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Bareboat chartering in the Whitsundays is a dream for any cruising boatie. And it will shortly ‎come true for one lucky Club Marine subscriber … By Chris Beattie ‎“I am so sorry, I cry because eet ees all so bootifool. There ees nothing else like eet. I weel ‎mees eet so much.”‎ These words still echo in my mind as I recall our time in the Whitsundays sampling our ‎fantastic Six of the Best! prize package supplied by promotion partners, Queensland ‎Yacht Charters.‎ At the time we were exploring Hill Inlet at the northern end of iconic Whitsundays destination, ‎Whitehaven Beach. The sand glared a brilliant, eye-straining white and we were strolling in ‎the crystal clear, lukewarm shallows, lapping up the pristine surrounds. A young lady with a ‎deep ebony tan covered sparingly by a minute bikini was in quiet contemplation nearby. As ‎we approached, I asked her if I could take her photo for the magazine – an evocative shot of ‎beauty in a scene of natural splendour. But as I raised the camera, I noticed the tears running ‎down her cheeks. I thought I might have intruded on a personal moment, but she gently ‎dismissed my concerns, wiped away the tears then uttered the words that came to mind as I ‎revisited my notes of our four-day adventure.‎ ‎“I ‘ave been een Australia only a few months and everywhere ees so bootifool,” she ‎continued, her words flavoured with an enchanting French accent. “But ‘ere ees the most ‎bootifool, I cannot believe eet.”‎ It helped put our time in Australia’s premier marine playground into perspective. Everywhere ‎we had been had, indeed, been most ‘bootifool’. Since leaving Abel Point Marina at Airlie ‎Beach, we had fallen completely under the Whitsundays spell. It was as though we had ‎closed a door and cruised into another world entirely. No mobile phones, traffic snarls, emails ‎or other real world annoyances intruded once we left the marina and pointed our Seawind 1250 catamaran, Sea Change north-east for our first day’s destination of Butterfly Bay, ‎on the northern tip of Hook Island. Ahead lay a horizon full of islands, beaches, reefs, dive ‎spots, coves and caves, all to be explored and enjoyed over the next few days.‎ My companion, Kathryn, and I had individually spent a bit of time in the Whitsundays before. ‎We had both done the resort thing, being pampered and preened in the comfort and luxury of ‎the various hotels that serve tourists from all points of the globe. I had also been fortunate to ‎attend the occasional Hamilton Island Race Week and had spent some time on the water ‎exploring the main attractions within an hour or two of ‘Hammo’. But now we were free to ‎explore further afield at our own pace and with our own wish-list of destinations.‎

The Bible

Earlier, Christophe Vanek, managing director of QYC, had taken us through the ‘drill’, ‎providing a thorough briefing on our home for the next four days. The briefing covered such ‎things as navigation, mooring and anchoring procedures, safety gear and practical boat ‎handling. We were also taken through the various on board charts, GPS functions and handed ‎a copy of David Colfelt’s ‘Whitsunday Bible’, the well-titled 100 Magic Miles of the Great ‎Barrier Reef – The Whitsunday Islands. Now in its ninth edition, this excellent 256-page ‎book contains over 100 pages of maps covering all anchorages, with all sorts of additional ‎information of use to visiting boaties. A definite must-have for anyone navigating their way ‎through the 74 islands of the Whitsundays, it became a well-thumbed companion during the ‎remainder of our trip, with copious amounts of useful information on the islands, bays, ‎anchorages and reefs we visited.‎ Our Seawind 1250 was probably overkill in terms of size for a typical couple, but Christophe ‎wanted us to experience for ourselves a premier example of the boats available in the 27-‎strong QYC bareboat fleet. Two couples with kids, or a party of eight would have found this ‎boat spacious enough for a week-long cruise. With three cabins with twin berths, a spacious ‎galley and huge, open entertaining and dining area, this was easily more boat than we ‎needed, but we were more than pleased to take possession of it for our coming voyage of ‎discovery. Underway, it proved to be easily manageable for two people, took all seas in its ‎stride and the utility of its stern area, with multiple storage options and twin helm stations, was ‎most welcome.‎ Prior to departing Melbourne, we had received a comprehensive info pack from QYC, ‎including a DVD with plenty of informative material on our coming adventure. We had also ‎completed our provisioning forms using the services of Whitsunday Provisioning. We opted to ‎select some provisions, meals and snacks to get us through the first day or so. A mix of fresh ‎seafood and other delicious treats, these were delivered to the boat on the morning of our ‎departure. I also visited the local supermarket once we arrived to stock the galley and ice ‎chest with enough additional supplies to last the remaining days.‎ Mid-November is a bit outside the ideal time for Whitsunday cruising – the most popular time ‎of year being between June and October, taking into account weather patterns and the ‘whale ‎season’, during which hordes of humpback whales descend on north Queensland to give birth ‎and rear their calves in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Though we timed our visit ‎to be on the cusp of the cyclone season, the weather for our stay varied from brilliant to, well, ‎even more brilliant. Winds were mostly moderate and only rose to the occasion when ‎required to counter the mildly humid evenings.‎

