Sailing the Whitsundays, A Maritime Disaster
From some of our Air BnB hosts in New Zealand, to friends back home sending us scary sounding emails, the theme we kept hearing as we ended our time in New Zealand and headed to Australia was, “There are zero predators in New Zealand but in Australia, everything is trying to kill you.” Since we were go, go, go in New Zealand, the Australian portion of our journey was designed for us to visit beach towns and bigger cities, nothing really in the Outback. We figured our biggest concern would be checking the bed at night for spiders. While we did not overlook pesky insects, we definitely forgot to factor in choppy water, coral, jellyfish and more. Let’s start from the beginning-- and listen, I know there is zero sympathy for the couple who isn’t working and seeing the world, but bear with us as we relay our first sailing trip! We started for Australia with a 3:00am wake up for our shuttle to pick us up for the airport. From there we were due to have an easy layover before boarding a flight to a small airport in Hamilton Island, one of the Whitsunday isles. Instead we encountered the first of hopefully not many, travel luggage incidents. One bag came out while the second was mysteriously nowhere to be found. After a good 30 minutes, Steph went to report the bag missing, and just as she was next up in line after waiting 20 minutes, the bag plops down onto the carousal, mocking us, saying “what’s the big deal, I’m here now.” So we start rushing through customs inspections, the transfer to the domestic terminal, cut the line to check our bags for the next airport (Sorry Aussies!), and then busted through the terminal to make our next flight. Avoided a big problem, all good ahead right?
We land at our next airport, Hamilton Island, in a torrential thunderstorm. This is a small airport where you deplane on the runway so we get nice and soaked to board our ferry. We make our journey to Airlie Beach via ferry, walked a bit around the quaint little beach town and headed to bed at a decent time for our upcoming sailing trip!
To give you some perspective of our expectations, here is what we thought going in. 3 days, 2 nights on a sailboat, with a group of other travelers ranging in age. Pictures seemed to show the beds as sort of hostel style, where each cabin may have 2 bunks, it was BYOB and described as high-end food. As we walked to the marina to meet the crew and see our boat, we were very excited. Upon seeing our boat, our concerns started to grow a bit. Now we aren’t expecting a yacht, and we aren’t boat aficionados of any sort. But at first glance, we are thinking, uhhh so where are all 24 guests going to sleep? Well it appeared, all together in more or less a shared room! Steph and I were assigned a “double bed” which actually got smaller in sort of a V type shape and the ceiling was less than two feet above your head. We did not book the Wolf of Wall Street yacht.
The boat departs Airlie Beach and things are rough. It’s raining cats and dogs and the water is choppy. You don’t want to be in the cabin below because it’s hot and rocky down there. The best option is to throw the rain jacket on and sail away. We reach our first location for some diving and snorkeling, Steph is certified and goes out for a dive and I throw on my wetsuit and snorkel.
The snorkeling is going pretty well until I begin swimming back to shore and knock my hand really good on some corral. Luckily no sharks around to smell the blood, just jellyfish to worry about. We’ll call that injury #1.
The mood on the boat is not great, people are cold, sea-sick and hungry. First sign of uprising begins as one couple starts asking the crew, “how can we get off this boat?” Luckily as the captain put it, “the bar was open” as once all the dives are finished for the day, the drinking can begin. Naturally this along with some fun music lifts the spirts a bit. Our fellow passengers were actually a great bunch and a wide array of travelers. A really nice couple from Germany, a couple of younger guys from Korea and Germany, some buddies who went to university together from Ireland & Scotland, a big group of girls from England who had just graduated and others. Steph and I noted how we got lucky with the big group of girls as there were about six of them and the most positive of the bunch on the whole boat! We tried thinking of any 6 American girls traveling together who wouldn’t have jumped ship once the nausea and rain began...we came up empty handed. Once the booze seemed to have taken enough effect to brave the sleeping quarters we headed downstairs. The V shaped bed just wasn't going to happen, we slept head to toe that night.
We start the next day hoping for the best. Weather appears a bit better but our captain warns us we will be heading into some storms. Time to throw on those rain jackets again because things are about to rocky and this time most of the boat is hungover! Steph is battling a really bad sunburn on her feet, Injury #2, and we are doing our damnedest to hold everything down, eventually making it to Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven beach was due to be one of the highlights of the trip and the views didn't disappoint. Luckily the sun came out for our time there, the beach was beautiful and it has some of the smoothest sand anywhere in the world.
Now whenever we went in the water we had to wear wetsuits because jellyfish are abundant in this part of Australia. So we put on our suits and go to a more deserted part of the beach with a few fellow passengers and ride the waves into shore a bit. We were having a really great time until I rode in and seemed to just barely nick a rock. Well I walk out of the water and my heel is gushing blood. Luckily one of the crew had some gauze, enough to cover it up, but I still left a trail of blood along the sand all the way back to boat. Injury #3. As I’m cleaning up my cut, Steph is back near the water washing out her wetsuit. Boom, she feels something sting and yep, jellyfish got her on the ankle. Now she’s in pain but luckily the crew tell us that it’s not one of the deadly jellyfish stings that can lead to seizures, foaming at the mouth and death. Well that’s good, I didn't want to travel to Asia alone. Injury #4.
So at this point, our spirits are down. We hate boats, water, Australia, sailing, the whole thing. Luckily the travel gods must have decided we had been screwed with enough and let up a bit. We have a couple more stops for snorkeling and we saw a really sweet Manta Ray. We stopped at a beach for a wonderful sunset, had a good steak and potato dinner and went to bed. (I snagged the bed of the couple who got off the boat, a winning move!)
Our last morning on the boat went by relatively quick and the weather wasn’t bad so we were actually able to do some real sailing. When the weather is crappy like we dealt with, the captain is forced to turn on the motor and you don't really sail. It was actually pretty fun to sit on the deck and sail but that doesn't mean either of us will be joining the Chicago Sailing Club anytime soon upon our return home. Once we returned to Airlie Beach, land never felt so good. Steph had the good foresight to book us at a nice Air B&B for a couple nights in Airlie after our sailing trip. It was quite nice to enjoy our host’s great porch, sit by the pool and walk the town. Airlie is pretty small, more of a community designed around their boating activities. We were excited to move onwards to our next stop, Brisbane!