Bareboating the Whitsundays – Josh Behrendorff

10 years ago my new bride and I wanted to have our honeymoon sailing the Whitsundays on-board a bareboat charter. Our very lean budgets didn’t exactly stretch that far back then, however the idea had never escaped our minds. A decade on and with two beautiful children in tow, my wife and I finally got the opportunity to charter our own 10m sailing catamaran for five nights around the Whitsundays.

This was going to be the first time my family had ever spent a night on a boat, and I had high expectations of this trip. So many things I wanted to teach my children around the fringing island reefs, sunsets and sunrises to enjoy with my wife and maybe a fish or two thrown in for good measure.

I had no sailing experience, so we opted to take a sail guide out for half a day so he could teach us both the basics of sailing, and the ins and outs of this vessel. This made us feel more confident as we left him behind at daydream island mid-afternoon and set off sailing towards our first night anchorage at Hook Island. That first evening gave my wife and I our first real chance to plan our proceedings for the week ahead. We wanted to see a couple of the key tourist areas, Whitehaven beach and snorkel the top of hook island, everything between that was a little hazy. The weather played a big part in our plans, the first two days we were blessed with 10-15kn SE winds which was then set to increase 20-25kn for the remainder of the trip with building tides. This had Faith a little cautious as she is prone to seasickness. We planned to remain in sheltered anchorages for the nights and to make the most of the winds and sail down to Whitehaven beach and then head north around Hook island.

The second day we did the tourist thing, anchoring the boat in our own little secluded part of the crystal clear waters just off Whitehaven beach, we harassed turtles that were also basking in the clear waters, we jumped off the boat, and explored the beach. After lunch we headed around the corner to a public mooring for the night where I had planned to give squidding a bit of a go with a homemade LED squid light. As the sun begun setting over the horizon I deployed the squid light and by the time the last of the light was all but gone in the sky, we already had watched a couple of squid pass through the tunnel of the catamaran with the tide. I had not anticipated on having much success with this plan so I was in no way organised for the squid’s arrival. After tea I remerged from the cabin armed with my little 2-4kg spin rod and a squid jig that I picked up from a bargain bin at the local tackle shop and sent it out into the dark. Not exactly sure on the correct retrieval technique I opted for a slow roll and observed a squid follow the jig all the way back to the boat, I paused my retrieval and in doing so, a much larger squid ducked out from below the hull of the boat and crash tackled my squid jig on the surface. I was beside myself, struggling to comprehend how easy this was. I called out to my wife and children who raced out on the back deck just in time for the squid to cover us in thick black ink. My son managed to miss the ink and my wife only got a little on her arm, however my daughter’s pyjamas were covered as was I. My excitement faded rapidly as I begun to clean up the mess and explain to my daughter that our clothes will be stained now. As the evening went on, I got better with bringing them to the boat without the messy ink. My wife and I soon managed a good feed of calamari which was destined for tea the following night.

Day three was going to be a rough day with a significant amount of distance to travel, so we set sail early hoping to beat the winds, all be-it unsuccessfully. Heading up the east coast of Hook Island, my wife was at the helm with 20kn of wind blowing the seas’ up to around 2m while I was cleaning up from breakfast inside the cabin. The boat made light work of the conditions, by late morning we pulled up in luncheon bay to snorkel the reefs and hopefully meet up with the local mauri wrasse.

From the minute we dipped below the surface we were surrounded by fusiliers, damsel fish, parrot and tusk fish. The fish appeared to follow us as we swum from bommie to bommie. The water visibility was 15-20m and we had coincidently timed it so well that we had no tourist boats around at all, we had the whole place to ourselves. Time flew by as I pointed out to my children the multi coloured Christmas tree worms that were living inside the enormous brain corals, sea cucumbers and starfish. Diving down below the bommies to around 6-10m were schools or large Moses perch, stripeys and coral trout who were unfazed by my presence. We were soon joined with the resident mauri wrasse that I believe has been nicknamed Wally. When my daughter first spotted Wally, (who matched her in size), she climbed on top of my back while my son tucked in tight under my armpit. Wally then continued to swim around with us for the next hour, only leaving when the next tourist boat brought over a group of scuba divers (the food that the dive instructors had may have contributed).

The fish life and vibrant corals on the top end of Hook island were spectacular and were amongst the best dive locations that I have experienced anywhere in North Queensland. Heading back to our yacht in the tender, our children could not stop talking about everything that they saw, the excitement on their faces was priceless and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to top that snorkelling location for the duration of our trip, but we still tried.

