With gently shelving depths, this is a place to work the rule of twelfths, even to the extent of moving closer to shore towards neap tides for a quieter anchorage.
Middle Percy, one of the Northumberland Islands roughly southeast of Mackay, is an island of history and controversy. From pioneering times to the present day, it has always been a favourite stop for yachties, despite its often-lively anchorage in West Bay.
Site of the famed A-frame yachties hangout, there is a heap of yachting memorabilia on display, walking tracks and, of course, a visit to the island’s current caretakers to contemplate.
Shoal draft boats can enter the lagoon and dry out in perfect comfort while keelboat sisters roll in West Bay.
From the Percy area the choice is to call at Mackay and reprovision for an extended stay in the southern Whitsunday area, or continue to the Whitsundays via the Cumberland Group.
(Editor’s Note: If you want flavoursome, chemical-free fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish then call at the Farmers Market in Mackay which is held every Wednesday.)
The Whitsundays are within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). Most islands are national parks and much of the sea has restrictions on what you can do.
Free zoning maps are available from marine outlets all along the coast, or you can download them from the GBRMP Authority website.
An unfortunate result of all this regulation is that the Whitsundays are not pet-friendly. Domestic animals are not allowed ashore in most places and that is even below high water mark. If you have the option to leave Fido at home, please do so or be prepared to be creative in exercising.
Watch out for: charter boats. Bareboat skippers are mostly inexperienced and both bareboats and the passengers on crewed charter boats can be very noisy.
The great thing is that bareboats must be anchored by 1600 and stay put for the night. They also announce their intentions on the morning radio sked, so you can get an idea of their probable movements.
If you are uncomfortable with the proximity of a charter boat you can ask them to move but really, you are much better to do it yourself. Coming into anchor around 1600, after they have all parked for the night, helps to solve the problem.
What charter boat? Bareboats are easy to pick because most of them tow large rigid inflatable dinghies.
The exceptions are the big catamarans, which use davits.
Note, nearly all bareboats have the name of the charter company emblazoned on the mainsail cover. The crewed charter boats are usually identifiable by the numbers of passengers on board.
Weather information is listed in ‘100 magic miles’. One of the easiest ways to get weather forecasts is by listening to a charter company sked. Morning and evening, the operators advise charterers of their best options considering the expected weather. Listen out and you might discover something new.
With dozens to choose from it would take years to see every anchorage the Whitsundays offers. These are my must-see picks: Lindeman Island: not such a great anchorage but worth it for the walks and views. Boat Port on the NW side is the best anchorage.
Watch out for strong currents off S end, water can be murky.
Thomas Island: pretty, offers comparative solitude. Several beautiful beaches can be rolly in developed trade-wind conditions. Watch out for fringing reef SW of the island in the entrance to the SE anchorage, Calder Rock to the north.
Hamilton Island: natural and artificial attractions. Can be very handy with airport, full-service shipyard and travel lift, plus ferries to anywhere. Caters for varied interests and is spectacularly beautiful. Watch out for current across entrance to harbour.
Whitehaven/Hill Inlet: iconic destination, which means it is busy. Shoal draft boats can escape into the perfect shelter of Hill Inlet, others go over to Chalkies on Haslewood Island. Watch out for sandflies.
Nara Inlet: beautiful, sheltered, popular. Has cave paintings and a waterfall after rain.
Watch out for strong currents and reef near entrance.
Border Island/Cateran Bay: great snorkelling. Can be rolly in strong winds. It has some public moorings. Snorkelling anywhere is best on neaps and in light weather. Watch out for stonefish, no-take zoning.
Reef Group: fabulous, scenic, isolated, no bareboats! Only in light, settled weather, neap tides. Waterfall into Hardy lagoon. Not for the inexperienced or nervous. Watch out for tidal influences, currents between reefs.
Cid Harbour: excellent shelter. Walks for any fitness level. Easy access, roomy anchorage. Watch out if it is raining at Cid, may be fine elsewhere.
South Molle: excellent bushwalks on national park tracks. Private resort off limits to yachties but moorings may be available. Watch out for wind gusts on NE point.
Airlie Beach: service centre for the Whitsundays. Excellent holding but can be rolly in developed weather. All yacht facilities available, including two marinas. Woolworths near the beach and Whitsunday Sailing Club welcomes visitors. Watch out for wind bullets coming out of Funnel Bay.
That’s all for now. Sailing the Queensland coast is a worthwhile stand-alone cruise, but the Whitsundays are the jewel for most people.
Do not be in too much of a hurry to get north, but plan your trip around when you want to be home. Allow plenty of time to avoid travelling in adverse weather.
Be wary, but not afraid of the Wide Bay Bar. Be wary, but not afraid of running aground in shallows. Be flexible, choose anchorages according to the weather forecast rather than a rigid plan. Relax and enjoy.
The Whitsundays caters for all tastes, from nature lovers to party animals, budget cruising to mega yachts, children to retired folks.
Whether the Whitsundays is your destination or are just passing through, there is so much variety it would take a lifetime to see it all.