bareboat yacht a few years before gave us more confidence than the Briefer. This, added to an already inauspicious star, made things a bit nervous for our first sail out to our overnight anchorage at CID Harbour.

CID Harbour is on the western side of Whitsunday Island and is a relatively large and sheltered spot, not overcrowded with yachts, and our first anchoring went rather more smoothly than anticipated! Yay! We are here in the glorious Whitsundays and the luxurious ‘Fluffy Muffy’ is ours to enjoy. Bye bye Briefer and hallo freedom of the High Seas!

Champagne anyone?

Fluffy Muffy


Fluffy Muffy

Fluffy Muffy is a Lightwave 38 Catamaran and sleeps up to six people in three doubles. It has two toilets and one very civilised shower. There is a galley kitchen with fridge, freezer and gas oven and grill. There is a very comfortable indoor lounge-dining area with TV and DVD player and importantly a lovely outdoor lounge-dining area with barbecue.

There are many different views on the yacht versus catamaran question. My current perspective is that staying on a catamaran is more comfortable than a yacht and you are seldom awakened by any clank-clanking of the anchor (the bane of our bareboat yacht trip!). Bliss is a peaceful night after a day of water activities!

Having two engines makes maneuvering much much easier too, particularly when trying to pick up a mooring and when anchoring. Fluffy Muffy is beautiful – roomy, very well appointed, and we love it.

The advantage of a yacht is that they handle heavy weather better – and sailing is all weather!

Cumberland Charter Yacht had organised and packed away our preordered supplies and we made short order of starting the barbecue and preparing a seafood feast for our first night. The first disaster of the trip struck when our sole bottle of olive oil (for a ten night trip) slide from its perch into the sea! A dramatic dusk rescue ensued as DC dove in and swam after the rapidly receding bottle (which thankfully was sealed and bobbing along in the current). Phew!

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Thanks to DC’s heroics our first barbecue dinner (and subsequent ones) was wonderful. As the night grew old and we finished our wine, enjoying the peace and calmness of our surroundings and marveling at the number of stars.

While our double bed was rather small we were rocked gently to sleep by the kind ocean.

The overnight anchor held (always a secret fear!), and the anchorage itself was lovely. It was a joy to wake up surrounded by water and have a quick swim before breakfast. A quick check of the weather report though wasn’t promising and after checking in on our morning call with Cumberland we decided to stay another night in CID Harbour as there was a strong wind warning current. A lazy day full of swims, reading and an afternoon nap.


Sunset at CID

Our next anchorage was for New Years Eve and we were determined to get a spot at Stonehaven, a mooring opposite Hayman Island from which we could celebrate the coming of the New Year enjoying Hayman’s fireworks. We were chuffed with our plan and wasted no time the next morning in getting started. Conditions were still not the best with windy conditions, squalls and rough chop making slow going for sailing so we decided to motor to ensure a good mooring.

Best Time of the Year to visit

Concensus agrees that Spring and September is the best time to travel to the Whitsundays – temperatures are between 19 to 26 degrees with mild humidity and a lovely 25 degrees in the water and no stingers. This trip was taken in December/ January and we found the temperatures to be fairly similar but a tad warmer all round with more humidity and periods of rain. Still it didn’t bother us too much at all.

Peak Stinger Season is October to May and Stinger lycra suits are a must during this time. Avoid School Holidays.

Plans began to unravel rather quickly after arrival at Stonehaven (which looked like a fabulous spot.) We were attempting to moor into a strong headwind and when in reverse we heard a big CLUNK! and one of the engines stopped. That wasn’t good. What the **** happened? We had to moor on the one engine. The engine alarm started to go off. We dived into the water to look for damage – we were in 15 metres of clear water so we didn’t think we had hit a reef. We had fouled the port engine with trailing rope. We cleared the rope, and started the engine again, but it had an alarm on. The engine bay showed water coming in around the sea legs. The bilge pump started coming on every 25 seconds for 2 seconds. We were naturally very alarmed by this and immediately spoke to Cumberland base, and then sent them a video via the phone. Although it was unlikely to get worse Cumberland need to carry out immediate repairs and we were asked to motor straight to Abel Point Marina at Airlie Beach.

It was 25 knots in the channel with a big chop. We had the main sail reefed and the headsail up, but it soon became too much sail and we took the headsail down. The cat doesn’t handle the chop well at all with one engine (much worse than a Benateau 43) – it was quite scary through the chop. It poured with rain, the tide was against us, and none of it was any fun. Our nerves were shot. We left at 2:30pm and got in to the marina at 6:30pm on New Year’s Eve in the pouring rain. Cumberland took the cat into port for us, given that it was on one engine (they actually started the second one though and used it). They put a rope underneath the boat to prevent it sinking and told us to sleep on the starboard side. They would repair it tomorrow.

I was really impressed with the Cumberland assistance. They were great.

We were shattered, it had been a huge day and we were disappointed to be in this situation on New Years Eve. It was bucketing rain. Nothing to it but to head to the Marina’s pizza bar and enjoy a few beverages to celebrate making it and not sinking! 🙂

We ended up staying at Airlie for a further two nights in the end and Cumberland kindly extended our charter so we had that time back on the water. My boss was going to hate me! and needless to say we put in place extreme rope watching processes to ensure no further issues with ropes!

