Like Jessica Alba, the Whitsundays are famous for their beauty. Not our COLIN DELANEY though. We sent our favourite hairy dwarf sailing, snorkelling and rum-drinking around arguably Australia’s most spectacular islands (where, he says, he met ‘Popeye’).
We leave in the night, creeping out of our mooring in http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2441552015.html[Airlie Beach] harbour from the million-dollar cruisers and super yachts with their tenders tied tight. The last reds of dusk are easing the tropical heat as the stars have already etched their marks into the sky.
A few get-to-know-ya rums, beers and wine with the usual “what’s yer name? where you from? Where to next?” sees the evening drift by calmly.
There is a good representation of the traveller community with couples from the UK and Ireland and a decent European contingent, a spattering of Brazilians, a few Aussies and two Canadians for good measure.
In my quarters I’m bunking with the Canadians, Ben and Nancy, and a Sydney girl named Asia who is escaping the big smoke for a week. With air-conditioned rooms and the couple of rums we are gently rocked to sleep like babies.
Our captain, Skipper Max is a crusty ol’ sea dog with a veritable array of tattoos, possibly done by himself while bored at sea. They’re of crucifixes and sparrows now bleached blue and freckled – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an anchor somewhere in there, just like Popeye. And to quote Popeye, Max ‘ams what he ams’.
He rolls his own ciggies. He bakes his own bread. He only reads non-fiction and, though I suspect our trip is well-trodden, he studies star maps. He’s well-versed in the greats – Magellan the greatest mariner ever, and the Chinese with their junks that sailed into the wind. But don’t mention Captain James Cook or you’ll be quickly schooled on the subject ‘English Maritime History of the 18th Century’. Cook was just a navigator and a cartographer. It was William Bligh who was the true Master and Commander. Yet I’d like to add Bligh would later be set adrift by his crew in a mutiny of the HMS Bounty and another mutiny as Governor of NSW when he was assigned to clean up the corrupt rum trade. Lesson: never get between an Aussie and his rum. I read wikipedia. I also digress.
Imagine Jessica Alba…
While yuppies sip Moet Chandon and bathe in the pools of expensive resorts like Hayman Island, the real community, the colour and the party is under the ocean’s surface. A simple mask and snorkel will get you on the guest list.
However, in stinger season you’ve gotta don a suit to get in. Blue and black and figure-hugging, imagine Jessica Alba in her Fantastic Four get-up, now make her a short hairy dude. Sorry, but I had to bring you back in the room.
One must cover up to prevent getting tangled up in tentacles. However in the winter months, when the stringy bastards aren’t around, you can swim in just your board shorts or bikini. Year-round the water is warm and crystal clear.
Each seascape varies. Close to shore I swim amongst small iridescent fish, as the sun hits them they dart in and out of coral and rocks – they remind me of fluoro-kids at music festivals, all hopped up on ecstacy pipes or whatever kids do these days.
And for every raving new school fish there’s always a single old groper hanging around wanting in on the action, or in this case a maori wrasse. Big and fat yet harmless and docile, the maori wrasse has a large bump on its head and they don’t mind the odd photo opp.
I dive below the surface for a photo alongside him, holding my breath like a free-diver – like Alba in Into the Blue, but still short, hairy and without the impressive set of… lungs.
The other drawcard is the reason for the suits. And there it is – its long tentacles ominously floating about in the current. I have no idea if this is the dreaded box jellyfish, I guess it looks kinda boxy, so I don’t want to box it in. I give it some well-deserved room. And while I’ve got my super protective-Alba suit on, one hit from those little buggers can lead to death – which isn’t in my itinerary.
The outer reef holds a whole other world. Everything definitely feels alive out here, with colourful coral, piles like reindeer antlers, tendrils sucking my fingers and the giant brain coral. Most definitely alive is the large turtle cruising around, possibly named Raphael, maybe Michaelangelo.
A shark circles next to the shallow reef in the deep. After surfing and swimming in Australian waters for some time now I have thankfully never seen a shark in open water and most definitely never heard “Shark!”, followed by people swimming towards the shark.
Fortunately most sharks within the reef, and particularly this black tipped reef shark, are obviously more scared of us than we are of them. With all the commotion he pretty quickly disappears into the deep blue. But I still get a good enough gawk to exaggerate his size for retelling. He has to be over two-and-a-half metres (read: one metre) with blood dripping from his teeth (read: no blood, but bloody hungry after we scare him from the smaller fish) and a savage look in his eyes (read: scared shitless).
As the old pirating parlance goes, if the sun has passed the yard arm it’s time for a drink. Now I don’t know much about sailing, I wouldn’t know my gang-plank from my crow’s nest, but I’ll be damned if I’m about to break such a fine nautical tradition. Each night we toast Neptune with a few rum tales and laze about on deck staring at the stars, trying to get a grasp of Max’s star mapping skill.
I make about six different Big Dippers, struggle to find the Southern Cross, hell, I even wish upon a satellite (if Billy Bragg can, so will I).
The bar is an honesty-system and I can honestly say I keep it in business. However, I question weather getting boozed up helps the seasickness. Fortunately you don’t need to vomit up your lunch just to catch a glimpse of some fish on the Whitsundays. Fish wouldn’t be attracted to tuna milkshake. I don’t aim to go overboard but a swim does sober me up.
We cruised back, hoisting the sails, getting pushed by a light breeze – Mother Nature, what a gal, both hot and strong.
Embracing the landlubber lifestyle back in Airlie Beach after an amazing three days at sea with new friends both above board and below the surface however doesn’t mean the Jamaican rum should stop flowing.
My first shower in three days, and I am back out in Airlie Beach holding up the bar and tearing up the dancefloor, my sealegs coming in handy.
The damage: Three-day, three-night trips from $469 (get free internet if you mention TNT Magazine when booking).
The details: The Anaconda III sails on Tuesday and Friday evenings. For info, Freephone: 1800 677 119 or visit http://www.airliebeach.com.