Splendid Location

One advantage to our late-season visit was the fact that we had large slabs of the ‎Whitsundays mostly to ourselves. Rounding the point into Butterfly Bay at the end of our first ‎two-hour leg from Airlie Beach, we were pleasantly surprised to see only one other boat ‎moored. After radioing in our position to QYC, we donned our stinger-resistant swim suits and ‎enjoyed our first snorkelling session amongst the local aquatic life.‎ The sizzle and succulent aromas of the transom-mounted barbecue were enhanced by a few ‎glasses of chilled white as we savoured the serenity at the end of our first day aboard Sea ‎Change.‎ Our destination for day two was Tongue Bay, on Whitsunday Island. Our course would take ‎us clockwise around the top of Hook Island and down the eastern shore south towards ‎Whitsunday, the largest island in the group. With light winds barely stirring the rigging, we ‎opted to rely on the pair of Yanmar 30hp diesel engines for motive power. They propelled us ‎at a leisurely 7 knot (13km/h) clip for the remainder of the voyage and proved to be ‎impressively economical given the distance covered.‎ With plenty of time up our sleeves, we opted to visit Cateran Bay, on the northern side of ‎Border Island, along the way. Here we had the bay entirely to ourselves and made the most ‎of our midday interlude, snorkelling the surrounding reefs. As we floated over the brilliantly ‎coloured coral formations, a wandering school of what I took to be blue puller adopted us as ‎they meandered over the reef. They hardly seemed to notice the clumsy intruders as they ‎went effortlessly about their daily business. Adding to the magic of the moment, a portly Maori ‎wrasse lazily pulled into the local ‘gill wash’ facility operated by an energetic family of small ‎fish, which darted in and out of the wrasse’s gills, snatching tiny morsels as they went.‎ Crossing open water as we headed south towards Tongue Bay, I noticed large schools of ‎tuna breaking the surface in all directions. But try as I might – and using every lure in our ‎arsenal – I couldn’t entice a bite out of any of them, eventually deciding that they must be of ‎the genus Tourist Teaser Tuna, notorious for taking advantage of unsuspecting ‎anglers.‎

Starlit Magic

Tongue Bay proved to be a more popular anchorage than our previous night’s stopover, with ‎the bay full of visiting craft. With a freshening southerly stirring the trees, we dropped anchor ‎and toasted the sunset. This turned out to be the quintessential Whitsundays night of the trip, ‎with a sky full of stars providing a spectacular canopy as we lazed in the bow netting, cooled ‎by a gentle breeze. With waves lapping lightly against the hull, the stereo provided fitting ‎musical accompaniment to a magical starlit night.‎ By now the effects of a couple of days of live aboard life, familiar to those who have spent time ‎on the water in similar surroundings, were manifesting themselves. The sea air, lack of ‎intrusion from any electronic media and the gentle rocking of the boat were having a ‎therapeutic effect. We were already talking and walking slower, and our city-bred sense of ‎urgency had all but abandoned us. Nothing to do but lay back and watch the world float by …‎ But there was still some exploring to be done, so next morning we untethered the tender and ‎motored over to Tongue Point, which offers sweeping views south and access to Hill Inlet and ‎Whitehaven Beach. It was here we encountered our tearful French friend, so overwhelmed by ‎the natural beauty of the Whitsundays.‎ Back aboard Sea Change, we made plans to head further south through Solway ‎Passage, separating Hazelwood and Whitsunday Islands, and from here westward past the ‎glamour and glitz of Hamilton Island to Cid Harbour. But first we had to deal with further ‎taunting from marauding schools of those teasing tuna. After toying with us for an hour or so, ‎and haughtily ignoring every cast and lure, they went off in search of more victims.‎ Cid Harbour is located between Cid Island and Whitsunday Island. It provided tranquillity and ‎shelter for our final night aboard Sea Change. We were rewarded with yet another ‎perfect tropical sunset and balmy evening surrounded by the rolling hills of the western ‎coastline of Whitsunday Island.‎ With only four days to explore the Whitsundays, we had barely scratched the surface of this ‎incredible boating paradise. But we had seen enough above and below the water, not to ‎mention the occasional excursion on land, to know that the lucky winners of our five-night ‎Whitsunday Ultimate Island Escape are going to have a ‘bootifool’ time aboard their QYC ‎charter boat.‎

