Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 207-209 – Australia – Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

We awoke and wandered into town to see about cruise options around the Whitsunday islands. While Rob was the driving force behind much of our diving activity Gilly was the most committed to securing passage on a cruise. I remained – no doubt frustratingly for my travelling companions – laid back and happy to go with the flow for the most part. After a little wandering we happened upon Airlie Beach Backpackers and thanks to some outstanding negotiation by Gilly & Rob secured places for the 4 of us on an overnight departing tomorrow for much cheaper than the advertised rate. The remainder of our day was relaxed and involved the pool at the camp site and not much else.

The following morning we swung our vans round to the underground car park at the place where we’d booked it, locked away most of our valuables with them, hoisted our overnight packs over our shoulders and wandered to the harbour with a ridiculously short supply of alcohol (I really need to learn).

We spotted our yacht – the Hammer – from a distance but waited where we were supposed to for all the guests to arrive. Formerly a racing yacht of some pedigree, as I understand it, it now spends its days cruising around the Whitsundays eschewing the moniker of ‘party-yacht’ favoured by others in favour of a more easy-going cruise. Of course when it comes down to it the passengers decide the mood and all of the group would prove fantastic to be around but while waiting it was a predictably quiet self-to-self affair. Mick the skipper and Dale the first mate introduced themselves and then took us down to the boat. Before long we were off.

We were encouraged to get involved in the running of the ship and so occasionally got to help hoist the sail which is straightforward but a fairly physically demanding task. It was really cool to sail properly for the first time – in a yacht you don’t ride the waves but instead cut through them. We were often pitched at angles ranging throughout 90 degrees – in extremes you are almost at the full 90 degrees – it’s incredible. Before long a third member, Chopper, was collected from the boss’s yacht where he’d been helping them sail with his family. A great sandwich, quiche and salad lunch was prepared by Dale which everyone devoured rapidly. We were blessed throughout the whole trip with stunning weather so most people were either sunbathing or simply lounging about moving only when the captain advised us to.

As the afternoon rolled in we swung the boat into Cateran Bay for a spot of snorkelling. Thanks to the delightful creatures known as stingers we needed to don a ridiculous black Lycra bodysuit to enter the water at all but despite looking like a crap Catwoman (well, that was my look anyway) most people got on with it. In fairness aside from the camaraderie of taking part there wasn’t much going on beneath the waves but it filled an hour or so.

The crew realised around lunchtime that someone had dropped the ball back at the harbour and failed to fill the water tanks properly so we needed to rendezvous with another vessel carrying a surplus and make amends; without it we’d have been back to port early. By the time the somewhat spectacular afternoon snack of Nachos arrived they were devoured with gusto by all and the majority of the likeminded passengers were starting to crack into their adequate supplies of alcohol leaving me feeling pretty daft for failing to stock up properly. We rolled into Tongue Bay for the night and met Colin & Julie from Northern Ireland, James from England, and Anne Marie from Ireland amongst others over the course of the evening’s conversation and food. When the time came to hit the sack I was pleasantly surprised by how well I slept.

When the morning rolled around we set sail to the famous Whitehaven beach after breakfast. Simply put this was the best beach I’d ever seen. It’s something like 98% pure silica making it blindingly white and we were told that occasionally the authorities allow some of the sand to be used in hi-end lens manufacture. We were once again forced to wear stinger suits to go in the water but rays and baby sharks could be seen swimming close to the shore by a careful observer. The high silica content actually keeps the sand cool and combined with a wonderful breeze and the absence of the all-too-common rubbish the beach was immense.

Eventually we had to bid the beautiful beach goodbye and we reluctantly re-boarded the Hammer for the journey back to port. On the way back the captain fancied a rest and I jumped at the chance to be temporary captain. I piloted the yacht for a while including dunking an unsuspecting Dutch girl – who wasn’t following the rules of yachting – at the behest and with the guidance of the actual captain. We lined up the dunk for a while and on his signal I threw the wheel in the opposite direction and the yacht swung dramatically over to just shy of 90 degrees while the poor Dutch girl disappeared under water. There was a glorious high-five and thankfully no hard feelings.

I loved it. Had I wandered past Airlie Beach on my own I doubt I would have even thought to go on a cruise. It had never been on my radar before but if ever the opportunity to sail comes around again –assuming the weather is something like – I’ll be straight in though I guess it’s probably a rich kid’s game.

On our return we said our goodbyes to all and swung by the chippy for a glorious Fish & Chips before making our way back to Flametree for the night.