A sailing adventure in the Whitsundays was the highlight of rachael smith’s trip to Queensland.

The east coast of Australia is beautiful, especially after fifty-six days of drinking. I would never be able to handle that much booze in England, but here in the sun, I managed it quite nicely. Except I was starting to feel a little worn out. So my three Irish travelling companions and I booked ourselves into a sailing adventure on the Whitsundays.

The Pegasus is a graceful sailing ketch, 30 years old yet freshly painted in white and blue, and with a pirate flag dancing proudly atop the mast. The ship is operated by a crazy young couple, who talked lovingly about their boat. The ‘rules and the tools’ – normally a boring speech – was made interesting by their enthusiasm. Then the Pegasus slid sedately out of the bay.

On the trip over to the islands we were briefed on diving. We were all diving virgins but the instructor said he would take it easy on us. The islands were amazing – jutting rocks and alpine trees, no palm trees in site – turquoise waters, swirling sandbars and coral. It was like an adventure playground, the perfect place to lose your cherry.

We spent hours in the water, bubbles everywhere and breathing like Darth Vader, weaving like driftwood unable to balance but loving every second.

Hot showers greeted us, then tea, coffee and home-made cakes in the saloon. Soon the setting sun drew us upstairs to admire the orange light. We sailed from Blue Pearl Bay to Langford Spit, a sandbar about a kilometre long and only exposed at low tide. We arrived at the beach as the tide was coming up. We drank ice cold beer and the boys started a game of cricket.

Whitehaven Beach was our destination the next day. In the morning the sails caught the breeze and we cut powerfully through the water, bouncing merrily to the ocean’s beat.

Whitehaven was as glorious as expected. The sand was so fine and pure you felt you could slip right through it. The water was so clear and warm you felt you were in a bath. Lots of other people were at the beach, but after two hours they started to dwindle. We were left to watch the miracle of tidal change. The water trickled out and bubbled like a spa through the pores in the sand, exposing secret sandbars, the shallowness of the water creating an artist’s blend of blues.

The hostess was an amazing cook. Everything was freshly made on the boat: chocolate cakes, crisp salads, hot pastas. On the first night we had dined on steak, mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. On the second night we had a roast dinner which was as good as mum’s. Everyone loved it, especially after a staple diet of noodles.

We sat, refuelled but bloated. Suddenly the diving instructor appeared wearing a pirate hat and a hook on his arm. “Tonight is the Pegasus Pirate Party,” he said, smiling. The lamps were turned off, the music was turned up and disco lights filled the room. Everyone jumped to the challenge, the mood changed from bloated to blasted. The craziness of fancy dress encouraged even the quietest among us to get involved. We played drinking games and a pot of ‘Smasher’ took centre stage. We tipped a contribution into a pot and the hostess mixed it up, then everyone helped themselves.

Up on the deck some people had gathered to feed the colourful fish which had surrounded our boat. We were reminded of our proximity to nature, and how nice it was to be cocooned and happily drunk on the boat. Stars sprinkled the sky, the silence of the boat and its remoteness meant we felt like they were jumping out at you, close enough to touch.

When we woke up the next day we were already moving under full sail. Breakfast was waiting for us on the table and the soft voice of Dido floated through the air. “These guys really know how to create an atmosphere,” said one of the Paddies, blowing the steam off his cup of coffee. It was nice to breathe in the fresh morning scent of the sea.

We were heading to South Molle Island for a day of pampering. You can sunbath by the pool, laze in the spa, or sip a cocktail, play golf, complete the treasure hunt, or go on a bushwalk. Lunch is a BBQ on the jetty, then you can get massages or try a water sport. I felt so pampered by the end of the trip that I felt like a celebrity.