WHY CHARTERING AND WHY A CATAMARAN?
With the big “Half Century” birthday coming up, rather than have a large party, I had decided that I would really like to get the family together for a charter yacht experience in the Whitsunday’s. We had thoroughly enjoyed taking the Noelex 25 up the year before, however this year we couldn’t generate the time to tow the boat up from Canberra, and we also wanted to try something larger. In other words, the Admiral really wanted something that she could stand up in to cook! We have chartered mono hulls a half dozen or so times previously with great success so decided to try out a catamaran – in the planning stage we thought that it would be the two of us, our adult daughter and perhaps her boyfriend, plus Cabin Boy and a friend of his. While there were a number of different catamarans to choose from, we were very interested in the Australian designed, Seawind 1160 Lite. Chris from Multihull Central, who we had met at the Sydney Boatshow, advised us that a new 1160 Lite was going into charter with Cumberland Charter Yachts, operating out of Abell Point Marina, Airlie Beach. We really liked the design concept of this boat, and it was the “Lite” version – outboard engines in a well as opposed to diesels – so this made the choice of company very easy for us.
Chartering a catamaran has been both the best and worst decision we have ever made – brilliant boats run by a excellent charter operator, but now we have boat envy and are trying to work out how we can afford one!
It soon became apparent that No.1 daughter and friend were not going to be coming up. Cabin Boy was very interested in having a school friend join him so that he would have someone his own age to interact with. We were also very keen in having my parents join us – however Dad was not interested in staying on a boat, so we decided to break the holiday into two parts. The first part would see the three of us, plus one young school friend on the boat from Wed 3 Oct to Tuesday 9 Oct. We would then head into Hamilton Island to drop young man off and put him on a flight back to Canberra. My parents would then fly in, stay on the Island and join us for day trips for the remainder of the holiday.
DAY 1 – WED 3 OCT 2018
We had a very early morning start, and left a chilly 7 degree Canberra and headed north via Brisbane. Good flights on Virgin, with the usual crap food, and then into Proserpine. Being school holidays the flight was totally full and the airports teeming with people.
We were very thankful that we had pre-booked a private airport transfer for the 35 minute trip into Airlie Beach. On arrival we quickly checked into our hotel, and then walked the boys into town for a swim at the lagoon. Being excellent and responsible parents we left them at the pool, and then drank frozen mojitos while waiting for the takeaway pizza that we brought back to them for lunch!
After lunch we walked to the Marina to have a look around. Our boat, The Pearl, had arrived in from a charter that morning, and the staff were busily cleaning and prepping the boat for us to take over the following morning.
We were a little daunted at the size of the boat compared to what we owned, and the sheer volume (and windage) of a cat’ compared to a monohull. After a quick look around, we headed back to the Coral Sea Resort, – only a 5 minute walk from the Marina.
DAY 2 – THU 4 OCT 2018
We had another early morning, with everyone very excited to be underway. We had an early breakfast at the resort and then walked the 350 metres to the Marina to arrive by 8 am so we could stow our provisions and prepare for the boat briefings at 8.30 am.
We provisioned the boat through Whitsunday Provisioning who were excellent. A little more expensive than buying it ourselves, however the food was high quality, individually packaged portions, and with a great menu for the week.
After about 4 hours of very comprehensive boat briefing and practical testing, which included testing both adults on our ability to enter and depart a berth, raising and lowering sails, picking up a mooring, and dropping anchor, we were ready to head off.
The Pearl presented in excellent condition, she was only a few months old, clean, well maintained and a joy to both motor and sail. The owners had outfitted her with additional canvas shading, great instruments, chart plotter and an auto-pilot. The outboards in the well were excellent – they kept the noise and vibration down in the cabin; and when electrically retracted into their faired pods they were out of the water, easily gave us 1.5 knots of additional speed under sail.
