Whitsunday Islands Sailing by Baz
"SHARK, SHARK...its heading your way!" the Dutch guy shouted to Seonaid and I from 30 feet away. We were snorkeling in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef and a good distance from the sanctuary of our yacht. But more about that later.
Tight on time and money Seonaid and I decided to forego Fraser Island and put all our resources into the 3 night Whitsunday sailing trip. But first we had yet another overnight bus journey from Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach. I dont want to labour the point too much but on this journey we sank to a new low with a viewing of perhaps the worst Australian film ever made. It starred one-time Hollywood A-Lister Guy Pearce, in a role I would speculate he took either because he has fallen on terribly hard times,or owes a few favours to the folks back home. Pearce plays an egocentric chauvinist who breaks up with his girlfriend, only to magically swap his brain/consciousness into her body (like Jodi Foster in Freaky Friday). In a bazar and perverted twist the couple end up back together and Pearce then has sex with himself, probably a popular fantasy within the Hollywood clique. As the credits rolled I was alone in cheering and clapping but I didnt mind. A few minutes later the bus hit a kangaroo with a bonecrunching thump. I believe this happens quite often at night as the animals are attracted to the headlights or perhaps the poor creature had just endured the same movie we had and felt it was all just pointless.
The weather still wasnt good when we got to Airlie Beach where we would soon be leaving for the Whitsundays. Our ship had not gone out as scheduled at the beginning of the week due to a cyclone. But we were assured that despite the unpredictability of cyclones and the weather in general we would be sailing as planned. I wasnt convinced but we left the harbour for our 3 night sail in calm weather.
Our yacht, the Anaconda III was a former brothel, 101 feet long and holding 31 passengers. All 29 of our fellow passengers were great company.
After a good nights sleep we awoke early off Whitehaven beach. After breakfast we had a SCUBA lesson and went snorkeling. There was plenty to see under the waves but it was really just a taster until we got to the Great Barrier Reef the next day. Seonaid went on a proper SCUBA dive and as I snorkeled on the surface I saw her 8 metres below immersed in a beautiful sea garden. That night we had great craic with everyone enjoying a few beers and a game of pirates, costumes and all.
The next day we arrived at the outer Great Barrier Reef. It was more intimidating for snorkeling as we appeared to be in the middle of the ocean. No beach or any land within sight and we were told that we may see Reef Sharks in some of the deeper areas. As well as the sharks and hundreds of other reef life, we could also look forward to seeing turtles and stingrays, both of which may be as big as a man. We excitedly got our stinger suits on.
I have a theory that at this exact moment all the turtles of the Reef got together and decided to play an elaborate trick on me. "We'll hide from the pale ginger one" they decided. I was to be the only one of the party who did not see a turtle.
We jumped from the little dingy and landed in another world. A colorful underwater alien garden teaming with life. Coral crustaceans of all shapes, sizes and colors provided a refuge and food source for hundreds of fish which themselves were diverse and brightly colored. On some places the Reef was as shallow as 1.5 metres and Im sure it caught out quite a few boats in the early days. In other places the reef dropped to perhaps 20 metres. Not knowing the technical name for the Coral formations, I decided to name them myself, and saw many Brains, Footballs, Spikeys, Vaginas and Mushrooms. We must have spent a good hour snorkeling and were enthralled by all we saw. Seonaid was lucky enough to see 2 turtles gracefully drift by her, whereas I saw a big Stingray sail below me with 2 Whitetip sharks for company.
Despite being told there were no dangerous sharks in the vicinity we were still a little anxious, particularly because shark attacks and growing shark numbers have been getting a lot of press here in recent weeks. As I was swimming along I would routinely tap my two feet together, just to check that both legs were still there and in working order. I thought this a much better technique than looking round every few minutes in fear of seeing a boney and bloody stump where once there was a leg.
After an hour of blissful investigating Seonaid and I were heading back to the boat over a particularly deep stretch of water when a Dutch friend yelled at us "SHARK, SHARK...its heading your way!". I wasnt quite sure how to react to this information. Was this a warning or a recommendation for viewing? Seonaid and I looked at each other for a couple of seconds, ample time for any shark to cover the 30 feet between us and our Dutch friend and taken a sizable chunk from either of us. As that hadnt yet happened I suspected we were probably safe and had a tentative look under the water. Nothing! We speedily made our escape back to the boat, delighted to still have 4 legs between us.
That night the Boats Skipper got us together and warned us that things were going to get rough for a few hours as we sailed to Blue Pearl Beach. By sailing standards the journey was probably mild, but for us landlovers it was just too much and about 10 of the passengers were hanging over the side of the boat vomiting. Seonaid and I lay in the middle of the deck and looked up at the stars, which really helped us. The stars were clear and plentiful and we explored another alien world a million miles away from the one we experienced earlier but every bit as impressive.
The next day we had one final snorkel off Blue Pearl Bay, then it was home to Airlie beach.
This was perhaps the best 3 days of our trip to date. The crew, the yacht, the food and the company were all excellent. I seemed to have the best time when I think less about the past and the future and focus on the present; the here and now. We have done that a lot throughout the trip, sometimes through achievement over hardship, like climbing the volcano in Chile or the Salkantay Trek in Peru. But on this trip we were focused on the present through excitement and pleasure. We saw and did so much and were exhausted but still keen to snorkel one more time because every dip was different and we knew every time we jumped into that amazing underwater world we would see something special.
We are now resting and preparing for our flight to Bali on the 25th January.