Sailing the Whitsundays: An adventure on the sea

British Defender Maxi Yacht in the whitsundays

Of course you can visit Whitehaven beach directly, but what better way to reach it than a three-day boat sailing the Whitsundays. Arriving at Airlie Beach. I had just spent the last twelve hours on a train down and could not wait to stretch my legs. Making my way from the train station to the bay, I was filled with excitement. The night before I had barely slept on the train, and had pretty much remained awake with maybe the odd doze, but as soon I laid eyes on that deep blue water my energy felt renewed. 

The Whitsundays are known as some of the most beautiful islands in the world. They are the home of Whitehaven Beach, which has won awards for being the most beach in the world. If you want to book your own tour of the Whitsundays, I have partnered with Get Your Guide to provide a booking tool for a full-day Eco-Cruise below.

British Defender Maxi Yacht in Airlie Beach

The Rules of Yacht Life

We first went to a nearby hostel where it was arranged for us to leave our bags. It was here we would have the rules for sailing the Whitsundays laid out for us.

  1. Pack Light

Space is a premium on the yacht, so we were limited to our daypack, and as much alcohol as we could carry. This turned out to be a lot in our case, and yet still not enough.

  1. No Bananas

It’s a long-held superstition amongst sailors that bananas bring bad luck. So do not bring anything containing bananas, that includes everything from the fruit itself to banana boat sunscreen, even fruit of the loom clothing as the logo used to contain a banana. I don’t even like bananas.

  1. No long showers

Much like space, water is a premium. If the yacht runs out of water then they have no choice but to turn around and head back to shore. 

  1. No shoes

I actually couldn’t remember the reason for this rule, so I did have to google it. It’s because shoes can leave scuff marks, or even worse damage the hull. So most yachts have a shoe bag to store them in.

  1. No glass

I made the mistake of not putting my medication into a clear bag, and instead just brought the bottle. My error wasn’t apparent until day two when it rolled out of my bag and smashed on the floor. I had been so diligent, remembering to buy cans of beer and a couple of cases of goon instead of anything in a bottle. This was the rule I broke, Luckily for me, the crew were understanding of my mistake, they knew I had only brought it with me out of habit, rather than intentionally breaking the rules, but still, I felt guilty. Just remember to pack carefully when you visit yourself and respect the rules of the boat.

Interior plan of the British Defender Maxi Yacht in Australia
British Defender Layout provided by Explore Whitsundays

Packing for the Yacht

In my pack, I had the bare essentials; electronics, swim shorts, deodorant and a couple of shirts. Then we went on to the next order of business, snacks and alcohol. As for what I could carry, it was eight litres of wine and a six-pack of beer. Turns out that for three days and two nights on a yacht, this isn’t enough alcohol. But I did have plenty of Tim-Tams, an Australian delicacy often compared to a penguin bar but infinitely better. I miss snacks like these, I had some amazing food whilst in Australia, but just the thought of Tim-Tams brings me right back to that boat. 

British Defender Maxi Yacht in the Whitsundays
British Defender Maxi Yacht in the whitsundays
British Defender Maxi Yacht in the whitsundays
British Defender Maxi Yacht in the whitsundays

Exploring The Vessel

The name of our vessel was the British Defender. We didn’t know what to expect from our yacht, having never been on one before. I was told it was a modern maxi-sailing yacht, but having never seen a sailing yacht before in my life I was still in the dark. At the end of the pier, it came into sight and compared to the yachts worth millions of dollars we had just walked past, it was a little on the small side. I wasn’t quite sure how all of our group was going to fit on the deck, let alone find space to sleep. However, it turns out this was the tardis of all boats, with enough beds to sleep us all comfortably as we sailed the Whitsundays. Some of the beds were even doubles so that couples could share or spread out if they needed to.

Interior of the British Defender Maxi Yacht in the whitsundays

Sailing the Whitsundays

We all had to be on deck when the Yacht was in motion. The deck would often be angled so that the sail could catch the wind. This meant we always had to sit on the higher side. Luckily the wind helped keep us cool, as there was no shade to protect us from the sun. We were often called to help, and we were often called to raise the sails or cranking winches, which I was always happy to do. It was a lot of fun to do and really made the experience more memorable. I spent rest of the time chatting with friends, enjoying an ice-cold beer with the view.