We’ve been sailing almost weekly for over a decade, however it was still very daunting to be in charge of someone else’s $500K+ pride and joy! We were very careful to treat The Pearl like she was our own, but at 11.6 m (38′) long, and a 6.5m (21′) beam she was as wide as our previous boat was long! Despite the size, the twin engines gave her unparalleled manoeuvrability when in the confines of a marina or picking up a mooring.
With little wind, we motored into Nara Inlet, anchored and then took the dinghy ashore to have a walk and to take the boys to see the Aboriginal rock art at the head of the Inlet.
After fresh, hot water showers, it was off to bed for an early night.
DAY 3 – FRI 5 OCT 2018
One of our favourite spots to swim, snorkel and go for a walk is Langford Island, just to the south of Hayman Island. Langford has an extensive fringing reef, and a sandy beach and spit that almost disappears at high tide. We left Nara early in the morning and motored then sailed the 10 nautical miles to Langford where we picked up a mooring at around 10 am.
The moorings are placed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority, and are very close to the fringing reef, which makes for excellent fish viewing and the opportunity to swim from the boat to the shore or vice versa. The kids did point out that there had been two shark attacks at Cid Harbour (12 nm away) in the past fortnight, and were a bit reticent, however we made a point of never swimming in water where we couldn’t see at least 10 metres and certainly not in inlets or estuaries. And we always put the kids in first . . .
The weather was excellent and the water warm. Lots of fun, especially when we convinced the Admiral that the ‘underwater sculpture’ was actually a huge, Queen, Crown of Thorns Starfish!
After a couple of hours swimming and beach combing, the boys complained about being hungry, so the Admiral and I motored back to the boat while the boys swam back, testing out the GoPro. After lunch on the mooring, fish feeding from the back of the boat and more swimming we headed back, under sail, to Macona Inlet.
We dropped anchor in Macona Inlet, in good time for the boys to go off and have a play in the dinghy.
DAY 4 – SAT 6 OCT 2018
Winds today were less than 10 knots from the North and North East, so it was motor sailing again. We contacted the charter base early and left just on 8 am and headed off for Whitehaven Beach. We ended up pushing tide for the last half mile through Hook Passage, which made for some slow going and choppy sea until we were through. The narrow neck, and shallowing water between Hook and Whitsundays Islands creates very strong tidal flows. We had navigated this in the Noelex on the previous trip – much easier with two engines and the hull length of a catamaran!
Once around the corner we switched off the engine and started around the north and then down eastern side of Whitsunday Island. The boat had a much nicer motion with sail up. We made good progress and by 10 am were able to take up a mooring at Tongue Bay, just on the other side of Hill Inlet and to the north of Whithaven Beach.
We then went on a long dinghy trip (2 ½ nautical miles) around to Whitehaven Beach where we spend the morning swimming, walking, and exploring. Boys were fascinated by the bikini’s on the backpackers who arrived in large fast Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats just before lunchtime.
Whitehaven Beach was beautiful as usual. The water was warm and it didn’t start to get crowded with day trippers until around lunchtime. Around this time the boys were starting to get waterlogged so it was back into the dinghy for the 2 ½ nautical mile motor back home. This time we were into the wind and the swell so it was a very, very wet dinghy ride!
Safely back at the boat we had lunch, played a game of UNO and then put the sails up. We sailed off the morning, then down along the eastern side of Esk Island, towards Haselwood Island, and then through Solway Passage with a rough plan of ending up at Chance Bay on the southern side of Whitsunday Island.
Evidently everyone had the same idea as Chance Bay was the most crowded we had ever seen. We pushed on to Turtle Bay, anchored in shallow water and then went for a walk along the beach while the boys went for a rock climb. It was a great day of sailing that provided a wonderful opportunity to test out the boat – it was great going down wind, and on a reach. We regularly saw speeds around 10 knots in 13-16 knots of true wind speed. The shallow draft (<1m) opened up a range of anchorages that would otherwise be denied to us.
