pirate ship (whitsundays / airlie beach)

January 5th 2009
Published: January 9th 2009
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After the mostly bust that was port douglas we headed south for our 3 day sailing adventure on an australian tallship! The bus down was unexceptional service that one expects from greyhound BUT there was one cool thing : all the seats had seatbelts! I have long pondered why buses in america don't have 'em. It certainly felt safer- I am going to go on record as being an advocate 😊

accomadations for the night were whitsunday moorings -- a gay friendly b&b where we had the best breakfast - mostly it was the setting, overlooking the marina under a sea of tropical plants, heaps of parrots, at a wonderfully presented table. would certainly stay here again 😊 We also walked around arlie beach - both toisha and I like fun tourist towns (filled with bars and restaurants and students) and so we loved arlie beach!

the next morn we headed out to sea! Our other shipmates were 4 dutch couples, an annoying group of italians (they establish this from the get by proclaiming their gluten free diet AS we were preparing to board! It held us up 20 mins. Aargh), a british couple and a scandanavian couple. we boarded the ship which was shoe free and got our cabin - thankfully living poor in nyc and camping in the car at woodford prepared us for our cozy quarters (toisha, of course, was first to note that the annoying italians got much larger rooms for the same price - for anyone traveling on ships it is important to remember that the back and middle of the ship are larger than the front where we were staying).

my first dissapoinment was that the sails weren,t the bright red that they advertise - they were a faded burgundy with striations from being folded. They were old, just like the ship (alexander stewart). insultingly the ship next to us had the beautiful sails we had been promised 😞 DUDE I am interjecting here about beer- the night before we went to a bottle shop to get some extra dry (aussie bud light! Happily found it at woodford). Figured I'd get a couple of six packs for the boat, you know? Well a six pack of beer is $16!! For six cans. Nothing else. Just six cans of beer. Wine is super cheap though.

Anyhoo, back on the ship we set sail out into the coral sea amidst the whitsundays. Unfortunately we thought they would noticebly be islands and instead we got huge-ish mountain like things that were so big it looked like we were sailing along a coastline (technically we were but you know what I mean). So we sailed for a bit and then we stopped for lunch in a random spot, then they gave out stinger suits. Susan was pysched and somewhat peeved that I was not getting in and preceded to tell everyone I couldn't swim (I CAN swim). By this point I had a horrible sore throat and a persistent cough and had read too many stinger warnings and crocodile signs. so I sat on the beach-let (it was actually a sand spit island that disappears at high tide) coughing and watched her snorkel and made sure she had her asthma stuff and took photos. susan was dissapointed with the reef here - there were fish and turtles (I - susan- didn't see any turtles and there were hardly any fish - most were more than 15 feet away) and she saw two jellyfish (which scared me to death - although I later learned that large jellyfish that aren't box jellyfish aren't that dangerous), but the coral was dead and the water was murky. (from susan - I was very very upset with the first dive - the whole reason we came to the whitsundays was to have 3 days of great snorkeling and all the sites I had read beforehand had said that you couldn't tell the difference really between the cairns and whitsunday snorkeling - to see the reef dead and the meager and colorless fish made me feel like I had just wasted a bunch of money and missed my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the great barrier reef).

that night we backtracked and anchored at a spot with a bunch of other boats. We laid up on the deck with the other folk checking out the stars - susan saw her fav constellation the southern cross (only viewable in this hemisphere) and that made her happy. The topic of discussion: obama! EVERYONE wants to talk to us americans about him! Its craziness. the next morning I was full on sick.I didn,t get up until the afternoon trip to whitehaven beach- it really is as gorgeous just as the photos, if its cloudy wait on the sun because the change is brilliant - snow white sands and crystal blue waters! The cove was also full of sting rays which were awesome to see coasting through the shallow water. Again I made susan mad by not coming near the water to see them, so she took off down the beach and I went and took some medicine and rested. (from susan - I walked across the water inlet since I was in a stinger suit and the water only went up to my theighs, and sat on a beach all by myself watching the birds and waves and brilliant crystal white sand - it was incredible!).

We went back to the boat to head to the days snorkeling spot. I was faint and exhausted and retired to the cabin. Susan was excited not to have to deal with me and my non-water love. it so happened that this would be her best snorkeling of the trip - the fish are the same throughout the reef so that wasn't different, but here the coral was alive! The colors were brilliant and she had clear waters to see them😊 unfortanetly, she didn't have me to mother her about sunscreen and she burned the heck out of her back and her face 😞 from susan: this site (Dumbell Island) was the best site of the three snorkeling locations. Tall Ships has a special license to drop anchor there. there was little human damage, very little coral bleaching, and minimal algae like the other sites. this is to say, that the coral was amazing. i've never seen so many types of coral, and live coral is gorgeous to look at. i kept diving down to get close-ups of the swaying soft fronds and the carpeted mounds of coral. the fish on the other hand was pretty medicore compared to snorkeling in the red sea or hawaii - mostly parrot fish, large angelfish and bat fish, and some smaller fish. )

the next day was mostly like the first. I went out tho to use the boat snorkel (it was like a big viewing glass you stick in the water and can snorkel without getting wet). I saw some pretty blue coral, zebra fish, parrot fish, and this huge ugly fish (a wrasse that had changed sex from female to male). It made susan happy to see me enjoying the reef 😊 it was kinda cool but the heat and looking thru the tube on the rolling boat and being sick , I nearly fainted and went back to the boat after 20 mins. from susan: this site was not as good as the second but better than the first. it had a lot of large fish that were fun to follow and I also saw parrotfish schooling (which I hadn't seen before). by this time, i could identify bleached coral and algae - which was pretty extensive in this site (the marine conservation zone off hook island). after the snorkeling they served lunch and we headed back to airlie.

Tho we had a nice crew and it was kinda fun being on the ship, it was not the best way to see the whitsundays. We would recommend doing day trips to whitehaven, dumbell island, the smaller islands (hook is to be avoided for any snorkeling! and whitsunday are not impressive), and trying to get a boat that can take you to the outer reef. Otherwise you only see like 4 of the 74 islands (you don't sail them all), you only go about 1.5 hours out from airlie (they go at a put-put speed - the ferry to long island resort takes you further into the whitsundays), and you don't really sail (they put up the sails for show but don't turn off the engines). plus the reef you see is not like the reef in discovery films and pbs 😞

Also, for people who want to go on the reef, this is what I discovered. The whitsundays are fringe barrier reef whereas the outer barrier reef (that is metres and meters deep) is day trip away. Most snorkeling, whether it is in the whitsundays or in cairns or port douglas, take you to islands and isles - not to reefs. Reefs are generally better than islands and isles. Regardless, most of the sites have been devastated ecologically (by algae, bleaching, human contact, and starfish) - this is particularly true if you are just snorkeling and not diving. My understanding from people who dive is that there isn't that much difference between snorkeling and diving in terms of the fish. But what you do see is the coral - snorkelers see the top only and divers can see further down (down to the point that it isn't alive anymore because there isn't enough sunlight). Anyhow, it pays to pay for a small operator that has special licenses to take you to real reefs that other tourists are not seeing. And you need a full day to get to these reefs. Avoid Green Island and anything around Hook Island at all costs.

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