Our next stop was a memorable one. We found a place to park Sheila for two nights and boarded a sailing boat. As has been previously mentioned, we aren’t particularly into the “party boat” scene, so rather than the well advertised cruises of 26+ drunken youths, we opted for a boat with only 10 shipmates and 2 crew.
Airlie Beach is backpacker heaven and gateway to The Whitsunday National Park – a collection of idyllic islands woven into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. This is where we boarded our boat Blizzard. From the dock she didn’t look like much and I couldn’t help but wonder how 12 of us were going to manage on her for 2 days, but once I stepped aboard I quickly realised she was much like Mary Poppins handbag. Every available space was used, be it for a cupboard, a toilet or a bed. We set sail and our Skipper, (fondly known as “Captain Cod” towards the latter of the trip to the delight of our two English shipmates) spent the evening telling us everything in the water and on the ship that could harm or in fact kill you. A way to set our panics about sharks and deadly jellyfish at ease for sure.
Over our two days we sailed through the beautiful islands across bright blue waters, swam, snorkelled, ate and drank. The group paid a visit to a couple of islands including Whitehaven Beach; appropriately named as it was the whitest sand I had ever seen. It was so pure it squeaked as you walked on it, and our knowledgeable skipper informed us that NASA had in fact used the sand to polish the glass on telescopes. The water was clear, and as warm as a bath but without the worry of the it going cold. We tried paddle boarding (and I have to say I surprised myself, and also laughed at James falling off a fair bit) and watched stingrays under the surface before returning to the boat for one of several extraordinary meals. Perhaps here I should mention Heidi, our deckhand for the trip, who never failed to ensure that there was always food in sight or at least in preparation. She was truly wonderful and extremely hardworking, as well as having the patience of a saint to work alongside Captain Cod all of her sailing days!
The true highlights of the trip for me were our snorkelling opportunities. I had seen pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, but seeing it for myself was beyond magical. Everywhere you looked there were flashes of colour in the form of both magnificent fish and shimmering sunlit corals. The vastness of it was breathtaking. We saw but a fraction of the reef, and yet it appeared to go on forever. Had it not been for my prune like fingers, and of course the call of Heidi’s food, I could have floated there for days. My descriptions can’t do the place justice, and the pictures certainly won’t, but I would without a doubt repeat this experience in a heartbeat. If you are ever lucky enough to be offered the opportunity , leave your fears aside and grab it with both hands. It is an unforgettable experience that you won’t regret. Unless I suppose one of the killer jellyfish comes for you, then you might have wished you chose differently.
Aside from the scheduled itinerary, I had never been on a sailing boat before and this was an activity in itself. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for! In fact, I had never thought about it being any different to a normal boat trip. I was quite quickly corrected. Captain Cod took great pleasure in throwing the boat on its side to grab the winds and crank up a fair speed. The vessel sailed at a “tame” 40degree angle, making it somewhat difficult to navigate around the boat and much easier to choose a spot and stay in it. Above deck that is – below deck was like a scene from Alice in Wonderland and really messed with your mind. I even took a turn at sailing on our inbound trip. To begin with I screamed a lot and kept letting go of the wheel, panicked that I was about to capsize us. Captain Cod merely laughed, and asked James if I often did that at the wheel of a car if I was unsure what to do next. I did man up slightly, I kind of got the hang of it but was also happy to pass the responsibility back and rest my arms – it’s pretty hard work!
The thing that really made he trip however, was the company. Our choice to take ourselves aboard Blizzard rather than one of the more heavily advertised boats was a good one. We shared our trip with the most lovely collection of people who contributed greatly to making our journey one to remember. Some of us travelling, some honeymooning and some holidaying, we got on brilliantly and shared the experiences along with an UNO tournament and copious amounts of rum (thanks Turpin sisters!). It was another bittersweet reminder that whilst meeting such diverse and interesting people on our trip, we are constantly saying goodbye to them. Thank goodness for social media stalking!