How did I get here? It’s the early hours of a Saturday morning and instead of being fast asleep at home, I’m aboard a luxury motor cruiser – the Whitehaven 6000 Sunbridge.
This craft is brand-new and the modern, one-level entertainment layout is just perfect for what we’re doing right now – enjoying a quiet drink with about a dozen people, from two well-stocked fridges. Apart from my three shipmates, there’s a group from the Royal Motor Yacht Club, whom we invited back for a look-see aboard this impressive craft. Diehard sailors all, they, too, are somewhat awestruck by the size and the understated elegance of this craft.
Right now the wind has dropped and we’re enjoying a cockpit view over the moonlit waters of Pittwater … and, I guess, despite the lateness of the hour, we’re all just too spellbound to leave.
But then I remember why I’m here. We’re delivering this luxury craft back to her home in Queensland and will need to leave not long after dawn. We’ve already lost a day due to bad weather and a detour to Newport, our present location.
Being Queenslanders, my other shipmates, Bill, young Peter and skipper Keith Hanson are over the moon that the Broncos smashed the Sydney Roosters on their way to a grand-final showdown of Queensland teams. So naturally they’re going to party on. However I’m going to hit the bunk since I’ve been given the deluxe island-berth cabin up forward … and I better get there before anyone else gets ideas of sleeping aboard.
Five hours later, I wake to the gentle sound of lapping water and the realisation I’m probably going to regret our previous night’s festivities.
Skipper Keith is shaking his head as he emerges from the master cabin. He just can’t get over the fact we’re now further south than our starting point of Bobbin Head the day before. And we still have some 400nm to go!
After a few cups of tea and some Weet-Bix the mood seems to improve, as Bill and Peter have already cast us off and Keith nudges us gently off the dock with the bowthruster. The big 1150hp twin Caterpillar turbo-diesels are humming as we glide smoothly down Pittwater and start securing any loose gear for the trip outside.
Keith is pretty much a legend in the boating industry and has vast offshore experience with powerboats and yachts. He’s brought along his old shipmate Bill who, with Keith, helped Ian Reynolds do his epic circumnavigation of Australia some years ago in the Riviera 56 Investigator IV.
Keith and his son Ryan are the creators of this beautiful craft, with Keith drawing on his extensive years of experience to come up with this modern passagemaker motoryacht. This is a craft that’s capable of more than just pottering around local waterways – it’s also for making ocean passages to get to more interesting places.
The 6000 Sunbridge has all the right features for extended cruising, such as a big, powerful hull, deep sidedeck walkways, ship-like deck fittings and dual stairways off the rear cockpit from a stern landing-deck. A RIB tender comes out of the stern garage – James Bond style – and there’s a real engineroom, like on a proper little ship.
The 6000 Sunbridge is the latest of the 60-footer series in the Whitehaven range and is constructed in Taiwan at the very highly regarded New Ocean Yachts shipyard. You can buy the same hull in a Flybridge and Sedan version – I rather like this new Sunbridge version, though, because it gives you the same one-level living space and helm position, but with the added benefit of a top boating deck to use in good weather.
However, it’s definitely going be the inside steering station for this trip. We are about to encounter some rough water as we leave the shelter of Pittwater and make our run up the coast. An east coast low has generated gale-force winds and big seas for the previous five days and there’s still a big, ugly sea running and dark clouds looming as we make the turn at Barrenjoey Headland.
Keith knows his stuff and, after cutting close in around the headland, takes us almost eastwards into the rising dark-grey sea. The idea is to stand out offshore for a distance till we get a good line to run north with seas on our quarter. That means a brief period of discomfort as we smash into the seas in dramatic fashion, with spray bursts and windscreen wipers going. But it’s not long before we can square away north, although still hand-steering due some nasty ‘holes’ in the sea state.
We soon settle into the routine we are to keep for the rest of the trip – someone on the helm, someone on whale-watch duty/catering (ie: jelly lollies, tea) and the fourth crew member napping in the comfortable dinette opposite the helm.
The hum of the big diesels reassures me this craft has serious power and speed. The boat runs conventional shaftdrives, which Keith says are still the best choice for bluewater work.
Off Newcastle the sun breaks out as we pass the line of waiting coal ships and the world becomes a little friendlier as the wind eases back and we can leave the driving to ‘George’ the Raymarine autopilot. Speed is now up to 23 knots (42.6km/h).
The boat is fitted with Bennett trim tabs – however, they’re not necessary, thanks to the Whitehaven’s softer sections aft. Combined with a deep forefoot and reverse chines tapering off to almost flat at the stern, the 6000 Sunbridge has good stability plus speed offshore. It doesn’t run a keel either, and Keith says this is one of the secrets as to why it rides well in rough water and responds so well to the helm.
