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Issue 29. Out Now!

Is Sailing your Dream but you donít Own a Boat? Print E-mail

Sun, sand, blue water, gorgeous anchorages. It makes you want to jump in and have fun. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. Image coutersy of Tourism of Queensland.

By Rosemary Jilderts

       Let's take a look at your options - Cruising is a way of life that has been growing in popularity for decades now, but with the current world-wide economic situation many potential boat owners are changing their plans and putting off purchasing their own boats until the situation improves.  Although, of course, for anyone with a bit of spare cash, this is the ideal time to buy as sellers are dropping the prices of their vessels by enormous amounts.  It’s definitely a buyer’s market right now and it is quite conceivable that, as economic conditions improve, the value of these vessels will once again rise and the owner, after having had a few years’ fun with it will be able to put the boat back on the market for a much higher price than was paid for it. I have found from personal experience in the past that this is certainly possible.

There are, of course, those people who aren’t just looking for a money-making proposition but want the joy of owning their own boat, of acquiring it, perhaps to lovingly restore a rundown vessel or simply enjoy knowing that the beautiful boat under their feet belongs to them.  The sense of pride and achievement of caring for their boat is important.

But that’s not for everyone and there are other reasons why some keen wannabe sailors, while eager to get out on the water, are reluctant to lash out and buy their dream boat.  They may not want to have the worries, or the cost, of storing large vessels in expensive marinas and maintenance can also be another unwanted cost.

For these people, there are other options where they can still have the joy of sailing without the issues.  For instance they can sail on other people’s boats. Many yacht/boat clubs run events where boat owners will take visitors out with them for an afternoon or evening sail around the harbour.  Often this is preceded or followed by a barbecue or some other casual function.  This option gives the newcomer the opportunity to sail and also the chance to make friends.  They probably won’t get their hands on the helm but they’ll still have a good time.  Salt spray in the face, wind in the hair, the sound of the bow cutting the water … what fun!  If this is something you’d be interested in, contact the clubs in your area. 

A lot of solo or short-handed sailors will sometimes look for crew to help them take a boat from “A” to “B”, domestically and internationally.  Not all of these sailors are looking for people with experience … if the crew is prepared to learn the skipper will generally be prepared to teach as they travel.  This option can be lots of fun on the right boat and with the right skipper but the crew has to be prepared to work for their passage … helping when required.  Advertisements for these opportunities pop up on club and shopping centre noticeboards, sometimes in papers or magazines and regularly on the internet on sites such as Crewfind. 

There is another option.  For those wanting the thrill of taking control and being responsible for the boat they can hire a bareboat.  If they don’t have any sailing experience these boats can be hired with a skipper so they can enjoy the sailing without the responsibility.  There are any number of companies offering these services.  Just select the area you’d like to explore … log onto the web looking for bareboat companies in that area, and you’ve taken the first step.

Sailing on Pittwater. Image courtesy of Club Sail. The crab pots yielded up this great catch fot the crew on the houseboat. Image courtesy of Rainbow Beach Houseboats. A couple enjoy a romantic holiday on their chartered yacht on Pittwater. Image courtesy of Club Sail.

Why do people hire bareboats?  As mentioned earlier, the lack of associated costs and maintenance is a big drawcard.  There are some people who love sailing, but simply can’t afford, or don’t want, to own a boat.  However, there are also many who simply want to try the experience and see if they like it; or to see if they can handle a boat … before buying one.

Possibly you are in a position to buy your own boat (don’t forget that bareboats come as power vessels if sailing isn’t your “thing”) but you may be unsure about your family or crew.  Is the boating life really for them? Will they get seasick?  Will they enjoy the whole experience? Wouldn’t hiring a bareboat be the best way to see for yourself whether it would work for you?  These are all valid and reasonable questions to ask yourself.

Hiring a bareboat is a great way to answer these questions before outlaying a lot of hard-earned cash first.  At least that way if they (or you) don’t enjoy it, at the end of the hire you simply hand over the keys and return home.  But I’m betting that the majority who do get out on the water will love it and want to go again.

Hiring a bareboat can be a great option for the experienced as well as the inexperienced.  ‘Boatless’ sailors get the chance to hone their skills while enjoying a great holiday in some spectacular areas.

And, then there’s always the option of hiring a boat with a professional skipper who will take all the worries on their shoulders leaving you nothing to do but enjoy yourselves.  Crew will handle the boat so the hirer will have no concerns about anchoring in a safe spot or taking the correct course.  If you are inexperienced or lack the confidence to hire a bareboat … if you want a sailing holiday on your own private boat without having all that work … a boat where you aren’t surrounded by a lot of strangers … then a skippered charter is probably the best bet for you.

