The Ron Of Argyll.
We could have gone to the Whitsunday Islands on a bog standard 'booze cruise' style boat, but thanks to our families and the money they gave us for Christmas, we upgraded to 'The Ron Of Argyll', a beautiful 79 year old sailing boat with an Italian chef on board to cater to our every need.
The Ron of Argyll was built in 1928 for King George V, has sailed around the world and once had Marylin Monroe as a passenger too! We set sail from Airlie Beach at around 9:30 am, having been given a cabin to share with a young French couple with our own double bed (yes, very swanky!). I get motion sickness incredibly quickly (I shudder when I think of that bus ride in New Zealand where I held off from being sick for about 2 hours) and as a result I was a bit nervous seeing as we were spending 2 nights and 3 days aboard this 50ft classic gaff rigged ketch sailing boat.
Our bed below deck.
We were sailing with another 9 passengers and 3 crew, the skipper and two deckhands (one being our chef). We were a mixed group; there was the French couple, two girls from London, a Scottish guy and his Canadian girlfriend, a young girl from Switzerland, a lady in her 50s from Gurnsey (traveling on her own for the last two years!) and a German guy. The crew was from New Zealand, Austria and Italy, so we were very much the international boat!
Now, our 'Italian chef' was the deckhand, who was 33 years old but looked and acted more like 20 years old, so John and I thought we had been riped off with the 'Italian chef' bit from the brochure and the sales guy....but just after our pleasant sailing to our first destination (and I mean sailing; front and back sails up- no engine at all) we realised we were in for a treat that weekend.
John really got into sailing mode!
...he was indeed a fantastic cook, cooking a gourmet pasta dish with salad and homemade quiche for lunch....in fact, the food was exquisite all weekend and lots of it too, as skint backpackers, we were glad to have a proper feed, the first since Christmas really!
After lunch, we all went for a snorkel. The Whitsundays is a collection of 74 islands on the outer Great Barrier Reef, named by Captain Cook when he was the first European to discover them on Whit Sunday, 3rdof June 1770. 68 of the islands have been left untouched, so the coral and wildlife there have been untouched by humans too. This means that when you go snorkeling on the coral reef there, you really are swimming in amongst the fish and their habitats. John and I have never been snorkeling before and as 'snorkel virgins' we were a tad bit nervous (especially as I am not an incredibly strong swimmer and John can barely float!).
Me with my face under water!!!
We were given a quick lesson on board the Ron by the skipper who is a very experienced diving instructor and after donning our 'stinger suits' (yes, suits that look a bit like wet suits that will protect you from the jelly fish in the water that could kill you!....96 per-cent protection he said which made me a little uneasy) we climbed into the dinghy and we were powered over to the small shingle beach. I really did have my reservations about the masks working properly....I remember making my mother buy me a few pairs of swimming goggles when I was a kid because they leaked and as I have very sensitive eyes and an aversion to putting my face under water, I was, well bloody scared really! I sat on the beach for 15 minutes or so, trying to muster up the confidence to go in (I love the water but was very unsure of this 'living' coral reef and what I may see there).
Aye aye captan!
John and I had both taken the option of flotation devices (long, sausage style foam floaties that you put around your waist to help keep you towards the surface of the water) and he had gone straight in (much to my surprise as he is very wary of water and likes me to check the depth first). He came back to shore and I could hear him telling one of our group "that has to be the best thing I have done in Australia!" To say I was jealous is putting it mildly.....I was fuming that I may be missing out and so this spurred me on to get my snorkeling gear on and head out to the coral reef too. Five minutes later, I was waving to John who was on the beach by now, to come and join me.
The first time I put my head under water, I was so amazed that I forgot to breathe! After a huge gasp of air, I started to control my breathing and really started to take in my surroundings.
Sunset from our boat..what a kodak moment!
It was fantastic to say the least. I was literally swimming with the fish! They were all around me, big ones, small ones, huge ones bigger than my head. The colours were spectacular, every colour in the spectrum....neon blue and purple, two tone fish, green fish, orange fish, blue fish with bright yellow tails and black and white fish that liked to swim right next to me! Then there was the coral; it was moving, flowing back and forth with the light current and every few seconds a different fish would peep out from behind it. It was so fantastic to see first hand, much better than on t.v, I mean I was swimming in amongst all of this!! All I could hear was the sound of me breathing and my mumbled voice saying "oh my God!" now and again though my breathing tube. I could see John swimming close to me and the big school of fish that were following him around, wherever he swam, they swam; it was very cute.
