Our caravan aficionados Jan and Peter (both 74) combine a caravan holiday with a cruise holiday, making the most of a Queensland getaway.
With winter approaching, the warmer weather in northern Queensland was looking attractive!
We decided to follow the Queensland coastline up as far as Airlie Beach and then hire a boat to cruise the Whitsundays. We told friends of the trip. The first thing they asked was, ‘Do you need a boat license?’ While our boating experience was useful, a license wasn’t a mandatory requirement. Yes, that’s right, you can hire a cruiser and not have a boating license!
Twenty-two years ago, we chartered a similar vessel in the Whitsundays, so we thought we would recapture fond memories, seeing as we can’t travel overseas.
We spent a great week of caravanning from the Gold Coast to Airlie Beach. From here, we found the Whitsunday Yacht Charters’ office above the restaurants and tourist shops in the Coral Sea Marina. We viewed our vessel which would be our home for 8 nights. Sunquest is a 44 ft catamaran, twin engine motor cruiser. Beautiful.
Whitsunday Charters phoned to advise our vessel would be available from 2pm for boarding, which allowed us to be well settled in before our departure the following morning. We stocked up on groceries from Woolworths nearby.
For an extra fee, an additional night can be spent on the boat in the marina in a ‘sleepover’ (as they call it). With a separate company, we arranged secure parking for our vehicle and caravan.
A staff member came on board to acquaint us to the workings of the stove, fridge, water, bathrooms, gas and power while we were plugged into the marina power.
No grey water is allowed to be released while in the harbour. A key was provided for the marina bathroom facilities. We strolled along the boardwalk to Airlie Beach to purchase fresh seafood for our first dinner on board.
We were up early to greet our instructor who arrived at 8am. The 4-hour orientation for operating Sunquest was informative and very helpful. The very explanatory navigation book A Hundred Magic Miles was perused and explained. As the prevailing winds for the following week were predicted to be south-easterly, we were made aware that comfortable anchorages would be on the northern sides of the islands.
The charter company ensures that the hirer understands the operation and all functions of the vessel. This includes navigation rules, how to read charts and successfully navigate reefs, shallow areas and anchorages. Once the briefing is completed, the hirer is assessed while manoeuvring the vessel out of the harbour.
The hirers are required to make regular radio contact with the charter base. Two ‘skeds’ (scheduled radio contact) are compulsory each day with the charter base. The base will then give the hirers a forecast for weather, wind and sea.
At the 9am sked, the route for the day is reported. At 4pm the hirer advises their overnight anchorage. If an unsuitable mooring has been selected, they are required to move to a safe one.
Just outside the marina we were instructed on how to secure the boat to a mooring buoy and, alternatively, how to drop an anchor. Jan found retrieving the heavy mooring rope quite a challenge!
It is preferable to use mooring buoys where possible. This protects reefs from the damage caused by anchors. When no buoys are available anchoring further offshore is acceptable. Having satisfied our instructor, we returned him to the marina. Then, we were on our way!
We rounded Cape Conway and passed North Mole Island where we encountered choppy seas for our crossing of Whitsunday Passage to Hook Island. On the 3 June 1770 Lieutenant James Cook sailed into these waters. He named them in commemoration of Whitsun, which falls on the 7th Sunday after Easter.
Stonehaven was our overnight anchorage. There, Jan struggled with retrieving the heavy mooring rope from the buoy while dangling over the bow. We made our 4pm radio sked to advise the base that we were secure for the evening. It was a very restful evening in slight seas. A pink sunset enhanced our view across the water to Hayman Island and Langford Reef.
Mooring was the topic of conversation over breakfast. After our 9am sked to advise of our itinerary, we moved over to Langford Reef.
Jan extracted Peter from the captain’s seat while Peter caught, lifted and secured the mooring rope. This was a great improvement and we successfully continued to use this arrangement. As soon as we were settled, a school of large batfish swam right up to the rear duckboard and popped their faces out of the water to look at us. What a surprise! They are obviously used to being hand fed.