DAY 5 – SUN 7 OCT 2018
Excellent nights sleep. We received sad news very early in the morning that Matt Owen had passed away at home last night. We moved the boat closer into the shore and sent the boys off in the dinghy by themselves to have a swim, explore the beach and motor around the bay. We spent a quiet day in the anchorage and stayed overnight.
DAY 6 – MON 8 OCT 2018
Up early, we hoisted the sails and headed south to have a look at Lindeman Island and the abandoned resort. We had another great sail past Pentecost Island and down into Plantation Bay.
The 100 Magic Miles Guide had a sketch of a bommie (coral outcrop) in the bay, but for the life of us we couldn’t get our ‘our bearings’ and so made a “calculated guess” as to where it was. As the tide dropped we found it – exactly where we expected – which was a nice confirmation of our collective navigation/pilotage skills!
The boys were keen to go and visit the abandoned Club Med on Lindeman Island, so we jumped in the dinghy and motored down to it. There was much speculation about why it had been abandoned – ranging from cyclone damage to the Zombie apocalypse! We saw a number of snakes on the island so the Admiral stayed on the beach near the dinghy while the boys and I went for an explore. It was quite surreal and spooky!
After several hours of exploring it was back to The Pearl for cards, a movie, a walk on the beach and dinner.
DAY 7 – TUE 9 OCT 2018
Another great nights sleep! Love these stable catamarans!
After a breakfast of croissant, fruit, juice and coffee we packed up at 0930 and headed off to Hamilton Island to take a berth at the marina, so we could transfer Cabin Boy’s mate off the boat and wait to meet up with my parents.
The persistent light to moderate northerly winds meant that we were motoring again. Rather than use the auto-pilot, which was excellent, we gave Cabin Boy a chance to drive.
Arriving at Hamilton Island Marina was a seamless experience as always. We were however a little perturbed as this was to be the first time we had taken the Seawind 1160 alongside a marina berth or pen. Although we were quietly confident, it would still be our first solo attempt at docking a catamaran – a very expensive catamaran! In the end it was no drama. No raised voice or stress and a lot easier than berthing an equivalent sized monohull. The two engines allowed the boat to pivot on its own axis, and it was a simple evolution to put a hull with fender against the jetty, with one engine forward and the other in reverse and gently come parallel.
Once alongside we went to hire an electric golf cart buggy and took the boys for a ride around the island, an ice cream and a swim in the resort pools. It also gave us an opportunity to do some washing and to top off then boat with fresh water.
The second Tuesday of each month is the board meeting for our Yacht Club, so it was with great delight that I was able to send the following photo’s to everyone back in Canberra, and sit at the nav station, with WiFi and take down the minutes!
DAY 8 – WED 10 OCT 2018
This was our rest day, domestic duties and transfer day. We cleaned the boat, packed up the boys, and then headed off to the airport around lunchtime to drop off Cabin Boy’s mate. Timings were excellent and it was soon apparent that the same aircraft that my parents had flown in on, was the same aircraft that the lad would be flying out on.
After meeting up with the parents, we waited while they hired their own buggy (which I still believe is what they like best about Hamilton Island!) and then drove up to the Reef View Hotel to check them in. After an LLD (Little Lie Down) they joined us for drinks overlooking the Island and then back to the boat for a dinner of takeaway pizza!
DAY 9 – THU 11 OCT 2018
Hmmm – the Skipper’s 50th Birthday today. The parents came down early and we all had a breakfast on the boat then we all headed off for a day sail to Turtle Bay. We set a leisurely pace around Hamilton Island, taking in the sights before dropping anchor close to the head of the Bay.
Cabin Boy and Nana, and the Admiral and myself motored off for a swim and snorkel while Poppy took the opportunity to remain on ‘anchor watch’ on board and to read The Australian.
After everyone had had a swim and a walk on the beach, and Cabin Boy had demonstrated his dinghy driving skills we returned to the boat for lunch. And birthday cake!