We liked the look of the crystal clear warm water at Hill Inlet but so did the Rays!.
Underway again and restocked with water, ice, novels, clean undies and chippies! We didn’t leave until after lunch so we decided to just motor down to Happy Bay (to make sure everything was good!) . The mooring was located off an Island Resort that was truly uninspiring. However we had a very lovely dinner on the boat – lamb rack, bought just that morning.

Our starboard water supply was not working this morning but we eventually fixed it with over the radio instructions.

We motored back out into the Whitsunday channel and around the bottom (south) end of Dent Island. In the channel the sea was rough, but became really rough as we rounded Dent Island. Our poor short, broad-beamed catamaran, Fluffy Muffy didn’t like it. And then neither did we. So we turned around and had a nice sail up to Cid Harbour.

Cid Harbour was very pleasant. It was a bit disconcerting, however, when a large, slightly dilapidated motor boat anchored within what we considered our swinging circle. It was called Vengeance and flew a modified Jolly Roger with No Quarter No Mercy blazoned across the skull and cross bones. Hope we weren’t going to get boarded.

Wildlife Encounters

You can expect to see birds, turtles, sharks, rays and fish from on board your charter vessel without getting your toes wet. Between June to September you will also likely see Humpback whales as they calve and breed in the sheltered waters of the Whitsundays Islands before migrating back to colder climes. (We had a memorable encounter with mother and calf on our first trip which will stay with me forever.)

If you are into fishing it is only permitted in some areas of the Whitsundays but clearly marked on all the charts provided.

We had a lovely quiet afternoon swimming and reading. We roasted the eye fillet, which was delicious, and the evening entertainment was provided by the locals. It started with me rescuing 10 baby Spanish Mackerel who had stranded themselves on the back deck. They weren’t the last – several more rescue missions were required. There are hundreds of thousands of little tackers swimming about and skipping on the surface when the big fish came along. And there were heaps of big fish. Easily two feet long. At one stage I had my feet in the water, calling them, when the big fish came along the Spanish Mackerel were running into the bottom of my feet – it felt really odd.

One fish managed to skip on the surface continuously on its tail for 10 seconds or more – it was amazing.

Next day we motored through Hook passage to our last anchorage at Tongue Bay, just north of Whitehaven, in beautiful turquoise water. Hook passage was quite pleasant, and we saw a small white tip reef shark right beside the boat and also two turtles swam beside the boat for a while. One was massive.

Once we came out the eastern side of the passage we were exposed to the elements and poor Fluffy Muffy wasn’t very happy. Pounding through the waves, wind against tide, and against wind and tide wasn’t any fun at all. I was very un-impressed with the Captain!

Arriving at Tongue Bay was a pleasure. Last time we were here we called this Turtle Bay, and there are turtles everywhere. The sun is shining and it is relatively protected. This is what we came to the Whitsunday’s for. Close to Whitehaven Beach this is paradise.


We had our ‘pretend’ New Year’s here, with Moet, just sitting and enjoying a spot of turtle spotting.

Tongue Bay is gorgeous. But very different from when we were here four years ago – a stream of commercial day-tripper boats with loud music ferrying people to the beginning of the track to Hill Inlet. The track wasn’t there four years ago, and was only accessible at high tide.

We took the tender around the point and had Hill Inlet to ourselves in the early morning. The Inlet was the perfect spot for lots of rays to sun themselves in the shallow water and they are very visible from the beach. We also saw another Black tipped reef shark in amongst them which was interesting.

Off to Whitehaven beach for a picnic and a swim. Its a picture perfect paradise. DC contemplated kitesurfing but this was too difficult with all the yachts around. The tender started to sputter and cut out just as we were nearing Fluffy Muffy on the way back. DC started paddling against the current but I saved the day diving and swimming to the cat with the tender rope to pull her in! We fiddled with the tender and got her started again so not sure what the issue was…

Whitsundays 066

Happy New Year!

The towels are starting to get manky and the fridge smells and we are out of ice in the esky….a sure sign our adventure was nearing an end.

On our return we had a good sail downwind to Hook Passage and then another good sail up to CID Harbour .

Terrible tragedy on board – we’d run out of alcohol! Last bottle of wine opened, and the sun hadn’t even set…We had a lovely evening, capped off by lying on the front trampoline watching the stars. This is Magic. Special.

OK, cleaning & packing up the next day is hard work and took longer than planned. Last swim, then on our merry way… It was a very slow trip back to Hamilton Island. – We got the tide wrong, and the headsail worked it’s way part free and we couldn’t get it furled again – the wind was too strong.

We were late back to Hamilton Island Marina but we got the boat in OK, not elegantly, but OK! Very sadly we waved farewell to Fluffy Muffy as she motored out of the marina. Fluffy Muffy had given us a taste of the dangerous challenges of the high seas but what I mostly remember are the stars, the gentle rocking of Fluffy Muffy at night and the friendly locals.

And that, my fellow travellers, is my Whitsunday Adventure Holiday!

Notes for next time

Always Always check for trailing ropes!

Be prepared to tackle technical issues – (remember no grumping on holidays!)

You can never have enough Ice, towels or fresh undies!

Pack more wine than you think you will need!

and don’t forget your sunscreen!

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