We made our lunch time anchorage Blue Pearl Bay on the northwest side of Hayman Island. We took the opportunity to snorkel on the reef. There were coral trout, parrot fish, batfish, and schools of tiny colourful fish.
Tropical cyclone Debbie made landfall in March 2017. Underwater we could see the trail of destruction she left on the coral. A tour group arrived, and we followed their lead to discover that the best coral and colorful fish were further offshore.
That afternoon we cruised around the northwestern tip of Hayman Island towards Hook Island and picked up a mooring buoy in Butterfly Bay. We launched the tender (a smaller boat used to get to shore) to explore the beach. At the northern end, we scrambled over rocks along a watercourse which, to our surprise, led to a waterfall. Although Butterfly Bay was named because of its shape, butterflies hovered all around us in the thick vegetation and ferns. We were back on board Sunquest in time to enjoy another lovely sunset.
In perfect morning sunshine (after our regulatory 9am sked) the tender was launched. We motored to the other side of the Butterfly Bay to snorkel along the reef. The marine life on the large coral bommies was fascinating.
Further into the bay we spied a turtle and lots of coloured fish. Back on board, the tender was hoisted up at the stern. Our stinger protection suits were hung up to dry, and lunch devoured. (May is the very end of season when the Irukandji stingers can be found in these waters).
THE OUTER ISLANDS
We were on our way again. With the auto pilot set for Border Island out to the East, we enjoyed smooth water and fine weather for the hourand-a-half crossing in open seas. We picked up a mooring buoy in Cataran Bay, sheltered from the south easterly winds. An afternoon hike took us to Mosstrooper Peak to marvel at the views of the pretty bays below us as well as Deloraine, Whitsunday and Hazelwood Islands in the distance.
Strong south-easterly winds greeted us in the morning which meant we encountered a choppy crossing once we cleared the shelter of Border Island. We were headed for shelter in Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island. This bay is very popular with tourist boats. Luckily, we managed to hook one of the last available buoys.
The walk along the forested paths took us to lookouts over the spectacular Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. The harvesting of hoop pines took place here from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Sawn timber was shipped to the mainland.
In a falling tide, a fellow tourist helped us pull the tender off the beach enabling us to return to Sunquest for lunch. We cruised along the length of Whitehaven and inside Lagoon Rock to one of the last available mooring buoys at Chalkies Beach, Hazelwood Island. Ashore, we enjoyed a short climb up stairs to the lookout. We could see Whitehaven, Martin Islet and the Solway Passage. This is the main route for boats which transport tourists from Hamilton Island to Whitehaven Beach. Sheep had grazed on Hazelwood Island in the 1930s. It was declared a National Park in 1940.
Back on board and on the flybridge for the 4pm sked, we relaxed with our favorite drink. It was a wonderful calm mooring but, in the morning, a strong current made snorkelling too much of a challenge. We moved Sunquest to the northern end of Chalkies Beach, swam out against the current and drifted slowly back enjoying the marine life along the drop off.
We later took the tender to explore along the northern side of Hazelwood Island. Our goal was Windy Bay where we spent a lovely day 22 years ago. We anchored the tender near the headland at the entrance to the shallow bay and again loved strolling along this deserted beach, exploring all the nooks and crannies and a small creek. We searched for the track that previously led over the island to a reef on the other side. But alas, the track was now overgrown.
On our return journey we walked the tender through shallow crystal-clear blue waters with a cute island just offshore. There was a lovely beach on the headland at Katies Cove, to the north of Chalkies. We had an impressive view of the edge of the reef as we slowly motored back over it to Sunquest.
Running the engines for a minimum of 4 hours each day is enough to charge the batteries. As a result of motoring for a very short time the previous day, our power and hot water supply were low. We took off at 7.30am and cruised the long way around the eastern side of Border Island to recharge the batteries. The high cliffs and small sheltered bays along the island were lovely. We did our morning sked while cruising in calm open seas.
On Hook Island we moored in Saba Bay. With a fringing reef here, we made a very cautious entry. What a delight to find we had the bay and pretty coves all to ourselves. The tender took us to the end of the bay for an interesting snorkel out towards the drop off. We decided to move on after lunch because of the falling tide and shallow reefs at the entrance to the bay.