Mid afternoon we headed back to Hamilton Island Marina. The Patriarch and Matriach headed back to their hotel room for an LLD, while the rest of us had a swim in the resort pool and then a rest of our own.
That night was a lovely birthday dinner at my favourite restaurant on the Island, Coca Chu. Thanks Poppy!! It was a wonderfull day having most of the family with me, at my favourite holiday destination and sharing a great boating adventure with them!
DAY 10 – FRI 12 OCT 2018
The day after my birthday was a slow relaxing day. I had hoped to have a sleep in however a loud and noisy visiter decided he would sing from 06.45 am onwards until someone took some notice of him.
We spent the day taking advantage of the resort facilities to spend the maximum amount of time with family and parents. That evening we had a “pot luck” dinner of left overs with everyone on board. Later the Admiral and I spent a lovely couple of hours having drinks with the new owners of the catamaran in the berth opposite us.
DAY 11 – SAT 13 OCT 2018
The Patriarch and Matriarch came down early to see us off, as we left Hamilton Island around 7.30 am to get back to Abell Point Marina at Airlie Beach by 10 am. There was very little wind so we motored across Whitsunday Passage arriving right on time.
We took the boat through the leads and loitered off the fuel wharf until a wonderful lady shipwright (Kate?) from Cumberland Charter Yachts came and met us, helped us refuel, dock in a pen for the final time and then check us off the boat.
Leaving the boat was seamless – we were run through a thorough checklist and asked to identify any faults. We had discovered three – the can opener didn’t (open), the coffee plunger didn’t (plunge) and the main sail was a little difficult to raise for the last 4 feet. Before we had even stepped off the jetty there was a rigger up the mast. After handing back our snorkelling gear and suits we showered, and then had lunch at the pub overlooking the marina. Shortly afterwards we were met by our transfer who took us back to Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast Airport for the flights home.
While waiting for the flight we had a small problem with Virgin check in staff about our inflatable lifejackets. We had notified the airline prior to travel and had an email declaring that they were safe to travel as checked luggage however the ground staff saw things differently. . . Not even this though, could put a damper on what was perhaps one of our best holidays and certainly my best birthday to date!
The waiting also gave us a chance to read the local newspaper – with the front three pages devoted to the story of a 2 meter 100kg bull shark lept into a 3 metre tinny containing a fisherman dad with his two young children on their first fishing trip with him. If that wasn’t bad enough when he told them to exit the dinghy and head for the nearby shore, they looked up and spotted a 2 metre crocodile on it!
We eventually got home that evening at about 10.30 pm after a long day of travel. We worked out that we used about 35 lites of fuel for the catamaran for the entire trip – and about 15 litres of 2 stroke for the dinghy outboard. We travelled about 115 nautical miles – not as much as we would usually do for a trip of this duration, but we were thoroughly relaxed!
WHAT DO WE THINK OF THE CAT?
This is the first time that we had sailed or chartered a large cat. We were worried about how well it would “point” or sail to windward, how much windage it would have, and how difficult it may be to berth. We know that all boats are a compromise, however we think that this is the perfect boat for us – safe, stable, easy to sail, easy to move around, easy to berth and manoeuvre, and just an excellent design. We were keen to charter the ‘Lite’ version of the Seawind 1160 as this substitutes 2 x 25 HP outboard engines in pods for 2 x 30 HP diesels in the hulls. As there is no heat exchanger generating hot water from diesel engines the ‘Lite’ heats water using a gas fired instant hot water system, identical to what you might find in an apartment. The ‘Lite’ also comes with 4 x solar panels which we found kept the batteries well charged.
All in all the Seawind impressed – every system was reliable and easy and the boat sailed well enough upwind, but brilliantly on a reach or a run. I have included a copy of the boat manual here for which describes the systems and features in detail. A testament to how happy we were with the boat and the charter company, was our making a booking a week after the charter for June/July 2019.