La Robelle Voyage Reef Trip

Bob and Belinda Sharpless have been life-long boaties, enjoying setting off from their home at Raby Bay on magnificent Moreton Bay, Brisbane, for adventures north and south.

They oversaw the build of their 19-metre Whitehaven 6000 Flybridge, La Robelle five years ago, travelling to the factory twice, and have spent many hours with family and friends enjoying time on board, particularly in the Whitsundays.

“We always say ‘a week on the boat is worth four weeks of holidays!” says Bob.

Inspired by the design and layout of her sistership, Bella Sky, La Robelle is custom-built to the Sharpless’ specifications.

“Our previous boat was a flybridge – I enjoy the driving position and the extra social space,” Bob explained. 

“But what really appealed about Bella Sky was the tender garage. With other boats we’d seen, a decent sized tender had to be stowed on the foredeck and craned into the water, which is hard for a couple.

“When we saw Bella Sky at the 2017 Sanctuary Cove boat show, we were impressed and decided to build our own version, working closely with Ryan on our own 60-foot cruiser.”

‘Bella Sky’, the inspiration for La Robelle.

Aboard La Robelle – an amalgam of their names, Robert and Belinda – is a BRIG 3.4 fitted with a 30hp engine. “It’s honestly a joy to launch!” stated Bob.

“It’s that easy, we never have an issue with it. We just put the swim platform down, lift up the garage door and push it out. It’s a one-person exercise.”

La Robelle is kept at the Sharpless’ canal-side home in Raby Bay, which is the reason for their choice of a 60-footer and no larger. “Once you’ve experienced the convenience of walking straight out the door and throwing off the ropes and heading out, it’s impossible to go back to keeping your boat at a marina,” he asserted.

On its most recent voyage, La Robelle headed up to Keppel Bay, Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast, with Bob, son Michael and “like a second son”, Alex Hayward on board for an epic fishing expedition to Swains Reef.

The Swain Reefs is a labyrinth of approximately 370 patches of reefs at the most easterly and southern section of the Great Barrier Reef.

Bob described the allure of that part of the Reef and fishing offshore as “total relaxation”.

“It’s way offshore, out of mobile range, no wi-fi, no news, just focus on the fishing! Crystal clear water, plenty of fish, you could spend months out there and not see everything.”

Having experienced outer reef fishing on charters in his younger days, Bob had always wanted to return to the Swains in his own boat.

“There was always plenty of fish, and the scenery was magic,” he said.

“On La Robelle, we have a set up where we can mount a 4.3m Quintrex Renegade side console with 50hp engine as our fishing dinghy. On this trip, three boats went out from Keppel Bay Marina: our Whitehaven, a 73ft Marlow Explorer and a Fleming 65.

“From Keppel Bay, we went out about 120 nautical miles north-east to Pike Reef, a great anchorage in a lagoon for shelter for the first few nights because we were hit with southeasterlies gusting to 30 knots. It’s a good, protected anchorage.”

Once the conditions settled, they headed south-east to Horseshoe Reef for a couple of nights, then south to Sweetlip Reef, again for a couple of nights. The other boats then cruised further south to the Bunker Group where they had arranged to meet friends and then head back to Brisbane.

“We’d spent six days together fishing and having a great time, and once they left us, we retraced our route back to Horseshoe Reef and Pike Reef where we spent another four days fishing,” Bob recounted.

For meals on board, Bob, Michael and Alex shared the chef duties. “Alex was responsible for breaky and G&Ts in the evening, Michael made the evening meals, and I was in charge of filleting fish, Cryovaccing them and taking care of all the gear.”

There was no lack of fish to eat and save, and their haul included coral trout, sweet lip, and one big red emperor. “We were mostly bottom fishing. We caught a lot of giant trevally, but we let them go.”

The perfect tonic after months of hard work and the pressures of life, boating is “blue therapy” for the mind and a great family pastime.

“What I like about boating is that you get to go where others can’t. It’s so beautiful out there. The colour of the water and the sunsets every night,” Bob recalled.

“My background is civil engineering, and I appreciate the skill that goes into designing and building boats, maximising spaces and creating what really is an apartment on water. Everything has to work in a harsh environment.

“I like to skipper for the challenge and satisfaction. I do bar crossings, cruise to the Coral Sea and Reefs. The more you do it, the more confident you become.”

According to Bob, imperative for cruising the outer reef, is “access to a decent weather forecast”.

“It’s very important to have satellite overlay technology on board. I have Navionics and Raymarine on board, and I am upgrading the Navionics to get Satellite overlay on the chart at the same time. We have a small Iridium GO! unit and will upgrade to Starlink with its marine application. It’s fantastic!”

Also vital for on board comfort and safety, a quality gyro. “La Robelle is a lovely comfortable boat. The Seakeeper does a great job. Everybody’s happy. Nobody spills their wine.”

Now with summer holidays just a few weeks away, La Robelle, with Alex at the helm, is on her way from Keppel Bay to Airlie Beach where Bob, Belinda and their family will meet up with her for Christmas.

“From Raby Bay to the Port of Airlie, where we have a berth and an apartment, is around 520 nautical miles, so we decided to send the boat straight up from Keppel Bay and we’ll fly up.

“We often take La Robelle to the Whitsundays from home – we’ve done it in two-and-a-half days, and also in five days at 10 knots, lures out the back of the boat to catch fish along the way.

“We go via the Great Sandy Straits, Burnett Heads, Lady Musgrave to the Percys into Airlie, or hug the coast, depending on time and the weather.”

Christmas on La Robelle means “a simple menu, lots of food, not much cleaning up”.

“Over the years, we’ve devised menus we can put together quickly without much fuss. We get seafood from Fishi at Airlie, which is always fresh and delicious. 

“A few years ago, we cruised down to Sydney and caught up with Bruce, Julie and some Whitehaven owners, which was a great way to spend Christmas.”

As for cruising adventures in 2024, Bob is already planning their next fishing foray to Swains.

“The Swains trip will become a regular event,” he said. “There’s another boatie keen to come along. Word has got around about how good it is out there, easy fishing, easy relaxing.”



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