Cairn Bay, on Whitsunday Island, was our evening anchorage. Just across the Passage was the beach which once housed the Hook Island Underwater Observatory. It was a tourist attraction constructed in 1966 but, it was closed because the submarine viewing chamber had insufficient ventilation. Since its closure it has fallen into disrepair.
With the tender secured on Cairn beach, we explored the shoreline and a campground nearby. The currents and wind swung us backwards and forwards in the evening. This caused the buoy to bang against the hulls, disturbing our sleep, despite us freeing it a couple of times. In the morning we noticed a nearby yachtie had pulled his buoy up above the water. We wondered why we hadn’t thought of that.
On Mother’s Day, we were fortunate to be in phone range and Jan was able to answer greetings from our family. With the tender on shore, we snorkeled straight off the beach. It was at the top of the tide allowing a lovely snorkel with no current. We swam out as far as the drop off which was the best viewing on this journey. Again, there was cyclone damage, no staghorn or branch corals, but coral bommies, schools of fish and soft corals.
After negotiating the swirling currents at the entrance to Hook Passage, we travelled up the eastern side of the island. Luncheon Bay on the northern side offered a sheltered spot, appropriately, in this pretty area for lunch. A passage between Hayman and Hook Island led to Stonehaven where we hooked on one of the few vacant buoys for the evening. It was protected from strong winds.
On our last morning we departed at 7.30am entering choppy seas until we rounded North Molle Island. A radio call on approach to Airlie Beach brought two deck hands on board as we arrived in the harbour for a condition report, refueling and a debrief. Our fuel bill was surprisingly only $187.00!
Our car was waiting for us at the marina. We collected our caravan, and enjoyed the next week travelling south along the Australian Country Way towards the Gold Coast and home. Another caravan adventure awaits!
Are you looking for a retirement life that offers travel, adventure, and meeting people from all over the world? Follow Geoff and Leanne on their round-the-world cruise retirement.
Ever dreamt of selling up, seeing the world, and cruising the waterways of Europe? Well retirees, Geoff, and Leanne, are doing just that. They are a very ordinary Australian couple who have stepped up to a “life less ordinary”. Here Geoff describes how it all came about and how anyone can enjoy a similar cruise retirement lifestyle.
How it Began
Our friends all say that we’re ‘living the dream’ but I can tell you that’s just not true. Our wonderful lifestyle is way better than anything we could have dreamed up. In a nutshell, we’re an Australian couple who retired early at the end of 2016. We bought a motorboat in England and now spend about five months each year cruising the rivers, canals, and coastlines of Europe.
The balance of the year we spend exploring the world aboard luxury cruise ships for free, by giving speaking presentations to fellow passengers, as well as doing pet and housesitting assignments. So how did it all come about? We lived on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in Queensland enjoying a wonderful lifestyle and way back in 2009 we had the opportunity to spend two weeks cruising the rivers and canals in Burgundy, France.
“Why Return To Australia?”
Whilst there, we met many Brits, Aussies and Kiwis who have retired and spend time each year cruising around the canals aboard their boats. They usually return home when the thermometer drops. Now this was a lifestyle we wanted for ourselves. Australia, like the UK, is an expensive place to live. When we did the sums, it became clear that we couldn’t afford to maintain a home in Australia resigned to the fact that this lifestyle would remain out of our financial reach. That is, until one day when a friend casually said, “So why return to Australia? There are much cheaper places to live abroad!”
The seed was planted. We certainly didn’t expect anything to happen until we turned 60 at the earliest, but in mid-2016, (while we were in our mid 50’s), events conspired that led us to review our current circumstances. When we did, there was the realisation that if we were careful financially, we could bring our plans forward. In fact, we could, and we really should do this now while we were still healthy and active enough to enjoy the lifestyle.
