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Andy’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006

Location: Whitsunday Islands, Australia


Spank Me? No, not a diatribe on the relationship between sado-masochism and backpacker culture. Rather a post detailing my time sailing round the gorgeous Whitsunday islands.

With much excitement i climbed aboard my home for the next three days and three nights, a 25 metre maxi sailing yacht capable of reaching speeds of 30 knots called Spank Me. Originally i was supposed to go on a boat called the Avatar but Gemma and Claire, who i met on Fraser Island convinced me to change (I’ve actually been travelling with them ever since and we are now all in Cairns).

The first day was exactly what i had expected. It was a warm, sunny day and the sea was nice and calm. We set off while supping on our first gin and tonic watching the sun set behind the islands. There are 74 in total. That night we all stayed up and chatted on deck after docking the boat in a gap between the two largest islands.

Woke up on the second day of our journey to a cloudy sky! Not good news. This was the morning we were due to explore Whitehaven Beach, one of the top five beaches in the world. I’m not sure who has compiled this list, whether it is official or not and if so what the criteria are, however i can tell you that even with a spot of drizzle and a patchy sky the beach is just stunning. At first we took a 1km stroll up to the lookout. From there you can take in the beach in all its glory. It is hard to describe the beach; the way it swirls inland between rainforest covered hills, how pools and streams of water curl around the sand like cream that has just been poured into a stirred coffee (hmmm hardly Shakespeare but that is the best analogy i could think of!), how dazzling the sand is (it is 99.89% pure powdery silica. I’ve been told that it is even possible to make the finest glass out of this sand which can be used in making lenses for binoculars and glasses etc. Gemma was able to clean her silver necklace in it) etc. So instead, i’m going to just post a picture…and bear in mind this does not do the colours justice, but i wanted to get a shot from the air as this shows the full beauty of the beach.

Despite being cloudy the water was the most turquoise i’ve ever seen, even more so than the lakes on Fraser island. I could not pass up the opportunity to swim in the ocean, even though it was by that point raining; clearly my British heritage has had more of an influence on me than i like to admit!

Luckily we did manage to have five minutes on the beach when the sun came out. The rest of the day was how i imagined the Whitsundays to be; relaxing on deck in the sunshine, reading my book, writing my journal and chatting to people over lunch. The food was very good, not what i had anticipated at all.

After lunch we were taken by speedboat to the nearest beach where we donned our wetsuits, snorkels and flippers and gracefully strolled to the beach. After tripping over a third time i began to realise why people were walking backwards. Much easier.

Once i was used to breathing underwater (for the first five minutes i did a very good impression of a drowning cat; arms flapping, head barely above water, and lots of spluttering) the snorkelling was fantastic. The Whitsundays are on the cusp of the Great Barrier Reef and form part of the G.B.R. marine park. The coral is unlike anything i have seen before. Think Finding Nemo. IT is exactly like that. So diverse and rich. Huge six foot boulders of hard smooth coral, massive forests of purple and pink tree-like organisms, soft, luminous feelers that withdrew if you got too close. The coral was so deep in places that it formed trenches you could swim down between and explore small caves and other coral formations. Amongst all this swam fish aof all colours and shapes. One of my favourites was a bright purple and fluorescent green fish.

Now brace yourselves for a shock. All those conspiracies about Elvis are true, he’s alive….and has given up the burgers and fries in favour of soggy bread. We saw him on our third day sailing. He is a 2 metre long Napoleon Wrasse and though it can be quite intimidating to swim close to such a fish, he is harmless and didn’t seem to mind when me and Gemma were just a few feet away.

But the highlight of my sailing experience was undoubtedly swimming with a green sea turtle. It must have been 3 feet long and was the most patient, graceful creature in the water. Only me and Gemma saw it as the others were too far away to hear us. We were just mesmorised by it. It hung there in the water beating its front flippers(?!) and occassionally taking a bite from the coral with its beak. It stopped briefly to turn and look at us, realised we were no threat and simply carried on, then after five minutes or so it glided off; that is the best term i can think of, they seem to glide effortlessly through the water. All fears of sharks disappeared after that…until then i kept panicking and re-enacting my drowning cat impression.

I won’t bore everyone with the minutiae of my sailing trip….we had alot of fun, especially when the waves started to pick up and the boat tipped up 70 degrees and we all nearly fell off, and the nights were good when most people stayed up and had a drink and chat. Only one night was this under the milky way though…rest of the time was cloudy. All in all very enjoyable, though i will not miss the showers/toilets which were both in the same box (i can’t call it a room, it was about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Very cramped).


Things i learnt on my sailing adventure:

1) When a maxi sailing yacht is in heavy seas wear a rain coat outside, it can get very wet, as i discovered.

2) When a maxi sailing yacht is in heavy seas, wear a raincoat INSIDE. I stepped into my dormroom completely dry, a second later a huge wave had poured through a gap in the roof and drenched me head to foot.

3) Lastly, brush up on your sailing lingo better than i did. I don’t think i used the phrases “hoist main sail”, “aha me hearties” and “iceberg right ahead!” correctly once. We did get to hoist the main sail though. That was fun.