Story by Sue Fuller
"If you haven't sailed the Whitsundays, you haven't lived," When I clambered aboard the beautiful old tallship, Solway Lass at Airlie Beach, life so noticeably slowed that I could have tossed my watch overboard. For the next three days and nights, meal times were heralded by delicious aromas and "cocktail hour" began when the sun dipped a reasonable distance towards the horizon.
In 2002, Solway Lass celebrated her 100th birthday, having started her life as a sail powered cargo vessel, built in 1902 in the Netherlands.
She's had a long and tumultuous history, and the Solway's crew love to share her colourful past with a maximum of 32 guests on board at any one time. Seized as a prize of war by the British in 1915 and used as a Q-ship during World War One, she was again seized by the Germans in World War Two, before being badly damaged by a mine. After the war, the Solway Lass set sail for warmer waters and plied the South Pacific as a cargo vessel, eventually falling into disrepair.
Totally rebuilt, Solway Lass took pride of place in the 1st Fleet re-enactment during our Bicentennial Year before travelling north to the Whitsundays, where she is understandably the pride and joy of Airlie Beach-based Southern Cross Sailing Adventures.
With 10 sails and 5,500 square feet of sail area, this is sailing for grown-ups in fully-catered comfort! You can do as little or as much as you like, and during our voyage, nearly everyone joined in the fun of learning to hoist and trim sails or have a go at taking the helm.
While the creak and groan of timber deck is an age-old sound, rest assured life below deck is comfortably modern. Solway Lass is air-conditioned and has 11 cabins for 32 guests, with a choice of double or twin cabins or four-share. There's a bar, and bathrooms complete with hot showers; just the thing for rinsing off the day's salt water. Appetites were unfailingly hearty and food on the Solway Lass was fresh, delicious and plentiful.
We covered around 90 nautical miles (160km), exploring beautiful spots including Whitehaven Beach, Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island, Mantaray and Nara Inlet and stopping to snorkel, scuba dive and swim on the island coral fringing reef. By around 4:30pm each day in a calm anchorage we often tied up with one of Southern Cross's four ex-racing yachts, including famous Whitbread maxis, The Card and British Defender.
The Solway Lass departs on its three day/three night trips from Airlie Beach every Tuesday and Saturday at 7:30pm. All meals are included.
Being one of the world's most spectacular aquatic playgrounds, the Whitsundays has a huge fleet of boats which ply the islands and nearby Great Barrier Reef. Day tours on fast-catamarans, fully-crewed tours on famous sailing sloops and motor cruisers are available from the islands and the mainland, or you can take the "drive yourself" option of bareboating.
The Whitsundays is also home to the biggest fleet of bareboat charter boats in the southern hemisphere