We started looking for the perfect boat to suit our needs. We wanted a boat that was versatile enough that we could take it through the rivers and canals of Europe but also something that would be suitable if/when we wanted to venture out into open water and cruise around the coastlines of the Mediterranean countries.
After a lot of research, we soon came across Broom Boats. They are a well-known English manufacturer with a reputation for quality. We were immediately drawn to this boat due to its versatility. The radar arch folds down to reduce the air draft or height of the boat to fit under low bridges in Europe. And we loved the large aft owners’ cabin with its own ensuite and shower.
We viewed several boats online before choosing a Broom 39, from James Dickens Marine in Southampton. I flew to England in November 2016 to obtain a survey report and to conduct a sea trial for the boat, and when everything went very well, our purchase decision had been made.
Christmas Eve 2016 was our first day of retirement. Leanne and I made plans to sell or give away all of our possessions (nothing went into storage). After that, we rented the house that had been our home for the previous 20 years. We said farewell to family and a large group of wonderful friends, and left with only one suitcase each to travel to the far side of the world.
The End Goal
The end goal was to have no fixed address for an indeterminate period of time. Just before I finished up at work, I attended a cruise ship conference in Sydney. I was asked to replace a speaker who was ill and make an impromptu presentation. Afterwards I was approached by a woman who explained her role within the cruise ship industry. She was tasked with finding interesting speakers to entertain passengers. She asked whether I would be interested in being a speaker.
We didn’t really expect anything to come of it, but just before we flew out of the country, she contacted me. She asked if I would be available to present six talks aboard a ship leaving Singapore for a 14-day Far East Asian cruise. When I submitted my six topics the cruise line came back and asked if I would be available to do an additional 14-day cruise. Of course, part of the deal is that my wife Leanne gets to accompany me on these cruises.
Cruise Retirement Life
Leanne and I left Australia in early February 2017 and as well as the cruises spent some time in Penang, Malaysia which is an expat retirement haven. We had visited several places in Asia looking for somewhere that felt comfortable and was affordable.
We found that Penang ticked all the boxes. Accommodation is cheap, the food is incredible and affordable. Penang has the benefit of being very central, and culturally diverse. Penang is an ex-British colony, which means that most people speak some English.
Boat Pick Up
Leanne and I arrived in Southampton, England to pick up our boat in May 2017. We renamed it Sunshine Coast in honour of our former home and started to get used to our new home. We had never operated a boat of this size before and it took a few voyages to get confident with handling her.
Sights to See on our Cruise Retirement!
We took our time cruising along the English Channel, stopping to explore places like Portsmouth, Brighton and Ramsgate. We passed the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, before heading towards the big one, London. It was such a thrill to cruise up the Thames, under London Bridge, Tower Bridge and all the other bridges. We cruised past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and into our berth for the next month at Chelsea Harbour Marina.
We had a magnificent time in London. We ended up being guests of the All England Lawn Tennis Club for the two weeks of Wimbledon where we got to enjoy some wonderful matches including the men’s semi-finals. Then, just again by fluke, we met the Director of Les Misérables, who invited us for a backstage tour.
Finally, we met a gentleman at Wimbledon who invited us to be his dinner guests at the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Our experience is that the more you put yourselves out there, the more opportunities come up for you.
It was now time to start the retirement plan though, and cruise across to Europe. We had heard all the horror stories about the English Channel and Lea was extremely nervous about the crossing. Once again, we were lucky though, because early one morning in July while stuck in a dreary Ramsgate, the weather gods opened a window for us.
We decided to stick our nose out for a peek and found the conditions were good enough. We put the throttle down, arriving in Dunkirk two hours later, much to Lea’s relief. Our original plan had been to turn south at Dunkirk and head further into France. However, we befriended a Belgium couple on another boat at the Dunkirk Marina who said Belgium was very nice, so we changed plans and headed north. Our new friends were right.
We had a wonderful first season exploring the Belgium countryside visiting stunning cities like Kortrijk, Ghent, Brugge and Ypres. While in Belgium we took a side trip to Scotland. Before retiring I had assisted the Scottish Commonwealth Games team set up a pre-Gold Coast Commonwealth games training and acclimatisation camp.
