We are sailing!

Trip Start Oct 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 07, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Monday, January 16, 2012

Conor: We arrived in the port town of Airlie beach in the small hours of the morning after another overnight greyhound bus. After leaving what was left of our group from Frasier we got to our hostel and had to wait for a few hours to check in at our hostel. The reason for us being here was a two day one night sailing trip about the Whitsunday's Islands, a world heritage listed site known for its beauty and wildlife (the Great Barrier Reef starts here). This trip started the day after our arrival, so we spent the time looking round the shops, trying to find somewhere to get my hair cut (and failing), and worrying about the weather. You see it was raining, very hard, for most of the day. We discovered that the sailing trips wouldn’t stop for anything short of a cyclone, so we had to hope things would improve. They didn’t!

The boat we had paid to go on was called the 'Iceberg’, a 12 person boat on which you were supposedly able to help a bit with the sailing, and get to see the scenery. This was as opposed to one of the many many ‘party boats’, that involved getting drunk for the whole trip. As lonely planet put it ‘this is one of the places were humanity celebrates its closeness to extreme natural beauty by getting wasted every night’. We thought we’d pass on that one!

We arrived on the morning of sailing and, as we expected our fellow passengers were very un-backpackery. We had a youngish German couple, a family of four women and girls from Yorkshire, a couple from the south of England (one of whom grew up in fleet!) and a Chinese couple who spoke almost no English, didn’t like swimming and were prone to sea sickness! And then, of course, there was the crew. Matt was the skipper of the boat, and from the start we thought he was a little bit too tightly strung. And there was Rod, who entertained, cooked, did all the actual work and was generally awesome.

When we set off it was not raining, but it was certainly overcast and very windy. We had to sail for a few hours to the first Island, so after I helped get the main sail up we set off. I’ve never seen a boat pitch about 90 before, but my god is it unsettling! Annabel unfortunately did not cope with this well and retired below deck so as not to be sick! Eventually we got closer to the islands and the sea calmed down. Our first activity was a bit of snorkelling in a bay were Humphead Wrasse fish are found, which are huge fish with really human like faces. We had had some excellent snorkelling whilst in Thailand so I didn’t really think I’d be that impressed here. We donned our wet suits (mainly a protection against jelly fish, as the water was warmer than the air) and then got a dingy out to our start point. We jumped into the sea and, well, it was pretty spectacular. Barring in mind we were only at the start of the barrier reef, there was plenty of coral and plenty of amazing fish. There were bright colours everywhere and you really could get lost in it. I was lucky enough to see quite a few of the Wrasse fish, and they are indeed huge! Annabel didn’t see them but saw plenty of other things. The majority of the rest of the party (especially the poor Chinese) couldn’t swim for so long and ended up getting the dingy back to the boat while the rest of us swam the distance. This was when skipper Matt started being a bit of an idiot, as he had no real sympathy or encouragement for those who were struggling. This was more than made up for when we got back to the boat. Rod was on fine comedy form and had cooked the first of his really excellent meals (with inventive veggi options for Annabel). At this point Annabel was still feeling a bit sick, until Rod rode to the rescue with some ice packs, which oddly enough really helped.

Whilst we were having lunch we sailed to our next destination, and the rain started up. Our second stop was a sand island, around which there was more excellent snorkelling and the promise of big turtles! When we arrived it was pretty funny, as Matt was getting very impatient for everyone to get out into the sea so Ian, one of our fellow passengers, started talking to him like he was a school teacher, which we all enjoyed! The first non fish thing we encountered was in fact several jelly fish (Annabel pretty much swam into one), so we made sure to give them a wide berth. After a while the shout went up that someone had spotted a turtle, so everyone made a beeline to that area, and there it was, a huge turtle (Annabel: although the turtle was big compared to your usual British pet tortoise, it was only a small one by Australian sea turtle standards). It was really amazing to see it, the turtle was very docile and didn’t seem to be really bothered by everyone swimming around above it. My snorkelling skills kinda failed at this point, so as it swam away I was faffing about, but Annabel being very at home in the water managed to keep up and swim alongside the turtle, getting some great shots with her underwater camera. I was very jealous!

After this (which was pretty much the highlight for me), we got back on the boat and sailed to where we would be spending the night. Dinner was again excellent, and then a few of us settled down to drink the alcohol we had bought with us. Though not a party boat a few of us were keen to have a few nice drinks and play some cards. The eating area was pretty small, and not designed for everyone to get round the table, so with Matt offering no interaction as so-called host, quite a few people gave up and went to bed. However me, Annabel, Ian & Joanne (the middle aged couple from the south) and the German couple persevered to play some cards and drink more goon! This was all going swimmingly until we all went off to our cabins to get some more drink and returned to find Matt and Rod bedded down in the only available seats! We were pretty annoyed by this as it was only 9pm! We figured that if the crew were planning on going to bed so early they should have their own rooms, to allow us to socialise. It sounds a little bit harsh, but at the end of the day we paid a lot of money for the trip! Luckily the rain had eased a bit so we huddled under the rain cover with goon to warm us, and moaned about the crew and talked rubbish till the morning. Annabel sensibly went to bed not too late. I didn’t and regretted it in the morning!!

Annabel:  After an early morning breakfast, again a wonderful spread by Rob, we were dropped off at what is widely considered the main highlight of the Whitsundays, White Haven Beach.  It was a really beautiful area of golden sands and crystal waters and wild stingrays swimming around, which we viewed from a high up lookout point before walking down to it.  To get to the beach you had to walk through a forested area, where unsurprisingly we got eaten by many mosquitoes!  We spent an hour or so walking around on the sand, taking some photos and doing some reading before heading back to the boat ready to sail to our final location.  Our final location was another snorkelling spot, again there were some great corals and fish to see here but annoyingly my underwater camera had broken, again!!  I was not happy about this, especially as saw some of my favourite fish, but this was not the first time this had happened so I was quite used to not being able to take photos, something I have found is not always a bad thing as I means you really look at things and take them in rather than just taking snap after snap and not even looking at the thing.  Conor was not really in the mood for snorkelling this time so spent the time reading some more Game of Thrones, which he originally started back in Vietnam!  After the snorkelling we had our lunch while sailing back to port.  The sail back was really nice, the sun even came out and we were all a bit caught out without any sun cream on and there were quite a few red faces and backs.  We were also really lucky on the sail back to have a dolphin swim alongside the boat for a few seconds, it wasn’t very long, but was time enough to all get a good view of it and Conor got a great photo.

We got back to Airlie Beach in the evening and just had enough time to have a quick show, grab some dinner and our stuff and head straight off to the bus station to get our final overnight bus to our final location on the East Coast, Cairns.
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