Your experienced skipper has a lot of local knowledge.  He or she knows all the best places to go and the safe ways to get there.  They know where the best fishing is; the best dive spots; the prettiest beaches.  So while you, your family or friends enjoy yourselves … fishing, diving, swimming or snorkelling … making most of your limited time on board, the crew does all the work.   When you surface after that fabulous dive, or swim back to the boat after lazing on that sundrenched beach your lunch is ready for you to just sit down and enjoy.  Let’s face it, do you really want to be cooking and cleaning when you could be doing what you went there to do?

With the wind in the sails and the yacht cutting the water cleanly, could life get any better? Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. Think of any exotic location and you are bound to find a charter boat waiting especially for you. Image courtesy of Sunsail.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s John and I sailed through the Whitsundays regularly.  This has always been a popular cruising area for private boats as well as bare boats. It was common practice for the local bareboat charter companies to advise their customers to drop the anchor near any private boat, as “they know the best places to anchor”.  But we, the private yachties, knew this and weren’t always happy at being surrounded by amateurs who often anchored far too close, so many of us would anchor where we didn’t want to be – but just temporarily.  The charterers had to be on anchor by 4pm and weren’t allowed to move again until morning so once they were settled in, we’d lift our anchors and move to our preferred spots.  Many companies now have designated moorings for bareboats in areas up and down the coast so perhaps this is no longer necessary but at the time it was a cheeky thing to do.

John and I always enjoyed our stops in the Whitsundays.  We found that the bareboating scene offered amusement for ourselves and other boaties, as well as the charterers themselves … but for different reasons.  Observing the learning curve of people new to anything can be very entertaining for the watchers – maybe not so enjoyable sometimes for the “doers”, however!  It can often be difficult dealing with novices.  It may seem as though they speak a totally different language.  The experienced person probably believes he or she is explaining everything simply … in layman’s terms … but quite often it’s still way over the amateur’s head.  Most people pick things up reasonably quickly but occasionally there is someone who simply just doesn’t get it.  In those instances we were left wondering how the bareboat companies and their employees kept their sanity.

Some of the best entertainment came via the radio when the charterers would call into their fleet’s base with problems or questions, usually on channel 80 and 81.  These were known amongst private boaties as the comedy channels.

Occasionally problems occurred due to the bareboat company not maintaining their fleet so that the same problem occurred week after week, hire after hire.  In these cases there simply wasn’t the time between back-to-back hires to do the necessary repairs.  We’d hear each successive hirer complaining about the same broken toilet or the same fridge that wouldn’t chill down.  Many times these issues just needed a bit of a tweak here or there but quite often the conversations were confused and usually hilarious for the listeners.  Our evenings were often spent with the private yachties getting together for sundowners and chuckling over the afternoon’s conversations between the bareboaters and the charter companies.

The one that comes to mind straight away was the yacht that couldn’t start its engine at one of the anchorages.  It was quickly ascertained that the problem was a flat battery so the charter boat “Apollo IV” was diverted to jump start the yacht’s motor.  The radio operator back at the base advised the hirer to head back to base once the engine was running and to “motor-sail all the way back.”  “OK,” replied the hirer.  “So I will motor-sail out of here then shut the engine down.”  The base operator patiently told him again.  “No, motor-sail ALL the way back.”  “Yes,” came the response again, “I understand that, but how long should I keep the engine running before I shut it down?”  The radio operator back at the base who obviously had the patience of a saint, couldn’t get his message across that the engine should not be shut down; and the hirer obviously didn’t understand the term “motor-sail”.  The conversation went back and forth repeatedly with the hirer still worried about how long to keep the engine running.  Amazingly, the base operator managed to remain calm and patient but from his slow and restrained manner we, the listeners, knew that all he wanted to do was crawl through the mic and strangle the hirer.  Finally, in desperation, he spoke clearly, slowly and very precisely, “DO … NOT … TURN … OFF … THE … ENGINE.  KEEP IT RUNNING. PUT UP THE SAILS AS WELL AND COME ALL THE WAY BACK USING THE SAILS AND THE ENGINE.  DO… NOT … TURN … OFF … THE … ENGINE”.  By the end his voice had become more and more strained and somewhat louder.  Finally, the hirer got the message and cheerfully replied, “Oh, that’s okay then because I was worried that if I turned the engine off it mightn’t start again!”

Was the thumping I heard the base operator bashing his head against the wall?  The other yachties who we discussed this with later expressed their concern that he probably had no hair left on his head as he’d undoubtedly pulled every strand out in frustration!