Setting sail again, we exited the green zones and I decided it was time to attempt to troll up some fish for tea. I set two lines, one with a wog head and the second with a chrome Sebile koolie minnow. As we passed through the main channel at the top of Hook Island, the wog head was hit and I could see a sizeable Spanish mackerel on the surface thrashing to throw the lure. The fight didn’t last long and the fish managed to throw the hooks leaving my wife and wondering of what could have been. We persisted with the lines out as we searched for a suitable anchorage and the Koolie Minnow was soon taken by a Tuna. My wife took the strike while I downed the sails and set off after the fish with the engines. In true tuna fashion it was a dogged fight that played out on the surface for the first part, then down deep for the final part. 20min later and I finally got the chance to tail the Northern Bluefin tuna, my wife’s first tuna. With my wife feeling exhausted we decided to call it quits early and pick up a public mooring at Stonehaven, leaving us with plenty of time to enjoy a chilled beverage or two with fresh sashimi as we watched the sunset over the ocean prior to cooking up our mad feed of fresh calamari.

Day four was to be our last full day near the top of Hook Island, so we planned to do some more snorkelling with the children. We took them over to Langford Island and although the coral and fish life was good, it didn’t compare to what we saw at Luncheon Bay. We moved on heading south down the western side of hook island and picked a mooring at Caves Cove. Caves Cove sits in a good tidal flow and supports a steady stream of nervous bait along the fringing reef. The conditions looked perfect for pelagic fish and from earlier accounts, I knew there were a few around. I threw a large popper over the fringing reefs for around 3min before deciding it was hard work and decided on taking a more relaxed approach to the fishing, I set out two floating pilchards on gang hooks attached to 40lb mono leader and headed into the cabin to read some books to our children. Just as I finished the second book Faith informs me that she thought she heard the drag sing out on one of the reels mid-way through the book, she decide to go and check leaving me to tuck Amelia and Ethan in for a well-deserved afternoon nap.

As I arrive onto the back deck I see Faith winding the rod in with a very slight bend, however the line was right out on the horizon on the opposing side of the boat. I offer her assistance to take the rod around the rigging lines and in doing so I was able to catch a glimpse of a large Spanish mackerel on the surface, very well hooked but some 100m out. I offer the rod back to Faith telling her we have a good mackerel on the line who graciously offers to clear the other line and get the gaff for me. The Spanish had clearly taken a blistering run without anyone noticing, it was burnt out and had no energy left to fight. The fish came in to the awaiting gaff and was lifted onto the deck. The 10kg fish was more fish than we anticipated on catching for the trip, so we decided to put the rods away. That night, the fresh Spanish mackerel tasted great as we watched the sun set over the ocean again. We couldn’t believe how quick the time had passed and we were almost near the end of trip already.

Day five saw us heading south after a morning of snorkelling and harassing the many Nemo’s that filled the anemones. The wind had definitely come up and the large tides were making the visibility less than ideal. Although the larger tides had seemed to bring a lot more tuna to the surface. Anchoring up at the southern end of Hook Island in Nara inlet we explored some indigenous caves and showed our children some native paintings. I thought this location might be a likely spot to catch another feed of fresh squid, so as the sun went down we brought out the squid light. I saw two squid pass by the light, so I was expecting this to be productive, no sooner having grabbed my fishing rod I saw a very large dark shadow under the boat. Upon closer inspection a VERY large Queensland grouper was using our light as a takeaway shop, swallowing up the hardy heads and squid that it was attracting. Amelia and Ethan had a blast watching this ancient beast swirling, circling and hovering around the back of the boat. I decided that I didn’t really want that feed of calamari after all and walked up onto the front deck to enjoy our million star view.

The trip had passed by in the blink of an eye. On the final day we sailed back to Abell Point, marina in the 25kn winds and 2-3m swells. It was a blast driving this large cat through these conditions, however I have a feeling that my children enjoyed the trip back to the marina so much more. They were laying out on the front trampoline’s catching the spray as the bow dived below the waterline through the large swells and watching the playful dolphins cruising along side of the boat.

While there are many different businesses offering bareboat charters, we decided to use Cumberland Charter Yachts and would happily charter with them again. With so many fishy looking anchorages and country available within their limits I know that we barely scraped the surface in terms of fishing opportunities and things to see. I didn’t drop a bait to the bottom during our entire trip, and going by the amount of trout, tusk fish and sweetlip that I saw while snorkelling, I know that next time we head out for a bareboat trip, we will be planning to fish the reef fringes more. What’s more is that my seasick prone wife didn’t get sick once on our trip, I on the other hand ended up heading home feeling very sorry for myself with an ear infection from all the swimming. After gaining the tick of approval from my wife and children we are already planning our next sailing adventure. Until next time, stay safe and tight lines.