July 28, 2011
Starting with this day we finally achieved to do one of the things that had always been on our minds for the East Coast: a sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands!
Two days before we had spent a few hours at the Mackay visitor information center (home of the Big Mango!) to gather all available information on cruises and trips, and of course prices and discounts. Considering all options we chose a 3 days and 2 nights trip on the “Ragamuffin II” at last. It’s a so-called Maxi yacht, meaning it’s designed and built for racing, so we hoped to experience some serious sailing on it. Moreover, a single Scuba dive trip was included as well. And the time schedule allowed for a few extra hours around the islands as well.
We met at 8:45 a.m. in the morning at Abel Marina, the main harbour between Cannonvale and Airlie Beach, where lots of other boats depart for sailing trips as well. Well, as everyone – including the crew – was late, we ended up entering the boat a bit later. Under deck the bunk beds were quickly assigned, and we were given the most spacious double bunk bed right at the front of the boat. Back on deck everyone found a place to sit down, that is where there’s some room under the sails or between hatches since there are only a few seats available. After all it’s a true racing boat that was converted to carry passenvers only after its competitive days.
After a short briefing about security measures, on-board facilities, time schedule etc. we sat down, introduced ourselves, started conversations and enjoyed the experience of leaving the safe harbour behind and get comfortable with our life on-board the Ragamuffin. Luckily it didn’t take long until the skipper decided that we were about to set sails. Spontaneously I volunteered and helped getting the sails up.
The course was set for Luncheon Bay on Hook Island, the second biggest island of the Whitsundays. The wind was blowing strong from the south-east, the weather was fantastic and we started to realize why this seascape is so popular while observing the stunning scenery around us.
See some moving pictures of our journey to the Whitsundays:
Our deck hand Ash was busy most of the time not only with setting up the boat and assisting the skipper, but preparing the meals and snacks as well as taking care of other requests and answering many questions about the Whitsundays region. Meanwhile, we sat on deck and watched island after island slip by, some far away, others really close to us.
Having arrived in Luncheon Bay, the three of us that had booked the dive special were transported with the Ragamuffin’s little dinghy to a dive boat nearby, while the rest of the group went to snorkel in Luncheon Bay. After setting up our dive gear with our very patient dive instructor we finally were transported to the beach and went into the water from there.
The dive took place on Maureen’s Cove, the water was quite cold (only 21°) and even the 5mm wetsuits didn’t keep us warm for too long. Visibility wasn’t particularly well (8-10 meters at most), but the dive was altogether an enjoyable experience. We found a cute colony of clown fish (remember Nemo?) and lots of other fish and coral gardens.
Back on our boat we departed soon to head to Nara Inlet on Hook Island. There we dropped the anchor, enjoyed tasty snacks and dinner and spent the rest of the day and evening talking and drinking a few cold beers or some wine.
July 29, 2011
After a stormy night with howling winds, waves splashing against our boats and one of the two toilets flushing constantly all night after breaking down on day one we woke up very .. refreshed after a good night’s sleep. Who would’ve thought that?
We left Nara Inlet very early heading for Tongue Bay on the Whitsunday Island. The sea was quite choppy, the sky grey and overcast .. we could only hope for better weather.
The ride to Tongue Bay was pretty rough, especially the passage through Hook and Whitsunday Island. At Tongue Bay we were taken to the island on the dinghy in order to take a walk to a lookout and the famous Whitehaven Beach opposite to Tongue Bay.
Here’s a nice panorama for you:
The scenery of Whitehaven Beach was stunningly beautiful. Even more so after we went down to the beach and appreciated the powdery, extremely fine-grained silica sand being as bright as snow in the sunlight.
We strolled along the beach, went to some cliffs, watched the waves crushing against the rocks and noticed the weather getting better every minute.
We were unable to identify the blue thing above. Is it some kind of jellyfish or any marine life at all? Anyway, after being picked up by the dinghy and returning to our boat we were aiming for Dunbell Island. There we prepared to jump in the water for some snorkeling at a supposedly great spot.
The visibility was unluckily really bad, maybe 2-3 meters. You could only see the corals when you were almost about to crash into them. I struggled for some time while trying to find something interesting as some parts were very shallow and the current quite strong. At least the weather had cleared up!
Need a short break? It’s time to introduce the interior of our little boat now. Take a look:
Leaving Dunbell Island, we made our way through the passage mentioned above once more, passing some gorgeous coastline along the way.
At Stonehaven near Hayman Island the boat stayed for the night, and again we engaged in talks, food and drinks. A good way to spend your time, more so when there are no alternatives on a small boat like this, except for reading a book maybe.
July 30, 2011
On the last day of our trip we started with going to Hayman Island. A great snorkeling site was promised to us, however, after we arrived at Blue Pearl Bay on the Hayman Island a few unexpected visitors were happy to being fed by us throwing bread crumbs into the water:
Quite huge, these fish, and nice to observe. Look here:
We jumped in our stingersuits quickly, and although the water was quite cold here as well (~ 21 °C), we couldn’t wait to see some marine life. We were the first in the water this morning:
At Blue Pearl Bay an amazing underwater scenery awaited us. Huge schools of damsel fish, parrot fish, maori wrasses and many other species were there. Not being shy, they were quite inquisitive as well. The amount of life was only comparable to really good sites on the Great Barrier Reef – awesome!
After some time we borrowed an underwater camera from one of our travelmates and started shooting a few pictures ourselves. That was so great fun that we totally forgot about the cold water.
One of the best underwater shots I ever made is probably the following series:
Being the last one in the water as well, I got picked up by the dinghy at last.
We left this fantastic spot and continued to Langford Island. Here was supposed to be a lively turtle breeding ground. When we were transferred to the beach our skipper told us we had a 60% chance of spotting turtles .. oh boy, was he wrong! We already sighted the first turtle when we hadn’t even arrived.
It didn’t take long until someone from our group had spotted another turtle after hopping into the ocean from the beach. Inka, not having brought her swimmers as she was still cold after Blue Pearl Bay, could not resist and jumped into the water in her underwear. The others and we hastily followed every sighting. We did not only spot one turtle, but at least 6 or 7, some of them swimming near the beach, others resting on the ground between the corals or feeding. And one of them was pretty huge, roughly 1 meter in length.
Simply – wow! An incredible experience, we had never sighted so many turtles in one place. Exhausted we finally took a short walk over the sand to Langford Island itself.
These two experiences and Blue Pearl Bay and Langford Island alone made up for the whole trip being so worth it. However, it was time to say goodbye to the Whitsundays and return to solid ground. The sails were set for a last time, and a strong wind took us back faster than the boat’s engine ever could.
A short clip is also there for you:
After a few hours of good sailing we arrived again at Abel Marina. In the evening we met the crowd from the boat and enjoyed a few beers and meals together and said farewell.