There are plenty of options across Australia to learn how to sail, reports Barry Oliver
T was tough saying farewell to Superfish. The gleaming 13m catamaran had been our floating home for five glorious days as we gently made our way around Queensland’s Whitsundays. The weather was kind and Superfish patiently coped with our clumsy attempts at seamanship.
Nights were spent in quiet inlets under starlit skies; days were filled with snorkelling, swimming, shore exploration and long, long lunches. Fortunately, two of our party were reasonably experienced sailors and a Sunsail instructor came along for the first 24 hours to make sure we knew our port from our starboard.
For bareboat charters — where you’re in charge of the boat — Sunsail requires the chosen captain to have a minimum of five days’ sailing experience on a similar vessel and the first mate at least three days. Otherwise you can take a sailing course or, and this obviously costs more, hire a skipper for the cruise. For the ultimate in luxury, splash out on a hostess as well and forget about cooking for a while.
Bareboating isn’t as scary as you may think. After an anxious first day we quickly got the hang of the sails — there’s always the engine if the going gets tough — and 100 Magic Miles , the sailor’s bible that comes with every Sunsail charter boat, was a godsend when it came to finding our way around. Well, except for the time we nearly ran aground while dropping in on Hayman Island; but nearly doesn’t count in my book.
We had to report to base morning and night to let the bosses know we — and the precious catamaran — were still afloat and to check on the latest weather forecast.
Sunsail’s Australian headquarters is in the Whitsundays but it also offers charters from 35 bases spread across Tahiti, Tonga, Thailand, Malaysia, the Seychelles, Mediterranean and Caribbean. www.sunsail.com.au.
Still in Queensland, no experience is needed for a bareboat rental with Fraser Island Escape Yacht Charters, which provides a pre-sail briefing and support. Choose from yachts and sailing catamarans to powered catamarans and cruisers. Boats are available year-round from Tin Can Bay to the south of Fraser Island or Hervey Bay to the north (the company claims the scenery and waterways rival the Whitsundays). From $650 a night (for six to seven nights) for a sailing catamaran that sleeps up to eight. www.fraserescape.com.au.
In Sydney, the Big Blue Sailing School in Manly offers bareboat and skippered charters on Sydney Harbour as well as a variety of courses. Its seven-hour introduction to sailing course is $170 a person; children’s lessons are $30 for two hours. There’s a special three-night course ($299 a person) for anyone intending to charter a yacht. www.thebigblue.com.au.
On the NSW Central Coast near Killcare Beach, Hardys Bay Yacht Charters offers regular three-hour learn-to-sail trips for small groups (usually six to eight people). Priced at $75 a person with cheese platter and snacks; BYO drinks. Skippered charters also available ($750 a day for up to eight people) sailing Brisbane Water, Broken Bay, Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River. Three-day skipper-yourself packages are $165O midweek. Overnight Berth and Breakfast deals from $725 a couple with dinner and a three-hour sail. www.hbyc.com.au.
Lake Macquarie Sailing Charters, 20 minutes south of Newcastle in NSW, runs a range of learn-to-sail programs, all accredited under the Australian Yachting Federation, on its 17m cruising yacht Margarita. The programs cover everything from beginners to bareboat basics for anyone planning a charter. For those wanting to just kick back and enjoy the ride, there are sightseeing trips from two to four hours on Macquarie, the country’s biggest saltwater lake.
Or Wet ’ n’ Wild charters combine crewing a racing yacht with other water-based activities such as kayaking. www.lakemacquariesailingcharters.com.au.
EastSail, based at Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay, offers a wide range of courses as well as bareboat yacht charters on Sydney Harbour for experienced sailors. More than 25 yachts, from 9.8m to 14.5m, are available. EastSail also runs harbour trips: its latest is an Earth Hour Stargazing Sail on March 28, taking advantage of a dimly lit CBD. www.eastsail.com.au.
Tasmania offers the opportunity to sail a replica of a traditional square-rigged ship. The Tasmanian Sail Training Association’s Lady Nelson sails the River Derwent from Hobart on weekends; passengers get a chance to set the sails or take a turn at the helm. For
History under sail: The Lady Nelson captures that 19th-century square-rigger feeling, including working aloft furling the sails
Happy hearties: Onboard dress-ups lighten the load
Travel&Indulgence. youngsters there are special events — pirate sails, young stowaways — and taste of sailing trips give older seadogs the chance to join the crew aloft and learn how to handle the sails.
Weekend escapes offer a more complete sailing experience: the next, along the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in the state’s southeast, is on May 1-3. www.ladynelson.org.au.
In Western Australia, South West Yacht Charters at Bunbury on the Margaret River, two hours south of Perth, offers bareboat charters and skippered sailing holidays in Geographe Bay. Yachts sleep up to eight and sail from Busselton to anchorages off Dunsborough or leave from Bunbury, 40km to the north. The area is renowned for clear water and great snorkelling, and the company has moorings at the most popular spots for overnight stays. One-day sailing courses are also on offer. With South West Yacht Charters’ learn-to-sail holidays, would-be nautical types can gain a qualification recognised internationally. Courses range from one, two or five-day live-aboard programs with accommodation on the yacht (meals provided).
‘‘ While you gain new skills you also make new friends and enjoy an experience that is unforgettable,’’ says owner Helen Punch.
Courses include Competent Crew, Day Skipper and, for the adventurous, Coastal Skipper, which includes extensive night sailing. Bareboat hire starts at $590 a day and sail training courses start at $245. www.swyachtcharters.com.au.
Victorian Yacht Charters offers bareboat or skippered trips out of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. It also runs bed-and-breakfast cruises, which include a two-hour sail with a skipper, an overnight stay on the yacht and breakfast ashore. From $650 a couple. www.victorianyachtcharters.com.au.
South Australia’s Adelaide-based The Academy of Sail, which incorporates Adventure Charters, offers training courses using a 13m two-masted yacht that has circumnavigated the world. Its introduction to sailing course of one six-hour lesson is $220 a person or the more advanced two-day Competent Crew course is $440. On skippered charters — half-day, full day or twilight — passengers can lend a hand with the sails, though it’s not obligatory. Another popular charter is the two-day sail to Port Vincent on the Yorke Peninsula. Overnight accommodation is onboard or at a B & B in the town. www.academysail.com.au.