Taking off on the Condor
AS I scrambled from side-to-side of a racing sail boat, bumping and bruising my shins on the endless ropes, knobs and handles, I began to wonder why this was called a “casual” race among the sailing fraternity around the Whitsundays' Pioneer Bay.
I became an honorary member of the crew aptly named Questionable Logic under the guidance of skipper Terry in the bi-weekly sailing race tradition with the Whitsunday Sailing Club.
“Ready, about ... tack!”
As Terry bellowed the command, I spun around to see the crew furiously pulling ropes which I dodged to somehow end up on the opposite outer edge of the vessel.
Sounds simple in theory, but as someone who has only ever been on a short barge ride in her lifetime out of necessity, getting my sea legs took a while.
My one-minute crash-course in sailing seemed to get me through, although on more than one occasion, I almost became fish bait as I clung to the boat as it turned on its side.
It was truly a sight to see.
This was the last instalment of my sailing adventure of the Whitsundays in what I could only describe as one of the most authentic and unique holidays of my life. The Whitsunday sailing fraternity eagerly awaits this time every year.
August marks the beginning of the season, with an endless list of sailing packages available. I was able to board two vessels to experience just a smattering of what is on offer.
I hopped on board the maxi-yacht Condor for the first leg of a two-day, two-night crewed charter of some of the best spots in the Whitsundays. `
The 21-headcount guest list consisted of young European backpackers ready to have a good time and see the Pacific Ocean lapping on the shores of the Whitsunday islands.
The Condor is a retired premier racing vessel that has won every major sailing race in the world twice.
These days, the 28-year-old maxi yacht takes on a much less seasoned bunch of sailors on crewed charters.
As the Condor cut through the passage, it was time to hoist the sails and let the adventure begin.
The crew takes a hands-on approach and guests are encouraged to help pull the ropes. Skipper Aaron brings the Aussie charm to this journey, dishing out “vegemite spoonful” fines to silly behaviour and a laidback attitude that mirrors the calm seas.
Within an hour, the first beer had been opened with guests free to roam the boat and chat as we watched the sun setting over the ocean.
A 3pm departure time meant we had front-row seats to watch the clear blue sky turn to shades of mauve and pink as dusk turned to night.
We eventually arrived at Nara Inlet at Hook Island to moor for the night, but I had to leave the gang of new friends to jump in to a dinghy and join a new crew.
I felt like a pirate invading the Alexander tall ship.
Nine guests and four crew had formed friendships during their three-day cruise and I was the outsider – only momentarily, though. This was an older crowd, but they still made me feel welcome aboard the grand ship.
Built more than 30 years ago over three generations, the Alexander Stewart has a custom-made design with nine air-conditioned private double cabins.
We cruised into a small bay two hours away from Nara Inlet where we were told we could snorkel.
Having never snorkelled before, I strapped on my stinger suit and flippers and dunked into the water, not sure of what to expect.
Here goes ...
I put my face underwater and my eyes lit up when I saw the active ocean life just a few centimetres below my feet.
On deck, the guests were buzzing with excitement of what they had just experienced and we chatted away while we headed home.
How to get there: Jetstar and Virgin Blue fly regular services to Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Airport, Proserpine. Fantasea Cruises Blue Ferries provide water transfers to island resorts and Shute Harbour.
A range of sailing packages (www.queenslandholiday.com.au/sailing) is available all year to accommodate all budgets and interests including :
Tall ship adventure aboard the 19m Alexander Stewart. Three-day, two-night cruise taking an eco look around the Whitsundays with a focus on wildlife, reef and rainforest. From $590 per person.
Sail in style features three-nights accommodation on the luxurious motor cruiser Pacific Sunrise. Prices from $744 per person.
Southern Cross Sailing Adventure's Quick Sail and Stay starting at $284 per person includes a two-day, one-night sail of the Whitsundays, two nights accommodation in Airlie Beach, snorkelling gear and stinger suits. Valid until March 31, 2011.
Coral Sea Resort, Airlie Beach, three-night Island Hopping Escape including accommodation in an ocean-view room, daily tropical breakfast, a two-island day cruise to Hamilton Island and Whitehaven beach with Fantasea Cruises and transfers. Prices from $600 per person, valid until March 31, 2011, except December 28, 2010, to January 10, 2011. Go to www.coralsearesort.com.
Condor maxi-yacht two-day, two-nights trip from $359. Visit www.sailingwhitsundays.com/condor.htm.