The Charter File: Australia's Hidden Best

The 115-foot, wave-piercing power catamaran Spirit specializes in active charters along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The manager at the exclusive, 40-room Lizard Island Resort calls The Pavilion building his second-best option. Don’t believe him.

Sure, the $5,990-per-night building for two known as The Villa may command a higher price than The Pavilion, but for anyone spending time on Lizard Island before a Great Barrier Reef charter aboard the 115-foot, wave-piercing powercat Spirit , The Pavilion is absolutely the best. Guests can arrive from Cairns via an hourlong plane flight or helicopter jaunt, relax for a few days in The Pavilion while adjusting to the time-zone change, and then sit up in bed one morning to enjoy the glass-wall view that only The Pavilion offers. For example, you may see Spirit cruising in and dropping her hook in Anchor Bay, ready for a week of snorkeling, diving and fishing the "secret GPS spots" Capt. ­Martin Debanks has spent years mapping.

Spirit, Charter, Australia
(Left) Small planes ferry resort guests from Cairns. (Right) Resort dining.Christian Pearson / Misheye

You may recognize Lizard Island Resort from its Black Marlin Classic, which lures tournament fishermen in October. Spirit plans to be a mothership for that event (­chartering alongside owned or chartered boats that have fighting chairs) and then stay to charter along the reef, offering itineraries with everything from slow and easy paddleboards to ­rip-roaring kiteboards.

“We’re setting up trips where you can do a week on the boat and a week at Lizard Island, or half a week on the boat and half on the island,” Debanks says. “If you want to be on the water, that’s what we do.”

From September until December, he promises, the billfishing along the reef is incredible — and his résumé makes his opinion worth considering. He and his wife, Jo (Spirit's chef), previously ran the 120-foot Crescent Valkyrie, the previous vessel of Spirit's owner, who lives to hunt game fish.

PEDIGREE: 115-foot New Zealand Yachts built in 2005, refitted in 2016.
ACCOMMODATIONS: 10 guests in five staterooms including an upper-deck master.
CREW: 7.
THIS WINTER: Australia's Great Barrier Reef, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
SUMMER 2018: Whitsunday Islands.
FOR FUN IN THE SUN: game-fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and more.
MANAGEMENT COMPANY: Northrop & Johnson.

Spirit, Charter, Australia
The Pavilion view at Lizard Island Resort.Christian Pearson / Misheye

"We were aboard for 12 years and went around the world twice looking for marlin," Martin says, adding that once, they caught a 1,300-pound marlin close to Port Douglas — where the owner just so happens to keep his new yacht, Spirit.

Prior to Valkyrie, the Debankses worked together on scuba and adventure charters in the Mideast. Along the way, they became serious kiteboarders (Martin calls the sport "the purest form of sailing"), and they still carry the gear on board today, with instructors ready to hop aboard alongside dive instructors, should charter clients have an interest in either sport. Their goal is for all Spirit charters to leave guests feeling inspired, including by land-based activities in such places as Cooktown.

Spirit, Charter, Australia
The center section aft on Spirit serves a dual purpose. When it is lowered, as shown here, it becomes a water-level relaxation area with guest seating. Crew can also remove the seating and load a tender, then raise the section to be flush with the main deck, allowing the yacht to carry the tender when underway, not tow it.Courtesy Northrop and Johnson
Spirit, Charter, Australia
Spirit with her 23-foot Hooker tender for diving, fishing and snorkeling.Maren Katharina

“From there,” Martin says of the town, “you can access all the rainforest, learn the history of Captain Cook, drink with the locals if you like. That’s always fun.”

Spirit being based in Australia is a kind of homecoming, after the New Zealand build was found in disrepair off Montenegro, ignored by her second owner. It took about $3 million of refit work in Europe to return the 2005 build to ABS standards, give her a new interior with help from U.S.-based designer Robin Rose, repaint the hull, rebuild an engine and generator, add VSAT for access to Wi-Fi, and more.

Upgrades continued this past summer in Australia, where Spirit got a hot tub.

Sitting in that tub with a steady view of the water and reef (thanks to Spirit's stable, wave-piercing motion) is probably as relaxing as a Lizard Island Resort massage, which Camper & ­Nicholsons International charter broker Pierre Hurel described by saying, "I don't know if she had four hands or heavy snakes all over the place or what, but never have I had a massage like that."

Spirit, Charter, Australia
Onboard dinners range from classic pasta to local crocodile.Maren Katharina
Spirit, Charter, Australia
Snorkelers and divers can expect fruit and snacks when they return to the yacht.Maren Katharina

Pair it with an onboard “Aussie sampler dinner” of smoked emu, kangaroo and crocodile wontons, and the experience should create indelible memories. As Jo says, “It’s nice for people to be able to say they tried something original.”

Spirit, Charter, Australia
The captain has years’ worth of logbooks that note the best spots for kayaking, snorkeling and fishing.Phill Gordon
Spirit, Charter, Australia
View from the upper-deck master stateroom, looking aft toward its private deck.Maren Katharina
Spirit, Charter, Australia
The newly installed hot tub.Maren Katharina