Andrew Hoisting the Sails

Sailing the Whitsundays

One of the most anticipated stops on our three-week road trip along the East Coast of Australia was Airlie Beach, where we had our sights set on sailing around the famous Whitsunday islands. So, almost as soon as we arrived in Airlie we went on a search for Whitsunday sailing adventures, wandering around the harbour and checking out the beach and swimming lagoon while we were at it.

Airlie Beach, Australia

Airlie Beach, Australia

There are so many Whitsunday cruises to choose from, many of which involve snorkelling and visiting one of the Whitsunday islands, usually Whitehaven. Since we’d already enjoyed a full day of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef on a huge modern boat from Cairns, we decided it was time to forego the usual tourist boats and go for something a little bit different.

Sailing the Whitsundays with Tall Ship Adventures

The Derwent Hunter is a beautiful 68-year-old wooden sailing boat with a colourful history. Built in Tasmania it has been used for marine research, shipping goods, racing and even as the set for a TV series The Rovers. Now, the Derwent Hunter is owned by a family-run charter company, Eco Tall Ship Adventures, who run tourist trips sailing around the Whitsundays.

The Derwent Hunter

The Derwent Hunter

Intrigued by the story of this unique vessel, we signed up for a day-trip on board, excited to set foot on a real sailing boat for the first time. We were also impressed by the amount of eco and conservation awards Tall Ship Adventures had won and were reassured to know that our money would go to an ethically-run family business.

Whitsunday Sailing on the Derwent Hunter

We arrived at the harbour early. The sky was overcast and there was a definite breeze in the air but, we were told, this would make for a great day of sailing. Surrendering our flip-flops to the crew, we climbed aboard the ship. All 39 of us perching on top of the centre islands surrounded by ropes and pulleys, buoys and anchors; huge sails lay coiled above us, waiting to be unwound.

The Derwent Hunter

The Harbour, Airlie Beach

As we pushed into sea we could see the green furry islands all around us, far off and obscured by early-morning mist. It wasn’t long before the crew were asking for volunteers to help with hoisting the sails; Andrew eagerly stepped forward to heave open the ship’s enormous wings – then we really started rocketing along. Water sloshed onto the deck as we smashed into the waves, the wind roaring alongside us, sea-salt saturating our skin.

Andrew Hoisting the Sails

Andrew Hoisting the Sails

While the wind made for some exciting sailing, it also churned up the sea, making its surface choppy and its depths cloudy – this didn’t make for great snorkelling conditions. Normally the crew would anchor the boat at a couple of different snorkelling spots and we’d have the chance to check out a beach. However, since the wind was up the crew took us to just one place, Caves Cove, which had only a tiny slither of beach littered with rocks and sharp coral.

Nevertheless, we descended into the cool waves and squinted through the murky water, able to make out tons of colourful fish and an ocean-bed carpeted with spongy coral reef. After an hour we climbed, exhausted back onto the boat to be greeted by a feast of salad and pasta, meat and fish, bread and chilled fruit. Sleepy and full we set off again for an afternoon of fierce sailing.

Amy Sailing the Whitsundays, Australia

Amy Sailing the Whitsundays, Australia

The ride was so ferocious we all had to cling to the edges of the boat; it was too loud to hear much apart from the slamming of wood against waves as we soared across the ocean. Laughing, we were soaked more than once as water sprayed violently onto the deck and the crew rushed around, adjusting the sails.

Sailing the Whitsundays

Sailing the Whitsundays

We arrived back in the harbour with salty, tangled hair and wind-reddened cheeks. Dry land felt bumpy under our feet after a day of constant bobbing up and down – we definitely felt like we’d just been on a real sailing adventure.

Whitsunday Islands

Whitsunday Islands

We spent a day sailing the Whitsundays with Tall Ship Adventures on the Derwent Hunter. Here's the story, pictures and video of our day sailing around the Whitsunday islands.

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*A day-trip sailing the Whitsundays on the Derwent Hunter costs £121.70 per person, we received a 50 percent discount.

  • Ann
    Posted at 10:25h, 03 June Reply

    Looks wonderful but not for me!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 15:05h, 03 June Reply

      It was great, but I don’t think you would have got out of the harbour! 🙂

  • eemusings
    Posted at 14:20h, 05 June Reply

    Oh, wow! Definitely not a relaxing ride then, huh?

    The Whitsundays are definitely on my bucketlist – hopefully one day.

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:44h, 05 June Reply

      More invigorating than relaxing – but fund all the same!

  • Oceana | Barefoot Beach Blonde
    Posted at 08:25h, 06 June Reply

    I still haven’t made it to Airlie Beach, but if you’re still around the East Coast I’d definitely recommend heading down to near Rockhampton and checking out Great Keppel Island. I worked there for a few months at the end of last year and that place is magnificent!!

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:21h, 06 June Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation – we’re now in Indonesia but will be sure to check that out next time we’re in Oz.

  • Pingback:Our Trip down the East Coast of Australia – Part 2 - Our Big Fat Travel Adventure
    Posted at 13:50h, 12 June Reply

    […] snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, sailing the Whitsundays and driving 430 miles down the East Coast, we were eager to see what else was in store for […]

  • Mig
    Posted at 20:40h, 27 June Reply

    This looks like fun! I’m planning to do some sailing from Panama to Cartagena later this year, but would love to check out Tall Ship Adventures when in Australia!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 03:11h, 28 June Reply

      It was really fun, a lot of time spent sailing and we got to help out too, which was great. It made a difference having a nice small boat rather than the huge ones made to take as many people as possible too. How far away from you Panama to Cartegena sailing trip are you?

      • Mig
        Posted at 07:08h, 28 June Reply

        The estimated time I’m looking to sail is two months. I’m making an update to my travel plans which will add a layer of complexity to the journey. It wasn’t part of my original plan, but we’ll see where the wind blows (pun intended).

        • Andrew
          Posted at 09:09h, 28 June Reply

          Sounds good, hope the plans don’t get too complex!

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    Posted at 06:22h, 19 September Reply

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  • Jamie
    Posted at 00:46h, 12 August Reply

    How did you get the 50% discount, if you dont mind me asking?

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:44h, 12 August Reply

      Hi Jamie, we received a discount for writing about our experiences on this blog.

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