What on earth have we done?! I thought to myself as I held my seasick daughter, feeling nauseous myself as the boat rocked in a relentless swell. This was not the first time I had thought this since stepping onto our charter boat 4 days ago. In fact, leading up to the trip, knowing that the only sailing experience we had ever had in our lives was a one-day charter course, I had often thought that we must be crazy. Who does something like this?! And with kids, no less.
Well, lots of families, actually, which was why we were out here in the first place. We had heard lots of stories of sailing families on Family Adventure Podcast and they had made it sound amazing. Most had had no sailing experience at all starting out and we thought that if they could do it, so could we. We timed our trip for our anniversary, after my husband’s discharge from the military, as a combined celebration escape. And now here we were, rolling back and forth on our 5th night out of our 11-night charter, and there was no turning back. I began to wonder if we had made a mistake.
Our first day was filled with excitement, despite a huge day of travel and settling in (including getting 2 trolleys worth of food onto the boat which was no small feat!). Amazingly, we bumped into Riley and Elayna from Sailing La Vagabonde at the marina. We have been huge fans of theirs since early 2016, even becoming Patrons for a while, so this felt like a blessing for our trip. We had specifically chartered a boat identical to LV1 – a Beneteau Cyclades 43ft yacht – because we were so familiar with the boat from watching their videos. Our confidence was buoyed by this fortuitous meeting and we were keen to get going. However, we had to have a night on the boat in the marina first so that we could be up early for our induction the next day. After a day of learning the ropes, we moored the boat in Pioneer Bay (outside the marina), and we were ready to set off on our own the next morning.
Can you use the phrase ‘baptism by fire’ in reference to an aquatic experience? Because that’s what we were given. For two inexperienced sailors, we faced crossing the Whitsunday Passage in 25 knot winds, high swells, and rain for 3 hours. My husband took the helm while I was down below with the kids, advising them all to lay flat to stave off the seasickness. At one point, I walked through the galley and the floor disappeared from beneath my feet and I began to fall, only to be met by the boat lurching back up again. My knees crumpled, throwing my hip out, and I hit the floor. I crawled to the nearest cabin and stayed laying down until my husband called for me to help with anchoring. He had got us safely to Cid Harbour.
The next day, the sun was shining and the water was much calmer. We said a quick g’day to Riley & Elayna as they got underway – they had been anchored next to us that night and we hadn’t realised! We were headed to Nara Inlet that day and the conditions seemed good enough for us to try using the sails. We weren’t confident enough to use the mainsail so we unfurled the headsail only, and cruised at a lazy 3 knots to our destination. Once anchored, we took the tender over to the shore and learned about the indigenous Ngaro people and viewed the rock art in their ancestral cave. That night, the full moon rose over the glassy waters of Nara Inlet and it was spectacular.
Nara Inlet & Hook Island
Being sailing newbies, we still weren’t au fait on how to use the winds to our favour, so the next day we found ourselves under motor against the wind to our next destination: Tongue Bay. This is where you entered the story, dear reader. After a choppy day sailing we were anchored at Tongue Bay feeling sick because the swell would not let up. It lasted all night and we had a wretched night’s sleep. It was here that I realised that we were halfway through our trip and there would be no point to turning back – we had to keep going even if we had doubts about our decision to go on this sailing adventure.
Thankfully, the north Queensland weather showed us mercy, and by next morning the swell had disappeared. Ironically, Tongue Bay became my favourite anchorage on that trip. We stayed 3 nights there in all, enjoying the beautiful white sands of Betty Beach, the crystal clear waters, and spotting wild marine life like dolphins and turtles. And can I say again the sand? Snow-white, soft, and fluffy, with a creamy yield underfoot. Yum. We even bumped into Riley & Elayna again on that beach and got to have a proper chat. We were also fortunate one day where everyone who had been at the beach were gone by the afternoon, so we had the whole area to ourselves. We took that opportunity to take lots of family photos!
The white sand and turquoise waters of Betty Beach & Tongue Bay
The rest of our trip continued to be fantastic – we anchored at Whitehaven Beach, docked at Hamilton Island marina, and sailed back to Cid Harbour before making the crossing back to Pioneer Bay. We got used to how things needed to be done on a boat and we had rules for the kids about being up top – always with an adult and always with a life vest on. All of us learned so much on that trip, from how to manage a yacht to learning about the indigenous history of the area. We enjoyed white sands, turquoise waters, sunshine, clear starry night skies, and our 18 year anniversary. We blissed out on how great an adventure we were having, and proud of ourselves for giving something we’d never done a go.
It was nice to get a feel for the sailing life, and we certainly have a better appreciation for it. Although I think perhaps next time we may well consider a catamaran over a monohull, if only to avoid the rolly-polly motion in a swell!
Pics from our Whitsundays sailing adventure