The French Connection

Christophe Vanek is eminently qualified to oversee the operations of Queensland Yacht ‎Charters. In fact, he is arguably well over-qualified, based on a lifetime spent on the water.‎ An accomplished racing yachtsman with an armada of America’s Cup and Sydney Hobart ‎campaigns under his belt – mostly as bowman, before age and wisdom relocated him ‎towards the stern of the boat – there is not a lot the French businessman hasn’t seen or done ‎on the water. His family ran a shipyard in France and he has lived and worked in the marine ‎industry in various locations around the world.‎ Established in 1980, QYC has been a prominent operator in the Whitsundays bareboat ‎charter game and today manages a fleet of 27 craft, spilt between sail (approximately 80 per ‎cent of the fleet) and power boats.‎ Christophe joined the 12-strong QYC team in 2010 and oversaw the business’s absorption ‎into the French-based international Dream Yacht Charters empire. The DYC group has 30 ‎charter outlets across the globe. The world’s second-largest bareboat charter business, DYC ‎operates in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, South-east Asia, and the South ‎Pacific. It’s virtually a one-stop shop for anyone wanting to charter a boat in the world’s ‎premier marine playgrounds.‎ With a lifetime of experience around the world, Christophe says Australia is spoilt when it ‎comes to cruising, especially so in the Whitsundays.‎ ‎“It really is a unique experience here,” he said as we looked out over the water from his Abel ‎Point Marina office to Hook Island.‎ ‎“Where else can you leave the mainland and be in a spectacular spot like Hook Island within ‎two hours and then have four, five or even 10 days to explore such a fantastic area? Every ‎day there is a different island, reef or beach to visit. There are not many places on the planet ‎where you can do that safely and so easily.”‎ Christophe says QYC has developed a solid reputation for the quality of its boats and service ‎in 22 years of operation.‎ ‎“We have a very experienced group of people working here. All of our staff have been in the ‎charter industry for a long time and they really know their jobs,” he said.‎ Christophe says the busiest time of year for QYC is the whale season, from June to ‎September, but either side of this period is still good in terms of weather and water conditions.‎ Although formal qualifications are not a necessity for a QYC charter, some level of boating ‎experience is required. Alternatively, QYC can arrange a sail guide to help charterers brush ‎up on their skills, or even supply a full-time skipper for the duration of their time aboard.‎ Christophe says that, from a safety point of view, the Whitsundays is one of the best areas in ‎the world for newcomers.‎ ‎“It’s really all about understanding the tides, currents and winds,” he said. “Once people ‎realise how things work around the islands, they can enjoy themselves without worrying about ‎things too much.”‎ Christophe says the QYC team gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing families come together ‎during their time on the water.‎ ‎“They get here and everyone is excited, but sometimes a bit tense because they haven’t ‎chartered a boat before. But after a week or so on the water, with nothing to do but spend ‎quality time together, they come back full of smiles and wanting to do it all over again. It’s ‎very satisfying for us to see the positive effects a few days on a boat can have on families.”

Are you ready to charter a boat? No licence required.

No licence is required for a Yacht Charter in the Whitsundays, unlike other locations worldwide. We offer a brief training session before you head out, for either sailing or powered yachts.

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