Saturday, October 4, 2008

Whitsunday Cruise — Solway Lass

Last week Laetitia and I went on a sailing cruise around the Whitsunday Islands, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. It was a fantastic experience!

On Sunday, before we left, we went and bought ourselves a new camera: an Olympus Stylus 1050 SW in “Pacific Blue”. (Other colours available: “Dolphin Grey”, “Midnight Black” and “Misty Rose”. Don't you just love those kinds of names?) We specifically wanted a camera that was (a) waterproof and (b) less hassle to worry about on a ship.

We left Mackay on Tuesday morning, just after Laetitia's parents left for Rocky. We drove to Airlie Beach, where we checked in for our cruise, then had time for lunch and a leisurely afternoon browsing the shops and reading by the beach.

Jolly Roger (by Ian B-M)At 7 o'clock it was time to board. The Solway Lass is a “tall ship”, a brigantine originally built in 1902 in Holland, to a German design and using German steel for the ribs and hull. The ship is set up as a pirate ship, complete with Jolly Roger. She's had various jobs during her lifetime, including cargo transport, being a Q-ship during the first world war, and even as an ice-breaker! She's named after the Solway Firth in Scotland, where she worked from 1924 until the second World War. Most recently she's been used as a tall ship for tourists in Sydney Harbour and now in the Whitsundays.

On Tuesday night we sailed to Nara Inlet, where we anchored for the night. Of course, we couldn't see much then, except for the lights from a few nearby boats. But I got up early the next morning and got some nice photos.

After breakfast we left Nara Inlet, travelling through Hook Island Passage and then south to Whitehaven Beach. The weather was fantastic (especially if you wanted to get sunburnt!) — bright and sunny, clear cool water.
Whitehaven Beach (by Ian B-M)

I asked the skipper, Mark, about Hook Island Passage, because on their navigation assignment my year twelve maths students had avoided it due to how narrow and tricky it looked on their map. Mark laughed at that. Here's Solway Passage (yes, named after the same Solway Firth in Scotland), which my students preferred:
Solway Passage (by Ian B-M)

View from the bow (by Ian B-M)After lunch on Wednesday, Laetitia helped raise the sails (“Haul away, sailor! We want it up today, not tomorrow!”) and we sailed back northwards all the way around Pinnacle Point, to shelter in Luncheon Bay for the night. Dinner, breakfast and lunch were on a rotating, floating restaurant!

Thursday morning was snorkelling. The wind had really picked up, and the water was pretty cold. I decided to just enjoy the day and let Laetitia do the swimming and snorkelling! She didn't mind, she got to use the new camera underwater. Here's one of her photos (and only one; I'll let her show you the rest when she gets time to go through them):

(Laetitia also took her old film point-and-shoot camera on the cruise, because it's splashproof, though not actually waterproof. Of course, we're still waiting for the film from that camera to be processed…)

After lunch we set sail again, sailing north around Dolphin Point, at the tip of Hayman Island, to Blue Pearl Bay. The wind was so strong that we went even faster with less sails up than the previous day! Then in the evening we wended a path between islands, coral reefs and sand banks back to Hook Island, to spend the night at Stonehaven Anchorage.

Blue Pearl Bay was more snorkelling for the game; Laetitia and I instead went for a walk on the stony coral beach and up a dry creek bed. We enjoyed the shelter from the wind under the trees, and the company of quite a few butterflies.

After dropping anchor at Stonehaven we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset:
Whitsunday sunset (by Ian B-M)

Friday was my birthday. After breakfast, I had a snooze in the bow net, which I found really peaceful.

Then there was the swinging competition. A knotted rope swung from the end of one of the yards, and the idea was to swing off into the sea in a spectacular (and hopefully not too painful) way. Following the pirate-ship theme, you were supposed to call out something clever and piratey as you went. I actually quite enjoyed it, although the current was surprisingly strong—it was quite a challenge to swim back to the ship! Laetitia took videos with our new camera of my two swings.

Finally, after lunch, we set sail again back to Airlie Beach. On the way, our cook, Kylie “the Legend”, presented me with a birthday cake: delicious fruit cupcakes, complete with cute pirate candles.

But this was not before two whales were spotted off the bow. I rushed out to the bowsprit to watch them pass. I even managed to get a (wobbly) video of them!
Whale watchers (by Ian B-M) Whales (by Ian B-M)

When we got back to Airlie Beach, we checked in at Airlie Waterfront Backpackers for the night. On Saturday morning we drove home.

Our crew really made the trip. They were:

  • Captain: Mark. Fount of useful information, about the Whitsundays, sailing in general, and the history of the Solway Lass, which he's been sailing since its time in Sydney. Just laughed when we mutinied and tied him to the mainmast.
  • Bosun: Millsy. “Ready on the main staysail?” (To which you reply, “Aye aye, bosun!”) He quickly put on more sail when Whitsunday Magic tried to race us.
  • Deckhand: Tess. Always smiling, whether hauling on a halyard, dangling precariously over a yard-arm, or ferrying people around in the tender.
  • Deckhand & Barman: Chris. Made a mighty lemon, lime and bitters! And his weight and strength came in helpful when raising sails.
  • Cook: Kylie. I cannot praise this young woman higher. Our special diets can sometimes be a challenge, but Kylie fed us fantastic meals every time. Whether climbing the rigging in boxers (!) or cooking up a feast in the galley, Kylie was a real legend.
  • Volunteer: Inger. From Norway, previously a passenger, now helping out the crew in the kitchen and on deck.

From left: Inger, Chris, Kylie, Tess, Mark.

For more arty photos from the trip, see Flickr. For more people-oriented photos, check Facebook.

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