Airlie Beach/Whitsunday Islands

I'm buying a boat and no one can stop me!

Airlie Beach is packed pull of tourists (as most of the places along the east coast are), shops catering to tourists, and backpacker hostels. It's a fairly lively place, and has plenty of places to get drunk, but really - the draw is the access to the boat tours around the Whitsunday Islands.

They do have nice kookaburras though:

I spent a lot of time online researching which boat to actually book onto. There are a huge number to choose from, and it would really be impossible to decide without seeing what others have had to say about their past experiences on each one. I wanted to avoid a party boat - as I was paying all that money and could easily just go and get pissed on dry land. After much deliberation I settled on one and phoned the agent to book my place. They were already fully booked! The agent told me about all the other boats they had available instead, so I went back to the drawing board and looked into those ones. They really didn't look as good, and I was pretty disappointed I couldn't get on the one I wanted initially! I phoned back and asked her if she had any space on the next trip for that boat, leaving a couple of days later. She did! I booked it. It would mean hanging around slightly longer than I'd intended to, but I decided it was worth it.

So a few days later, I showed up at the marina and met her for the first time, Silent Night:

She is a mini maxi, holding up to twelve people. Some of the bigger party catamarans can hold around one hundred... 'nuff said.

We hopped on board, and met our skipper Sammy and deckhand Taylor. They took us through the do's and don'ts for the boat, the big one being don't go on the suicide side of the boat (nearest the water) when you're leaning over at a ridiculous angle sailing along, as you'll probably fall in. And that's bad. Oh, wait - sorry I forgot the number one rule of the boat was actually "stay sexy at all times". An important requirement when sailing!

As we left the harbour, we put the sail up for the first time. I helped with one other guy to pull the rope down through the mast, which hoists the sail up to the top. It gets harder the further up it goes, as there's more weight you need to pull. Good fun though, and the most exercise I'd had in a few weeks! With the sails up, the boat began to lean over heavily. It's such a strange feeling at first but you soon get used to walking around at an angle after a while. It's very odd being down below and looking out, as everything is all wonky compared to the horizon, The cooker swings on hinges though, to keep anything cooking on there level, which I thought was pretty clever.

After some time, the wind died down substantially and we took the sails down, switching instead to running the engine to keep us moving. That was actually the only time on the trip we went that far sideways, as although we put the sail up plenty of other times, the wind was blowing at a different angle, which meant we kept level but sailed at the same speed.

We arrived at a small cove a little while later, where we were to go for our first snorkel of the trip. This was just a little "warm up" as it wasn't the best location, but was convenient to get to and and on the way to where we needed to moor up for the night. We were handed our snorkels and taken off the back of the boat closer to shore, on the small dinghy we had been trailing along behind us. Jumping off the side of the boat backwards (navy style!), we spent some time in the water before getting called back to the boat. IT wasn't the best place, as expected - but we still saw a good few fish while we were there. We were promised better visibility at the other places we would stop at over the next couple of days.

We continued on to Hooke Passage, where we dropped anchor and came to rest at our stop for the night. There were a few other boats around us, as this was the best place to hold tight for the night, in smooth waters sheltered from the rough waves. We watched the sunset from here and it was such a chilled out moment, it was so nice. Sitting there with a beer in your hand, bobbing very gently on the water and enjoying the view, it was amazing.

It wasn't quite so amazing when we went to bed that night though, it was then I discovered I had the world's loudest snorer in the bunk below me! Ah well, you win some you lose some. It still didn't stop me from sleeping! The whole boat burst out laughing when he let out the loudest fart in the world though, it literally rocked the boat.

Waking up nice and early the next morning, we rose anchor and began sailing to Whitehaven Beach. This beach is something like number two in the list of best beaches in the world, and I can really see why. We did ask Sammy what number one was, but his only reply was "it doesn't matter". When we got there, we saw why.

The beach is something like 98% pure silica, which is why the sand is so white, and also how it stays so cool. Unlike most beaches that become a nightmare to walk on in the midday sun, this was perfect as it remained cool no matter how hot it became. We sunbathed here for a while, with stingrays in the water only a metre or two away.

When our time was up, we reluctantly made our way back to the boat, to continue our journey around the islands. Before we left we managed to catch sight of a few green turtles though, as they surfaced for air. Much like all the other marine life I've tried to photograph along the way (dolphins in Cambodia, crocodiles in Darwin), these things were a nightmare to get a photo of, but luckily a couple came up and stuck around long enough to get a few decent shots:

We continued our voyage, with me at the helm:

OK not really, if you look closely you can see the wheel was still tied - we were still anchored at this point! We got underway with the real skipper at the wheel, and sailed off to our next snorkelling spot. The best one so far, easily! This reef was home to a giant maori wrase (pic stolen from google):

You could literally run your hand along the body of this fish as it was swimming along, take a deep breath, dive down and swim along with it and it wouldn't care in the slightest. It was by far the best snorkelling experience I've had. It's remarkable being in the water at the same time as something that big - even though it probably pales into insignificance compared to some beasts! It was also a manic experience when the deckhands would throw chunks of bread into the water at you from the dinghys, and you would instantly be surrounded by hundreds of smaller fish all wanting a piece of the action. Quite incredible, and so much fun.

After emerging from the water, we continued on to our next anchorage for the night. Another beautiful sunset, then a nice (nearly) full moon illuminating the boat at night:

Rising the next morning, we moved a short way away from where we'd stopped to the last reef of the trip. Unfortunately, the visibility here wasn't so good, so we didn't spend quite so long in the water as the previous day. We clambered back on board and began our journey back home to Airlie Beach, on the way putting up the spinnaker sail.

This sail is a huge, unruly beast and Sammy was in two minds about whether or not to actually put it up, as it can be quite dangerous if not handled correctly and it somehow gets caught up or ends up in the water. That's why when it came to putting it back down, all our help was enlisted as we sat at the front side of the boat in a row, ready to pull in the sail onto our laps as it was lowered. All went without a hitch, and we safely made it back to the harbour on engine power, as by then the wind had died down completely.

This was one of the best things I've done so far, and yes... I now need a boat. I probably should learn how to sail first, but a boat is definitely in my future. And a nice top floor apartment, with a balcony overlooking the marina where my beautiful boat is moored up. That's the dream! One day...