After my first experience sailing with whales I have just two tips for would-be whale watchers. 1. Put first dibs on the beanbag at the front of the sailing boat before anyone else even thinks about it! And 2. Listen to the skipper. If he suggests, politely, starting out early – like 7am – then don’t, repeat don’t, be tempted to sleep in an extra hour or so and take off at 9am, even if he gives you the option – he doesn’t really mean it! These are just two things I learned after a day aboard the ‘eau de vie’, skippered by Darryl Franklin, on a mission to sail with the whales.
Darryl loves sailing, that’s easy to see as soon as you board, and he’s been doing it most of his life, but for the last 10 years he has been sharing his love of the water by hosting charter sailing trips around the Broadwater and out to sea from the Gold Coast when the whale watching season is on.
The eau de vie is an 11-metre long French-built luxury sailing sloop with a teak deck and the capacity to carry up to 11 passengers but Darryl limits his whale watching groups to just six people so it’s an intimate and comfortable day out with friends. That’s really what sets this experience apart from the host of commercial tours out there – it quite literally is a tour for just you and your friends. Darryl doesn’t mix groups on the boat so it feels like you’re on your very own boat and before you have left Runaway Bay Marina Darryl seems like a lifelong friend.
Darryl claims an unblemished record in sighting whales on every trip and we were not disappointed. It is estimated more than 30,000 whales pass the east coast on their migration between June and November and in the season before our trip Darryl had seen as many as 100 over 10 hours in one day.
We saw a playful pod and spent a few hours (although it seemed to go much more quickly) sailing silently as majestic humpback whales swam, ducked and dived and, yes, waved their tails around us. I had the best seat in the house – a double bean bag at the very front tip of the boat – and no one was going to get me out of it until we got back to shore. It was snug, soft and secure the whole trip, even when it was a little choppy and windy at times.
In my ‘front row’ seat there were times when my heart was pumping, not knowing quite when or how close the whales were going to surface next and, yes, I admit to the odd scream or two when they came up very close. Thrilling.
On board the eau de vie it really is all about the whale watching. Darryl has his camera at the ready in case you miss the candid moments (he seems to be able to steer and take pictures at the same time while I was afraid I was going to lose my camera overboard with every wave) and he has a few tips for the amateur photographer on how to get the best shots.
Food and drink is BYO and it’s best to make sure it’s ready to eat without any preparation, just because you don’t want to spend time below deck when the whales are playing, and it can be challenging if the water is a bit choppy. Frankly, I couldn’t even think about eating until we were on our way back to the marina late in the afternoon, the whales were so captivating.
Brisbane Whale Watching
I can see how Kerry Lopez hasn’t lost her passion for whale watching even after more than 20 years skippering tours aboard the MV Eye Spy. Captain Kerry had the luxury catamaran built to her specifications and launched her tours from the Redcliffe Peninsula. In contrast to the eau de vie, the multi-million dollar MV Eye Spy carries an average 200 people per cruise and its five-star facilities throughout, with wide walk decks and floor to ceiling windows for indoor viewing from the air-conditioned passenger cabin. It’s also child and wheelchair friendly.
Sometimes the MV Eye Spy calls in help from its ‘Sky Spy’ a small Piper plane which spots whales from the air and provides the location to minimise transit time to the sighting ground.
North Stradbroke Island
However, during the migration season you can also see whales without even leaving land. On North Stradbroke Island several accommodation venues have their own whale watching towers and at French Ease café at Point Lookout tables on the deck face the ocean! Or take the Gorge Walk around the northern end of Point Lookout for more spectacular views out to sea. Several accommodation venues also have their own whale watching towers so don’t forget to pack binoculars.