| Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998|
THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, AUSTRALIA
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-
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
ILES DES SAINTES, WEST INDIES
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
DALMATION COAST, CROATIA
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