Boat Charter in Australia

Whitsunday Islands, Australia

By Bernadette Bernon
Photos: Douglas Bernon, Laurence Buckingham
Published: December 2012

Photos taken from outer space, looking back to the Earth, reveal a stunningly distinct portrait of the 3,000-plus reefs and islands of Australia's Great Barrier Reef: shallow greens and turquoises twisting and curling into magical paisley patterns off the Queensland coast. The 1,250-mile Great Barrier Reef is the living organism seen from space, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I've always longed to see it up close, with a mask and snorkel on my face, and time on my hands.

"Oh, but it's such a long flight," our friends all said when my husband Douglas and I mentioned we were headed to Australia to go sailing.

"Well, true enough," Douglas finally answered. "But think of it this way: In one day, we'll wake up there, and you'll still be here!"

We'd been talking about going to Oz for years. I have an uncle and a bunch of cousins there whom I wanted to visit, and none of us were getting younger. We have a dear friend, Paul, who was going to be in Sydney in February. We'd met new Aussie friends on our travels over the years, and all stayed in touch. How many more enticements did we need? We called Paul, he was game to go sailing, and the three of us decided to charter a boat together in the Whitsunday Islands. Making the decision to go, finally, had been the hard part. Getting there turned out to be easy. Wheels were up at Boston's Logan Airport at 6:00 a.m., and within 24 hours — literally the same day — we found ourselves sitting with our friend Harvey at the Sydney Theatre Company, right next to Cate Blanchett! Day one? Awesome!

Photo of Australia's Great Barrier Reef

OK, it pays to have local knowledge. But even if you don't, Australians are the friendliest, most hospitable people you'll encounter anywhere, and they all seem to love boating. Everyone we met in Sydney, where we spent a week before our charter, even Aussies we met for the first time, invited us over for drinks or dinner, eager to share details about Australia, and their favorite islands in the Whitsundays — where the best snorkeling is, the best anchorages, the most beautiful beaches. One couple even insisted we take their carefully annotated cruising guide and charts. Fully armed, and quite excited, Douglas, Paul, and I flew out to Hamilton Island, picked up our new Sunsail 36, stocked with the precise provisioning we'd purchased online a few weeks before — there's nowhere to shop once you cast off — and we were away!

The Whitsundays demand only eyeball navigation; they're well-charted, and the buoy system is first-rate. Within three hours, we were anchored in spectacular Sawmill Bay, had stripped off, and jumped into liquid turquoise. The first surprise was finding the water to be perfectly balmy, that luxurious temperature between warm and just cool enough to feel refreshing. From then on, we'd be in the water, face down, snorkels in gobs, half of every day.

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