Day 35, May 21, 2018
Shockingly, sleeping on a plastic mattress bunk bed tucked in the bow shared with another person is not the recipe for restful sleep. I kept trying to stretch out my legs but hit the metal wall of the galley. The cool part though was that our beds were under the top deck hatch, so we kept it open all night for a sea breeze and stargazing. At 5:30am, I heard a clunk and an engine roar as the anchor was dragged up. I was relieved to start the day and get out of this bed.
With hot tea in hand, I watched the sun peek through the clouds by the horizon. As it rose, it warmed the deck as we huddled over our breakfasts. The wind was strong, so as soon as a girl walked up the ladder to the deck with her plate, the wind took her toast and sent it flying off into ocean. The look on the girls face was a mix of shock and betrayal at the wind.
Skipper navigated the boat through the inlet and into Tongue Bay, which is just on the other side of the famous Whitehaven Beach. In groups of eight, Ernst took us ashore using an inflatable dingy and set us loose to explore the island trails and enjoy the shell covered beach.
The short walk through the forest led us to an open expanse of the whitest sand you can imagine running down to the bluest turquoise water. Either side of the expansive beach was bookended by dark green evergreens and slate grey boulders. Our group were the only people there, leaving us free to run around and dip our toes in the water as much as we liked. The sand here is 99% pure silica, which is great for making glass lenses. Apparently, NASA took sand from this beach to use in the making of the Hubble Telescope.
Tide was going out, exposing swirling sandbanks where the ocean waves met the estuary running along at an angle. Hundreds of little blue backed crabs scurried up the beach and popped into holes in the sand. To see the beach from a different perspective, we walked back through the woods to a lookout point. From here, the sandbanks and the water formed a mesmerizing pattern of swirls and circles. It looked like an optical illusion.
Back on the boat, we dug into salami wraps and coleslaw, just as all the other tour boats arrived and crowded the harbor. This was our third meal on the boat, so by now we knew well enough not to let the wind take our food. However, the Skipper saved some meat for one of the giant sea eagles that was circling high above the sails. Skipper whistled repeatedly to the eagle as it got closer and closer. Ernst threw the hunk of meat just off the side of the boat and at the exact same moment, the eagle gracefully swooped down and snatched the meat in its claws and brought it to the nest. Skipper did not have the same regard for the numerous seagulls hovering in hopes of a snack. Byron remarked the ones sitting on the deck were getting a free ride. Skipper replied, “Oh those? That’s just another Aussie on social welfare.”
We sailed around to Luncheon Bay for our first Whitsundays snorkel spot, even though the water looked pretty cold. Our stinger wet suits provided a bit of warmth as we hopped off the dingy into the open water. I had to give it a few minutes to adjust to the cold and breathing through the snorkel, but soon I was floating along the surface peering at the coral reef below. This part had been hit by a severe cyclone a year ago, so a lot of the coral was damaged, but the fish population was active. It was like observing a busy downtown intersection of traffic with dozens of Pacific Blue Tang (Dory from Finding Nemo) rushing in one direction and the rainbow ones going in the other.
Ernst pointed out George, the largest fish I’ve seen in my life. He was a Humphead Maori Wrasse and easily the length of my body, with bulging eyes. I must’ve sounded pretty ridiculous shouting “Holy crap!” through my snorkel every time George snuck up next to me. Byron kept trying to get my attention and point to something but I had no idea what he was saying through the snorkel. All I could hear was “Look at the fish wearing socks!!”. Turns out the fish with spots was not swearing socks.
We only lasted maybe twenty minutes before begging Ernst to take us back to the ship for warm tea and dry towels. We cruised onward to the other side of Hook Island to Stonehaven inlet to anchor for the night. The sunset tonight was even more dramatic than the night before, with the orange ball of light sending shimmering rays across the entire bay. We watched, mesmerized, while digging in to plates of spaghetti bolognese (“Spag Bol” as the Aussies call it) and delicious garlic bread.
In the light of the moon, we all dangled our feet over the side and chatted over drinks. Ernst told us about his experience sailing for five months on the Clipper Race. This happens once every two years and involves sailing around the world for 11 months total. It honestly sounded like hell living in a cramped space without seeing land for weeks and walking around always at an extreme angle while the ship leaned, but he loved it. We also chatted with some of the older backpackers (I know, it feels weird to me too that I’m now an older backpacker at age 25) about how the 18 and 19 year olds travel differently at that age. At the same time, we agreed how great it is that despite their amateur behavior sometimes, they’re courageous for exploring the world. We crawled into our cozy metal bunk with the light breeze flowing over our faces and the bright stars shining through the open hatch.