The team then invited Lea and I to be their guests at the last night of the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh in August 2017. Lea and I are both ex-military, so this was a huge highlight for us.
At the end of September, it started to get a bit chilly for us. So we put Sunshine Coast into hibernation at a marina in Antwerp. We had heard about people doing house and pet-sitting for people heading away on their own holidays, and decided to risk an investment of $200 on the site TrustedHousesitters.com.
We thought that if we were able to secure one week of petsitting and not have to pay for accommodation, it would have paid for itself. Within two weeks we had secured 23 weeks of pet-sitting in the UK and Cyprus. This is a win-win for everyone. Instead of the owners having to put their beloved pets into a home while they are away, we come in and care for the pets in their own environment. For us it’s great because we get to stay in some fantastic locations, at no cost.
We care for fur and feather families and getting our fix of unconditional love that only pets can provide. The only downside of our travels is not being able to have pets of our own, so we love the opportunity to pet-sit. Once we built up a reputation through references on Trusted Housesitters, we found that offers came in from all over the world.
We’ve been fortunate enough to pet-sit all over the UK, in Cyprus, Germany and Australia while on our cruise retirement journey. We’ve also had offers that unfortunately we couldn’t do, in places like St Kitts in the Caribbean, Whistler in Canada, the South of France and several places in the US. We have made some wonderful lifetime friends along the way.
The Cruise Retirement Life
We have been enjoying this wonderful retirement lifestyle now for three and a half years. During that time, we’ve cruised our boat in England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Most of the rivers in Europe are connected and then interconnected by man-made canals. This was the way commerce used to be transported aboard barges before the introduction of trucks and trains.
The infrastructure is still there and usually free to use. Once again, we’ve made some wonderful friends and can’t get over how affordable it is to operate a boat in Europe compared to Australia. We simply can’t understand why more people aren’t doing this. Last season we spent most of our cruising season in Germany where the average marina cost for our 12 metre boat is about $18‑$26 moorings that we spent over 50% of our nights not paying anything. This included a berth right in the centre of Berlin.
People ask us if this cruising is similar to driving an RV or towing a caravan around. I suppose cruise retirement is in a way because you are travelling and visiting new places. However, while cruising the canals at 6 knots (the speed limit), you tend to take in everything around you and really appreciate your environment. You’re forced to truly relax. There is no worry of a road train hurtling towards you at 100kph or what will happen if a tyre blows.
Challenges in the Cruise Retirement
There are certainly some challenges with this lifestyle. We had to work out how to stay in the EU longer than just the three-month tourist visa would allow. Luckily, Australia has reciprocal agreements in place with several EU countries. We had to work out travel and health insurance, navigate language barriers and other issues. Yet, the enjoyment far outweighs the obstacles. In the end it is these challenges that build your experience and confidence and enhances the adventures.
Lecturing aboard cruise ships has been another wonderful experience. I didn’t have any public speaking or lecturing experience prior to retirement. I literally fell onto the speaking circuit because I had an interest in maritime explorers and adventurers. Last year Lea and I spent four and a half months circumnavigating the world aboard luxury cruise ships at no cost. Once again we met and befriended some incredible people and enjoying some sensational experiences along our the journey.
In the beginning, Lea was very hesitant, first about retiring early, and then about leaving the Sunshine Coast. We had to name our boat Sunshine Coast so she could still live on the Sunshine Coast! She was very nervous about travelling to the far side of the world to live on a boat for the first time.
Everything we’ve done though, has led us to another wonderful experience or adventure which has, in turn led to another. Lea would now be the first person to say, that retirement was the best decision we have ever made.
Pet Sitting Opportunity
If you would like to try pet-sitting, then join Trusted Housesitters with the code RAF155789 to enjoy discounted membership. If you would like further information about the lifestyle contact Geoff or Leanne at Retiredafloat@gmail.com or their Facebook page Retired Afloat.
Do you love to travel, but would rather something a little more close to home? Check our this interesting article following Peter and Jan on their trout fishing journey in their caravan!