Bareboat anchored off a Sea Gypsy village in Thailand. Image courtesy of Sunsail. A beautiful rainbow seems to be saying the pot of gold is right where the houseboat is moored. Image courtesy of Rainbow Beach Houseboats.

The Whitsundays are, of course, not the only area where you will find bareboat fleets.  They have been set up all around the country and world-wide.  You can go virtually anywhere and find a beautiful tourist spot to explore in a bareboat.  What is your preference?  Australia or overseas?  An exotic location far from the madding crowd or one within 20 minutes of the heart of Brisbane?

What about beautiful Pittwater, in Sydney?  John and I spent many enjoyable days exploring this wonderful area in our power boat in the 1970’s and 80’s. Companies like Club Sail were not around back in those days, only starting the business in 1994, but today they have much to offer their customers, from sail training (private and professional) to bareboat and skippered charters.

Some companies are small and have a few vessels in just one area, while other fleets are run by companies, such as Sunsail, which is the largest yacht charter company in the world operating out of 30 bases in 19 destinations worldwide.

But you might prefer the more laid back option of hiring a houseboat and there are a lot of companies around the country from which you can choose.  Once again, it’s a case of selecting the area you want to explore.

The Fraser Island/Great Sandy Strait area is one that is very popular with boaties of all types. Rainbow Beach Houseboats is the only company in the Sandy Straits with registered mooring buoys which will be found in safe sheltered anchorages.

The options for the hirer are almost endless. Depending on the company you select you have the option of hiring a sleek yacht or fast catamaran to experience exciting sailing; a motor boat for those not wanting to bother about sails; or roomy houseboats for the family or a group of friends wanting a casual relaxed holiday. The size of the company should not necessarily be an indication of the amount of fun and enjoyment you will have on your holiday.

The charter companies can supply just about anything you want to have on board including maps of the area with advice on where to fish, crab and the best mooring spots. You will probably find houseboats supplying crab pots, a yabby pump and a pot to cook your catch in.  You should only have to bring food, drinks and clothes although some companies will also cater for you with specialised packs at a charge.  Just check with the company you’ve selected as to what is on board and what you need to bring with you.

Look at the colour of that water! You don't have to own your own boat to have this sort of fun. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Skippered charters don’t need the hirer to have previous experience but with bareboats you will probably be expected to prove your proficiency.  Companies like Sunsail expect anyone wishing to bareboat to prove their sailing proficiency through either a formal qualification or membership of a yacht club.  They, along with other charter companies, are also an accredited RYA Sailing School and many people are now taking up this option of completing a sailing course prior to booking.

All companies should provide comprehensive briefings prior to any charter heading out.  There are many charter companies offering both bareboat and skippered charters and these can be found easily on the internet.  Websites will give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

However, chartering is sometimes not enough for some people who don’t want to stop at just having the use of a boat for a week or two.  They want to head off on an extended long-distance cruise - their “adventure of a lifetime” - and that may not be a feasible proposition on a bareboat. So, often, after trying the bareboat option, they realise the next step - buying their own boat - is the best move for them.  If that is the case, then they are bound to find something that suits in today’s market.

What a way to spend your time, relaxing on the deck of a roomy houseboat. Image courtesy of Rainbow Beach Houseboats.

So there are some of the options and pros and cons of hiring a bareboat. If the idea of hiring appeals to you, all you need to decide now is the area where you wish to sail and whether you prefer a yacht or catamaran, a motorboat or a houseboat.  You also have to decide whether you want a skippered or a skipper-yourself (bareboat) charter and last but not least you have to decide who you want to take with you.  I’m sure when you tell your friends these are your plans you will be inundated with offers to “carry your bags”.  By dividing the cost of the charter between a group of your friends you will minimise the per person cost as well as increasing your enjoyment by sharing the holiday and the fun with them.

So take the plunge.  Make the decision, make the phone call and then pack your bag.  You will be sure to have one of the best holidays you could ever imagine.

Thanks to the following for their input of information, advice and photos.

Mark R. Windsor
Head of Distribution- Australia & Asia Pacific
TUI Marine - Sunsail, Le Boat, The Moorings and Footloose
Contact details:
Sunsail Australia Pty Ltd, Suite 1503, 275 Alfred Street, North Sydney, 2060, NSW Australia
Phone: +61 2 8912 7001; Fax: +61 2 8912 7095;  Mobile: +61 407 842 903

Maree at Rainbow Beach Houseboats
Maree Ph 07 54863146
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Debbie & Chris Brown
Club Sail Pty. Ltd.,  Bareboat charter company on Pittwater.
Phone: International + 612 9979 9669

Wendy Elliston
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