CRUISE IN STYLE AND SAFETY
Our first day takes us all the way through to Port Macquarie. It’s a big jump up the coast, but it ensures we get into better weather sooner and can enjoy a decent night’s sleep in port. And we can have a meal ashore, too, which is good because as we’re aboard a new boat, we can’t use the cooking range or the microwave oven. Thanks to the provisions in the ‘IGA draw’ bought by Bill and Peter we can knock together breakfast and lunchtime sandwiches. However, on the first lunchbreak we discover the shortcomings of buying provisions on the run … Keith finds the sugar is really icing sugar. And the jam turns out to be a fancy dry tomato garnish …
Skipper Keith also chides Bill for not bringing the toaster, but I get the feeling this is an old joke stemming back over many voyages. Next morning, he’s holding up the white sliced bread just to stir Bill.
After eight hours, we make it into Port Macquarie in the late afternoon. The big Whitehaven storms down the approach to the scenic coastal port and we come through the bar doing 30 knots. There’s no doubt that having the extra speed can be an advantage on bars, when a line of waves is breaking. In not much time at all, we’re tied up at the marina’s fuel wharf.
While Bill and I have a quiet night aboard our air-conditioned luxury ‘home’ watching the sunset over the river, Keith and Pete head ashore to pillage a few steaks and beer at a local Port Macquarie club. I revel in the luxury of a deluxe air-conditioned cabin with its own TV. As I nod off to sleep, I decide this truly is the way to enjoy cruising this coast, and further north to the Whitsundays and beyond.
My cabin is a baby compared to the large master cabin that sits amidships and has an even bigger bathroom, walk-in robe, plus large picture windows at water level.
Next morning we are off fairly early after a fuel-up and log-in with the local Marine Rescue, setting a course for Yamba. The coastal scenery here is stunningly beautiful and despite a bit of chill in the air, we’re enjoying the ride on the upper deck.
Approaching the magnificent Smoky Cape, the sea conditions start to get rough again, but we tuck into Trial Bay and find a more sheltered ride from there to Coffs Harbour. We get to Yamba by late afternoon, right on our ETA of about 8.5 hours, but this time the bar is much rougher. Keith again uses judicious speed to get us through quickly on a quieter wave patch.
At the marina, we clean up, have our cocktails chilled by the icemaker and celebrate another great day’s run. A taxi ride into town sees us enjoying a sunset drink at the famous Pacific Hotel Yamba, overlooking the harbour entrance. What I love about Yamba is it feels like a true Aussie town, and there’s a great Chinese meal to be had at Tom’s Seafood Restaurant. A few drinks later and I’m telling my wife on the phone it’s good to be in Ballina. The boys get a big laugh out of that, but then I’m not the navigator!
UNDER THE PUMP
Day three sees a late departure as the old pump bowsers take a while to deliver our massive load of diesel. This boat carries up to 5500lt of diesel and it’s distributed across three tanks – the central main and two side tanks. So refuelling is quite a serious business.
On the final day, we see even more whales … or should I say whale families. They seem to be everywhere and we get a few good photos when they come close as we sit at idle. It’s a fabulous experience but, with so many more whales, you wonder if there’s a connection with the proliferation of great white sharks and the recent attacks off Byron Bay.
We make good time to the Gold Coast seaway and arrive there at about 2pm for the long run up the Coomera River and our destination. It’s a great trip and we’ve done well to knock over 404nm. We have consumed about 250 to 280lt of diesel per hour at an average speed of 20 knots (37km/h).
Keith says that with more time and a more leisurely approach, it’s possible to do the same trip at an average of 10 to 12 knots (18.5 to 22km/h) using only about 60lt/h of fuel. That would provide a non-stop range of 800nm with a 10 per cent ‘safety’ factor. This is certainly something to ponder, as the Whitehaven is a craft you can drive slow, or fast. Like many boaties, I would have thought a slow-speed trawler was the better option for long-distance cruising, yet this trip has changed my opinion.
As we depart our good ship, I feel a real fondness for the Whitehaven 6000 Sunbridge. She has taken us through some pretty challenging conditions and looked after us all the way. What’s great is that she feels so uncluttered and is so easy to handle and to dock – the size seems just right for getting into the docks we’ve visited. I guess there’s no perfectly sized motor cruiser, but I reckon the Whitehaven 6000 Sunbridge must get pretty close!
WHITEHAVEN 6000 SUNBRIDGE
Sleeping capacity: 6 to 8 persons
Fuel capacity: 5500lt
Water capacity: 800lt
Power: Twin Caterpillar C18 ACERT 1100hp; Twin Disc Quick Shift; shaftdrive
Priced from: 2.4m
Price as tested: 2.4m
More information: Whitehaven Motor Yachts, tel: 1300 758 896.