Island-to-Island Sailing

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Island-to-Island Sailing

In the Antipodes, even the yachting scene feels upside-down. Instead of places like Newport, Rhode Island, where stiffly coiffed Republicans sip Dewar's in members-only clubs, Australia has Shute Harbour: Deep in northern sugarcane country, it consists of a few quiet docks run by earthy women in shorts, with nary a Thurston Howell III in sight.

Everything in Iceland tends to extremes, and the people are no exception. They work like dogs all week, then on Friday night go out and get utterly, volcanically plastered. Last night, things kicked off with a teenage ritual called the runtur, in which gangs of kids ran riot through the Lego-block streets until they passed out in doorways ("like something out of Hieronymous Bosch," one Icelander told me, I think proudly). In self-defense, I slipped into a pub named after a Viking called Gaukur, where a heavy-metal band was blasting; everyone was blind drunk. The most staggering thing was the prices: I dropped $10 a beer. At the bar, a kid accidentally knocked over a double vodka and burst into tears. Who could blame him? It cost $25.
           — Tony Perrottet

In fact, nothing could be more laid-back, or more democratic, than a bareboat charter here: "Yachties" just roll up, plunk down a US$400 deposit, sign a few papers, and disappear under sail. The companies will even let you out without sailing experience, one motto being, "If you can drive a car, you can sail one of our yachts."

Just offshore, in the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, are scattered the 74 islands of the Whitsunday archipelago, which vary in size from specks of sand to sprawling, mountainous Rorschach blots. Don't expect a mini-Polynesia: This is classic tropical bushland of raw sandstone bluffs and eucalyptus forests, where you wake up to the cackle of kookaburras and watch the sun set to the accompaniment of screeching cockatoos.

There are no palm trees, but the waters are a truly Tahitian blue. And apart from a dozen, easily-avoided resorts, the "100 Magic Miles" are entirely uninhabited — providing an almost bewildering sense of freedom as you choose among a host of deserted refuges into which to toss your anchor (no moorings, of course). You can easily spend a week just circum-
navigating Hook and Whitsunday Islands at the north of the island chain (skip the nearby resort-islands like South Molle and Hamilton, unless the urge for a family luau night becomes overpowering).

First stop, about four hours' sail from Shute, is usually Nara Inlet, a fjord-like sliver, where a short onshore hike leads to Aboriginal cave paintings. Another easy day's sail north leads to Butterfly Bay, where you can snorkel alone among the lavish and colorful coral gardens.

Then take the daylong spin to the blinding arc of Whitehaven Beach, on the southeast coast of Whitsunday Island. As the sun sinks into the Coral Sea, the few distant yachties barbecue fish on deck and hoist their glasses of chilled chardonnay — just part of a pleasant, not to say exclusive, down-under club.

Whitsunday Rent-A-Yacht manages 35 bareboats, including 28-foot Catalinas, which comfortably house four and start at $1,729 a week; book through Down Under Answers at 800-788-6685. The company can also arrange gourmet provisioning (the booze list alone is about three pages long). — Tony Perrottet

Here's the picture: You're lolling at anchor, the gentle sway of Caribbean tradewinds and the intermittent bump of residual wavelets caressing your boat. You've got no worries, the boat's secure, the beer's cold, and best of all, you don't have to listen to any Jimmy Buffett ballads.

Almost anywhere else in the Caribbean your reverie would be interrupted by neighboring charter boats or, worse yet, the whine of jet skis. But here, between the twin isles of Petite Terre, just hours east of Guadeloupe's capital Pointe-€-Pitre, you've got the world to yourself. Actually, two worlds: Beneath the surface there's a kaleidoscope of coral and multihued reef fish, all thriving in the turquoise shallows. Swim or dinghy ashore and you can break a trail through hundreds of scuttling iguanas across the cactus-strewn landscape to the south side of Terre de Bas (the larger of the two islets), where centuries of wave activity have etched an uncanny artistry in the volcanic rock.

When you tire of solitude, another five hours' sail to the southwest will bring you to Terre-de-Haut, the largest of the ðles des Saintes, the sine qua non of Guadeloupe's satellite islands. With a half-dozen anchorages, this miniature archipelago is quintessential Caribbean — verdant hillsides surrounding small bays, giving way to Terre-de-Haut's bustling hamlet — Bourg des Saintes. It's St. Barts without the Parisian attitude; locals know they've been discovered, but they still live life unaffected. For a little cross-cultural contact, you can wander about the narrow streets amid pastel buildings and dredge up your high school French to bargain for baguettes.

Sunsail (800-327-2276) rents 35- to 50-foot Beneteaus that accommodate up to six and ten people, respectively, for $2,795-$5,330 per week; a captain is $140 per day. The Moorings (800-368-9991) charges $1,995-$6,825 for seven-day charters for six to 11 people; a cook costs $120 per day; a captain is $140 per day. Catamaran Charters (800-262-0308) has 44- and 48-foot Nautitechs that hold two to ten people; one-week rentals are $3,595-$5,895 for the 44-footer, $4,225-$6205 for the 48-footer. For an extra $140 you get a captain; for another $130 you get a cook as well. All of these companies provide a list of provisions, and will stock the boat in advance (you pay on arrival). — Dan Dickison

Sail among the islands of the Dalmatian Coast, which is now part of Croatia, and you will occasionally come upon a crumbled stone structure that looks as if it could have suffered war damage. Yes, that's what happened, an islander is likely to confirm, adding that the war took place in the fifteenth century. There is virtually no sign of the more recent Balkan wars among the islands — 1,185 of them. Here, about the only safety issue is how much sunblock to wear.

Even during the war years, charter-boat sailing in Croatia never came to a halt, and now it's more popular than ever. In summer, when you're under sail anywhere among the Adriatic islands that stretch 260 miles from the mainland ports of Pula in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, it's rare to be out of sight of fellow charterers. They're usually Germans or Austrians, recognizable by their flag and by the fact that they are much too often sailing in the buff.

The sailing is some of the best in the world. Winds are usually light, but even when they aren't the islands are so close together that the waves never get a chance to build to uncomfortable heights — a fact greatly appreciated by any sailor who has navigated the Caribbean or South Pacific with his head between his knees. The islands themselves are a timeless landscape of low, dry hillocks covered with pines and weather-sculptured rocks; groves of lemon, olive, and orange trees; and sun-baked fields divided by long stone fences. On some stand towns that are medieval in appearance, whose residents inquire of you about their relatives in New Jersey.

The island shores are so indented that you can usually have a cove all to yourself. Sometimes, though, you'll make friends with the crews of other boats anchored nearby and share a bottle or two of Croatian wine. And sometimes, the wine will have a screw-on top. But it wouldn't do to complain because, after all, there was a war.

For information on Croatian charters, contact U.S.-based Le Boat, 800-992-0291. Their prices range from $1,150 to $1,775 per week for a 30-footer; $3,000 to $4,575 for a 48-footer. A captain costs $100 per day. — Bob Payne

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