Watching the sunset and the moonrise whilst floating in the middle of nowhere is an experience you cannot match. In the Whitsundays there’s little to no light pollution, allowing you to enjoy the view unspoiled. Our day of partying and sailing was starting to take its toll on the group, we turned off the music and started to slow down a little. 

Meeting the locals

Our excitement grew again as we saw sharks circling our boat in the torchlight in search of food. I often think back to that night, near the end when the water felt still and everything was quiet except for our hushed conversations. Sipping from our plastic glasses of goon. This was one of those perfect moments, we loved our little yacht. We didn’t care that the wine wasn’t fancy, tasting something similar to wine-flavoured paint stripper, or that the yacht didn’t have private rooms or showers you can relax in. We had everything we needed and that was enough. Everyone was happy and just in the moment, which is a hard thing to be in our modern society.

Soon enough the others started to peel off and make their way to bed. Below deck, the hot air was stifling, with few windows for it to escape. The captain made the suggestion that I sleep on the deck underneath the stars. With just a yoga mat, sheet and pillow I was glad for the offer. I tucked myself in, and relatively convinced I wouldn’t roll overboard in the night, I got myself comfortable. I drifted off quickly whilst trying to forget about the circling sharks. Now I have stayed in some comfortable hotels in my time, but I cannot recall a better night’s sleep than on that yoga mat.

Sunrise on a Maxi Yacht travelling the Whitsunday Islands

My (shortlived) time as captain

My days were spent snorkelling as we explored the Whitsundays. But of course the the highlight to me was Whitehaven Beach. It was so relaxing having everything planned for us and riding the waves. The only downside to boat life was that the floor is very uncomfortable. It had to be grippy even when wet, so the wooden floors below the deck were a welcome relief.

A big moment for me came when in open water I was given the chance to take the wheel. Our days often started and ended with us taking turns to hoist and lower the sails. Doing so became considerably harder if you did it at the end of the day after a few drinks. Pulling the rope to hoist the sail was often a one-person job, so everyone would watch you do it. You started full of energy and eagerness to show off and quickly had your energy drained before one of the boat crew had to take over and finish the job.

Sailors Bracelets

On our second night, we were offered sailor knot bracelets by our ship’s guide. As she wound it onto my wrist we were told the history behind them and their significance. Women would put these bracelets on their partners to bring them luck on their voyage. The bracelet also acted as a wedding band that couldn’t be removed without being cut off. Supposedly some sailors would cut it off and then hire a local girl to make them a new one with matching colours before they returned home so their partner wouldn’t be any the wiser. Cleverly when this was revealed the women would start making small errors in the pattern that they would know to look for. If the error wasn’t there anymore when they came back home then they knew they had caught their partner cheating. 

Airlie Beach in Australia

The next morning we made our way back to Airlie Beach. It was sad having to dock our boat and say our goodbyes, but the walk back to our hostel was a beautiful one. It took us a bit to lose our sea legs and a few even felt land-sick as they had gotten so used to the constant rocking motions of the sea. If you are by Airlie Beach and have the time to join a tour like this then I would encourage you to do it in a heartbeat, there is no better way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Whitsundays than by relaxing by the sea. 

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands FAQs

How can I sail the Whitsunday Islands?

The easiest way is to book a trip through Get Your Guide. You can even check their availability using the link below. If you do book through the link it will cost you no extra, but will mean I receive a comission to support the blog.

Can I shower aboard?

Yes they are limited though to short showers. If the boat runs out of water it has to turn back to shore.

Do Maxi Yachts have private rooms?

Nope, everyone sleeps in the same room in bunk beds. Some are doubles and others are singles. If you are lucky you may get the chance to sleep on deck under the stars.

What should I bring?

The essentials are swim gear, sunscreen, flip flops and sunglasses. Just do not bring any bananas (or anything with a banana on it).

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