Clownfish peek from large anemones, with which they
have a mutually helpful relationship.
top: in some delicate Whitsundays anchorages, free
moorings are provided to protect the coral reef.
enticements did we need? We called Paul, he was game to go sailing,
and the three of us decided to charter a boat together in the Whitsunday
Islands. Making the decision to go, finally, had been the hard part.
Getting there turned out to be easy. Wheels were up at Boston’s Logan
Airport at 6:00 a.m., and within 24 hours — literally the same day —
we found ourselves sitting with our friend Harvey at the Sydney Theatre
Company, right next to Cate Blanchett! Day one? Awesome!
OK, it pays to have local knowledge. But even if you don’t,
Australians are the friendliest, most hospitable people you’ll encounter anywhere, and they all seem to love boating. Everyone we met
in Sydney, where we spent a week before our charter, even Aussies
we met for the first time, invited us over for drinks or dinner, eager
to share details about Australia, and their favorite islands in the
Whitsundays — where the best snorkeling is, the best anchorages,
the most beautiful beaches. One couple even insisted we take their
carefully annotated cruising guide and charts. Fully armed, and quite
excited, Douglas, Paul, and I flew out to Hamilton Island, picked up
our new Sunsail 36, stocked with the precise provisioning we’d purchased online a few weeks before — there’s nowhere to shop once
you cast off — and we were away!
The Whitsundays demand only eyeball navigation; they’re well-charted, and the buoy system is first-rate. Within three hours, we
were anchored in spectacular Sawmill Bay, had stripped off, and
jumped into liquid turquoise. The first surprise was finding the water
to be perfectly balmy, that luxurious temperature between warm and
just cool enough to feel refreshing. From then on, we’d be in the
water, face down, snorkels in gobs, half of every day.
The largely uninhabited islands of the Whitsundays are pyramids
of lush green hills and high peaks that paw down to the warm Coral
Sea, each fringed by white-silica beaches. Geologically, they’re a
the reef and the WhitSUndayS, Up CloSe
Visit this story online for a slide show of the Bernons’
adventures down Under, including photos of the Sunsail
boats and Whitsundays charter base, and the undersea
wonderland of the Great Barrier reef.
for a firsthand story and slide show about what it’s like
to spend four days with Mike Ball dive expeditions on the
Great Barrier reef, www.BoatUS.com/Magazine
“drowned mountain range,” cut off from the mainland during the Ice
Age. There are protected anchorages everywhere, and the park service
has provided mooring balls in the most vulnerable areas, protecting
the hundreds of species of delicate coral fringing the coves from the
destruction that anchors can cause.
Our days took on a pattern. We’d wake up to exotic bird songs,
and after breakfast go snorkeling in the still-calm water. Then we’d
sail from one postcard place to another, over waters teeming with life.
There are 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, six species
of sea turtles, a couple of hundred varieties of birds, and what seemed
like countless kinds of fish and coral. Even here, barely touching the
Great Barrier Reef, was so much biodiversity. We sailed to Nara Inlet,
to find its Aboriginal cave paintings; anchored off Whitehaven, where
we played on the longest and most stunning white-powder beach in
the world; we swam among turtles in Butterfly Bay at Harmon Island;
and weathered a 30-knot blow tucked behind a headland in the aptly
named Tongue Bay. In the evenings after dinner, we sat under a sky
splashed with the Milky Way, and found Orion looking all topsy-turvy
in the Southern Hemisphere.
When I think back on this trip to Australia, I’ll always remember
the emotional reunion we had with my family, the stupendous sailing we had in the Whitsundays, and the generous people we met in
bustling Sydney — a tropical city pulsing with fun and life. I’ll also
remember the mind-bending four-day scuba-diving trip we’d take
later, into the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. But probably one of my
most precious memories are two quiet days from our Sunsail sailing
charter, anchored alone at Cateran Bay at Border Island, in the exact
spot Jerald and Jan had marked in our cruising guide. Just as they’d
promised, on the east-to-northeast side of the bay, we found a vast
coral garden teeming with healthy life. There were purple-lipped
clams, swaying yellow feather
boas, kaleidoscopic tropical fish
gliding by like geishas, and giant
lacy coral plates that fanned
out over dark drop-offs. There
were corals that looked like
broccoli, Chihuly glass, white
asparagus, Chinese cabbage,
and sugar donuts. My imagination rejoiced in playfulness
as I hovered, trying to absorb
the sweet visions offered by the
Drowned Mountains and hold
Bernadette (left) is editorial
director of BoatU.S. Magazine.