Sailing the Whitsundays

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May 14th 2007
Published: August 7th 2007
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The bus ride from Mission Beach to Airlie lasted about 8 hours and for most of it there were only 10 of us on the bus - having two seats to myself was luxury! We had a couple of of breaks on the way down and as most of us were staying on until Airlie I soon ended up chatting to a few people and trading travel stories with a Scottish guy called Harry. We arrived in Airlie to see the most amazing sunset over the harbour... by the time we actually got off the bus 10 minutes later it was dark and pouring with rain :0( I'd tried to call ahead to book a hostel for the night but was told there was no need to book because they always sent a minivan down to meet the bus. And as we stood under the bus shelter trying to keep out of the rain we saw the headlights of the much promised minivan approaching.... it stopped, the driver looked at us, we looked at him, he obviously decided coming out into the rain wasn't his bag and drove off. So much for hustling some business! So grabbing our stuff and braving the rain Harry and I headed up the hill to the nearest hostel. About an hour later (and considerably drier) we met for a quick drink.... which then became another and another and another and ohps, suddenly it was 4am. I had plenty of time to regret the last few 'one for the road's' that we had the next morning as I lay under a tree by the waterfront nursing a particularly evil hangover and wondering how on earth I was going to make it onto the boat for 2pm and my 3 day trip round the Whitsundays!

I'd been a bit worried about doing the Whitsundays - I'd heard lots of stories about booze cruise trips full of 18year old gap year students and given how sea sick I get I knew that kind of trip would be my own personal hell... plus I'm feeling a bit old for all that these days ;0) Come to think of it I'm not sure in what moment of madness I thought a 3 day sailing trip was a good idea for a particuarly sea sick prone person, but as it turned out it's one of the best things I've done here. Our boat was called Spank Me (I still have trouble saying that with a straight face) - an 82ft Maxi Yacht that was built in 1989 and won the 1990 Sydney to Hobart race under the name of Drumbeat. The group on the boat was a complete mix - backpackers, students, people travelling alone and in groups... but all really cool people. I ended up spending most of the trip hanging out with two English guys, Matt and Graham, a Scottish Graeme and a Belgium girl called Kat. As we chilled out down on the fantastic Whitehaven beach, with its white sands and clear blue waters, we got a good look at the occupants of some of the other boats we'd seen moored up... Kat and Graeme quickly decided that we were on the ugly boat... so from that point on we were known as Team Ugly ;0)

The highlight of the whole trip was going out to the Great Barrier Reef again. The day I'd been out at Port Douglas had been overcast - today the sky was blue, the sun was out and there wasn't a cloud in sight. For me underwater that made all the difference - the colours of both coral and fish were stunning as were the light effects as the sun shone though and reflected off the smaller particles and life in the water. The coral was so close to the surface that you could just let the sea currents drift you over the top of it whilst you focused on watching it all happening just a metre below. The colours and shapes of the coral were beautiful - we saw nemo's cousin hiding in anemones, parrotfish grazing on the alage of the coral and endless schoals of both large and small fish just hanging out in the nutrient rich waters. I also had another go at diving here. I'm still not convinved I'll ever be a diver as much as I love the idea of it but this time I really enjoyed it - the best part was looking down and seeing sharks hanging out below us - a white tipped shark and two black tipped reef shark. The other cool thing was all the fish that circled both around and beneath the boat. Jumping off the boat into the water for the first time was a bit freaky - all you could see was circling sillouhettes waiting for you below. Graeme and I were the first to go and took so long about it that we had the captain threatening to give us a push! Then as soon as we hit the water everyone through bread down on top of us so we found oursleves in the middle of a feeding frenzy. My favourite fish was the huge Humphead Maori Wrasse - these guys grow to over 2m long, can weigh up to 190kilo's and are a really lovely light blue/green colour. They're perhaps not the prettiest fish ever with a hump protruding above their eyes and fleshy pouting lips, but they are just like labrador puppies - they swim close enough to touch and when you do their 'skin' feels silky smooth and soft. Eventually it was time to head back to the Whitsundays and to finish off a great day we finally had enough wind to get the sails up and do some proper sailing!!! It was all hands to the winches to get the sails up - that was the hardest workout I'd had since leaving Sydney!

Next up - Kangaroo's at dawn and lazing on the beach.... again.

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