When Jay Barry took his family of five sailing on the Solway Lass in the Whitsundays, he expected warm weather, stunning blue seas and lush tropical island views. What he didn’t expect was how much the kids would love the ship itself.
“The kids were absolutely astounded – they wanted to know if there were pirates still on board, where the cannons were, and if they could climb the mast,” Jay says.
“The disappointment over the cannon faded quickly as they clambered over every plank of the deck and explored.”
The Barrys from Newburyport, Massachusetts USA had booked three nights and three days on board the Solway Lass with Explore Whitsundays. Jay says it was the highlight of their Australia holiday.
“Waking up anchored in the Whitsundays to a lovely breakfast and a day of snorkeling and island exploring with the family is something we’ll never forget,” he says.
Built in Northern Europe in 1905, the Solway Lass was named after the Solway Firth in Scotland. It sailed in World War I and World War II and was used to cart cargo in Fiji before it was rigged into a tourist ship with tall sails.
It’s been part of the Explore Whitsundays fleet for 20 years, sailing in and out of Airlie beach around the Whitsunday islands.
Owner Roy West tells me the Solway Lass has the capacity for 30 people and six crew with a range of air-conditioned cabins including private ensuite cabins with bunks for the kids.
Apart from looking like a pirate ship the Solway Lass also has one other big advantage for families.
“With Solway because it is a little ship, not a sailing boat, it is stable at night,” Roy says.
At night the crew turn on the floodlights on the rig. The lights attract squid, quickly followed by dolphins.
The Solway Lass usually sails for two to three days, visiting Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet and stopping at secluded tropical beaches so the guests can go snorkelling.
“Everyone can get involved as much or as little as they want in the actual sailing,” Roy says. “You’re under no obligation. But if a 12-year-old wants to get involved, they can”
Jay says the advantage of sailing the Whitsundays, as opposed to stopping and flopping in a resort, was that every day was an adventure.
“A sailing tour allows the family to share an adventure, engage in the history and experience of the Whitsundays in a more active way, and do a variety of activities that you would be hard-pressed to find in a resort holiday,” he says.
“The children helped raise and lower sails, which they loved. The Solway Lass under sail is a very peaceful experience, and it’s quite a sight to stand in the bow lines or lie in the bowsprit hammock and watch the waves and island.”
It also has a rope swing, which Jay says his kids still talk about six months later.