Yachting around the Seven Seas!
The trip to Airlie Beach was uneventful until we tried to hand back the Wicked camper. The returns guy was late back from "lunch" and a right arse as he pretty much treated like the mugs we were, having been stitched up by the Wicked agent guy in Alice. Eventually we returned the van, in as pristine a condition as its millions of travelled kilometres allowed then checked into the Base hostel up the road. The hostel was a pleasant surprise as the dorms were almost self contained flats. Settled in, we went to the tour agency office to check in for the following mornings sailing trip, cooked another chilli for supper and turned in.
Next morning it was down to the harbour for a wake up coffee and to meet our fellow sailors, 5 french (making Pierre very happy), 4 german, an austrian, Pierre de la Belgique and a strange and solitary aussie (sadly this guy, an online jewellery retailer and vegan, didn't join us for meals, photos, conversation or indeed anything - made us all wonder why he came on a group trip). Soon enough our crew turned up, Justin the deckhand (complete with last nights hangover and drunken forfeit - a crazy new hairstyle), Tina, our hostess from Germany and, on board, Mark the suave and well travelled captain from the States.
This was to be a two day, one night, trip aboard a former two-time Sydney to Hobart race winning yacht, the Siska, with actual open water sailing as part of the itinerary. At 80 feet long and with a single mast measuring 106 ft she is a beauty!! Once we had chugged out into deeper water and the wind was right our captain enlisted help from the landlubbers to raise some sail, no mean feat as these things are pretty large and made of heavy duty canvass. Fortunately among the first recruits were some of the french girls so we had a bit of a chuckle at their efforts on the winder while we lay on deck soaking up the views and the sun.
Our trip took us out into the ocean, skirting some of the islands and passing through Hook Passage where opposing tidal flows met head on. During the longer, less interactive periods under sail Tina plied us with snacks of fruit, nachos etc and we played a card game called Yaniv - no mean feat in the fresh breeze up on deck. We stopped off for our first snorkel opportunity and, whilst not as prolific as the reef trip, it was great to be back in the water looking at the myriad of exotic underwater fin flappers. Afterwards, whilst we lounged on deck Mon Capitaine safely negotiated us to Tongue Bay where we were ferried ashore to trek across Whitsunday Island to the fabulous Whitehaven beach. Here we spent a few hours taking snaps, swimming near the stringrays basking in the shallows and generally being blinded by the brilliant white, 98% pure silica beach (sand so pure that apparently you can polish your teeth and jewellery with it - yeah right. Also it is against the law to take any sand with you when you leave). For some reason the silica does not retain the suns heat like normal sand so it is comfortable to walk on barefoot! Unfortunately for us the tide was high so we didnt get the best view of the Hill Inlet, the spectacular picture postcard shot.
Back on the yacht we then sailed to our overnight mooring off of Hook Island ready for our next mornings departure, catching a great sunset on the way. After another fine feed courtesy of Tina's impressive galley skills we turned in on board, the berths being surprisingly adequate given that we were on board a sleek racing vessel.
Day 2 comprised a return to the Airlie Beach marina via another snorkelling spot. Sadly for all of us some passing whales deigned to swim past our boat when we were all some distance away in the dinghy!!
Making our way home using both wind and diesel power was a thrill as, at times, Siska caught the swift breeze and canted over at a decent enough angle for us to need to sit on the top side to balance the boat - just like proper yachtsmen (minus any skills or knowledge). The only slight mishap was the Fool demonstrating his lack of sea legs and stubbing the old big toe - thats a lost nail right there so follow the blog to see how long it takes for a new on to grow!!
Upon docking we all went our separate ways on the basis that we would meet again later, with Justin, at the Base Bar where we would get cheap booze and food. Having given our trusty german colleague, Max, all of our email addresses for him to circulate it was hugely disappointing that he failed to carry out this task later meaning that photos and experiences could not be shared - german efficiency my arse!!! The night out was good fun and a great way to bid farewell to those making immediate onward tracks.
Next day I accompanied Pierre and Xavier to the ferry to catch their flight to Sydney and so ended my road trip with my redoubtable Belgian co-driver from the Red Centre.
The following couple of days were a bit of R&R for the Fool following such a hectic schedule since leaving Melbourne. In addition to buying a telescopic fishing rod complete with reel and tackle for future relaxation along the east coast, I was also reunited with Anne, Sarah and Holly (as well as a brief chat on my last afternoon with Kathleen, the german doctor), all from Maggie Island.
Airlie Beach proved quite an important milestone in my travels. It marked the end of my epic Wicked roadtrip and association with Pierre, culminating in that great 2 day yachting experience. All in all, I think that the "Odd Couple" did a great job in squeezing so much into just 9 days!!!
All too soon it was time to move on, catching the Greyhound night bus to Mackay and a possible reunion with Mira Lo from the New Zealand Stray bus tour!!