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Terra Australis Incognita

Sailing the Coral Sea

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 10 November 2008 | Views [2257] | Comments [4]

As we motored out of the marina, I could still scarcely believe that I had lucked out enough to find a yachtie willing to cruise the most beautiful islands in Australia with a bunch of landlubbing backpackers paying less than it costs to stay in most hostels. I was really happy to finally leave Airlie Beach as it faded in the distance and new islands started to take shape around us in the bright blue tropical sea. 

The first stop was Blue Pearl Bay, which the skipper (John) insisted was the best snorkelling in the islands. We got there in the late afternoon and paddled in the dinghy to shore where we started snorkelling. I was mildly impressed at first - it was really good snorkelling for a fringing reef. And then I got farther out and realized that this little reef was at least as good as the Great Barrier Reef itself, with huge coral formations of every color, and even some fish I hadn't seen at the big reef. So that and some great jumps from huge boulders in the water made for a perfect afternoon.

Then I thought I heard John shouting at us to come in, so we did - only to find that while we were gone he had become absolutely blind piss drunk. John, who is an old salty Aussie sea dog, is normally a little hard to understand. But now he was babbling complete nonsense, and abundantly. But the situation worsened considerably when he started screaming at a nearby moored boat. This went on for HOURS, and made it really uncomfortable. We couldn't ignore him any more when the guy on the other boat started shouting for us, and threatened us that he had called the police. This did not help John's paranoid fear of these people, and the shouting continued. But eventually he passed out, and the police never came, and the four of us had a good laugh about it that night. 

My crewmates were about ideal - I know well how travelling with random people can turn bad, so I really lucked out here, too. There were three others, for a total of five on the boat, which was just enough so that it wasn't too crowded, but still enough people for some variety. All were about my age, and they consisted of a german guy, and a couple, A danish guy and welsh girl. Everyone was pretty chilled out and fun, and I think we all got along better than any group I've travelled with so far.

There was no chance for a morning snorkel, because when John got us motoring out at the utter crack of dawn, before even 6:00, perhaps out of fear of being reported or something. But it was a beautiful morning to sail, and we sailed along Hook Island with its fjord-like bays, and then through a narrow strait between Hook and Whitsunday islands. After mooring at a bay right just adjacent to the famous Hill Inlet, with the more famous Whitehaven beach just beyond. We paddled to the peninsula separating the bays and walked across it to one of the most beautiful places in all of Australia. The shallow, perfect blue water in the Hill Inlet snakes between the incredible powder white sand that also makes up Whitehaven beach for 7 kilometers on its right side. We then walked down to the left side of the inlet, where most tour groups don't even have time to go! But we had all the time we wanted. On the left side is a smaller beach that has to be the most perfect I've ever seen, and for the first 30 minutes, no one else was even there! The water gradually faded from super light blue to dark, and the sand was as white as moon dust. It is so reflectant that even it never even gets hot in the tropical sun.

After rowing back to the yacht, we sailed over to Whitehaven proper, where we anchored maybe only a hundred meters offshore for the night. We spent sunset on the beach, where the sand turned almost pink in the starlight. Few people of ANY budget get to do that. After another quick trip to Whitehaven in the morning, it was off sailing again to the next island.

The rest of the week was spent hopping from one uninhabited island to the next. None were as beautiful as Whitsunday Island, where Whitehaven beach was, and they all looked like weirdly out of place - there were very few palm trees anywhere (we would joke that the difference of one palm tree put a certain beach closer to paradise), but the islands' mountainousness and tropical conifer trees gave them a temperate look, even in the middle of that neon-blue water. Nevertheless, my crewmates liked the second island we came to even more than Whitsunday.  The beach was almost as fine, and the clear blue water was visible even farther off the beach than at Whitehaven, owing to its shallowness. A short walk beyond the beach led to the other side of the island, which had rocky cliffs against which a fierce sea crashed, providing another kind of beauty and a wonderful contrast. Though it, like all the islands after Blue Pearl Bay, had no coral, there were still some tropical fish among the rocks forming the bay. I snorkelled along these, and after walking across the narrow rocky spit forming the left side of the bay, I saw a blacktipped fin just feet off the rocks on the other side! The water was clear enough that I could see the shark, and just as I worked up the courage to look at it underwater, another larger fin appeared! I left after that, happy to have my ankles intact. We had a fire on the beach that night, built out of the plentiful driftwood. How does it get more perfect than that?

Meanwhile, John was behaving himself, besides some occaisional swearing, was generally a nice guy who didn't even expect us to help much. Nevertheless, I got some great experience sailing, although we never did anything too complex - we went fast enough on just the jib (smaller front sail) alone that we never even uncovered the mainsail. 

Besides some strong wind (which obviously wasn't too bad of a thing!) the weather was really nice, and only started to get overcast and stormy as we sailed into the Mackay marina, where I ended my part of the sailing trip and flew to Brisbane, where I am now. 

That may have been my favorite time in Australia so far - but there's still almost two weeks left here and tons to do, so we'll see...



O-mi-gosh. What an amazing trip!! Your poor father is just salivating and drooling all over the computer because he wants to be you so bad! I am utterly amazed at your incredible writing style. You are good. Love, Mom

  Wendy Harvey Nov 10, 2008 2:56 PM


This is just too unfair

  Jenna Harvey Nov 12, 2008 10:58 AM


John sounds like a riot. Literally. I hope you took photos of these islands! Keep up the good work :D

  Hailey Petway Nov 14, 2008 7:56 AM


Blake! this all sounds sooooo great.
very jealous here in the states.

  Hunter Stanford Dec 22, 2008 7:47 AM



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