Haing fun onboard the Ron.
John and I had a swim around the reef together, venturing out deeper to where the coral drops into the ocean and there is a huge expanse below you and the fish are considerably bigger! After about 2 hours, we were taken back to our sailing boat to a lovely hot cup of coffee and biscuits.
We then spent the afternoon sailing out to a natural harbour where the water was incredibly still and we set down anchor for the night. After a stunning dinner of marinated chicken, rice and salad with a fantastic fruit salad for desert, we had a few drinks and a chat with the group as we watched the sun set behind 'Inlet Hill'.
We slept well that first night, which was just as well because the skipper popped his head in our overhead hatch at around 6:30 am (I made a mental note to check he wasn't there later as I got changed!) to tell us we had better have some breakfast as it was going to be a bumpy ride that morning.
Whitehaven beach....a little corner of paradise.
..And he was spot on (bugger!)....The ride towards our next island stop was not just bumpy, it was vicious! The sea water was washing all over the deck (and us on it) as the boat lurched from side to side....now, you may be wondering at this point how my stomach was holding up and I must say I was on top form. The 'Sea Legs' motion sickness tablets I had bought after that bus journey in NZ were working a treat. I had felt grand all though the first day and was feeling fine during the roller coaster ride on the second morning too actually, I quite enjoyed it. "Now this is real sailing" I thought to myself as I sat there on the deck, towel wrapped round me and holding on to the Canadian girl's shoulders as she sat between my legs. That journey took us about an hour and a half and brought us to calmer waters where we moored the boat and were taken by dinghy to the island.
Me with Whitehaven in the distance.
This island had the famous Whitehaven beach on the other side. We were given our shoes back (they were taken off us and put into a 'shoe bag' when we boarded as you are not allowed to wear shoes on deck) and we walked up through the forest to the peak of the island and the lookout point to Whitehaven beach. The sight was phenomenal. The azure waters stretched for miles, with turquoise coral reefs and white sands interspersed in the near distance. It looked like a postcard and I am of the belief that most postcards are 'photoshopped' and digitally enhanced...and this did look like it had been digitally enhanced, it looked that perfect.
After a few photos, we made our way back through the forest and down to Whitehaven beach.
The Ron without the sails up.
The sand on this beach is brilliant white and so fine and soft...if it weren't for the fact that you could not swim in the water here because of jellyfish and sharks, then this really would have been paradise...the type you see on the old Bounty chocolate ads! The sand on this beach is like nowhere else on earth, it is so fine that you can put a piece of jewelery into the sand and when you pull it back out, it is shiny and clean (that is true, our friends tested it). We stayed there for 2 hours, looking at the baby sharks and sting-rays that swam around your feet in the shallow water (the safe part that is) and enjoying the fact we were on solid ground for a bit!
We sailed to another island after lunch for another spot of snorkeling.
Walking through the forest to Whitehaven lookout point.
The weather had really started to change by this time and we ended up snorkeling in the rain, which doesn't really matter as we were getting wet anyway I hear you say, but it is not much good when you need to cook and serve dinner for 14 people with them all on top of each other below deck! Our marinated steak, with mashed potatoes, green beans in a olive oil sauce and a red wine and gravy sauce was delicious though,and we all enjoyed. The rain kept up all evening so we all stayed below deck, chatting, playing chess and reading (it really reminded me of caravan holidays in Tenby!). The rain and wind also kept up all night that second night and it was a much more rocky night; the boat rocking back and forth a bit more vigorously than the first night.
Our third day of the trip was spent doing more snorkeling, eating more fantastic food and generally being pampered.
Enjoying the ride.
At around 1 pm we set sail back to Airlie Beach. John and I helped hoist the main sail (tough work I can tell you!) and we whipped back to shore with all sails up in all their glory. The Ron is a fast boat for its age and style and it felt good to sail past (literally! Ha!) our rivals on 'Enid'. Back the harbour we had a quick group photo before being told there was a table booked for us in a local bar and a free drink waiting for us all that night, and, well, we couldn't say no, could we?.....
A great trip, an exhausting one at that, but a fantastic adventure with snorkeling a big highlight...and I did not feel sick all weekend!!!! Result!! I am still swaying as if I am on the boat though, and I have been off it for three days now, but I am sure I'll feel 'normal' in a week or two (no comments please!) ;)