Cruising The Whitsundays
Well here it is 2008 and the world continues to become a different place. We have a new federal government, Britain has a new Prime Minister and the good ol' US of A is looking for a replacement President.
Not surprisingly the Whitsundays is also changing. In fact nothing but the marine park and the sailing is unchanged. The anchorages are still superb, whales not required for research are happily migrating and the trade winds continue to blow; as always, stronger when you want to go south.
Shore side, little remains the same. A strong Queensland economy and rampant investment (the local rag recently reported five billion dollars in approved developments for the region) has cranes dotting the skyline and the V8 utes of contractors from all over the country ruling the streets. The philosophy appears to be “if we build it they will come.”
So far they seem to be correct and the population keeps increasing. State government has decreed council amalgamations throughout Queensland and as a consequence the Whitsunday and Bowen shires are merging to form a single, larger council. This, of course, is not universally popular and many people are concerned about the differing focus of the two regions. Time will tell if the tourism needs of the Whitsundays are compatible with the agricultural and resource requirements of our northern neighbours.
At least the local politics will be entertaining at election time. Speaking of entertainment, a strip club has been proposed for the main street of Airlie Beach. Some people claim that this is a sign of the region “coming of age” and “indicative of a mature tourist destination.” Others reckon it will destroy the village atmosphere and spell the end of Airlie Beach. If it does go ahead, people who work for the salvation of the fallen and those who tuck banknotes into G-strings will be equally employed.
None of this will affect the cruising fleet (unless your crew are exotic dancers), which this year seemed larger than ever and many boats seemed to stay longer than usual. Of interest was the significant proportion of multihulls, especially cats. No doubt at all these vessels are gaining in popularity for coastal cruising; however, I saw only one internationally flagged cat.
Numerous overseas vessels visited the Whitsundays despite Australia's increasingly poor reputation from a customs and immigration perspective and I bet they were glad they did. The charter industry has recovered somewhat from the tax pogrom of recent years and new boats are hitting the fleets. Bigger and flasher seems to be the objective and more vessels are offering air conditioning. Both Bavaria Yachts and Vicsail (Beneteau and others) have established offices at Abel Point Marina so if you have one of these vessels you can visit and shower them with kisses or fillet with a dull blade as your experience sailing here dictates.
So should I sail to or charter in the Whitsundays? If superb anchorages, teeming oceans and reliable winds are important then the answer is unchanged. Sounds like a good idea to me.
CH Whitsundays correspondent