Returning to the Good times
An 11-year-old sailor (and author) from California revels in the magic of cruising within Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
I was excited to return to Cheval, our Outremer 55 catamaran, which was waiting for us in Australia. Months had passed since our family had laid Cheval up and returned to California so I, along with my 10-year-old brother, Ethan, and our 7-year-old sister, Cheyenne, could go back to school.
The entire east coast of Australia was waiting for us to explore, and my heart skipped a beat now that we were back on board. We set sail north from Mooloolaba, just north of Brisbane, stopping at Fraser Island before arriving at Tin Can Bay.
A chill hung in the air, and thousands of whitecaps sprawled recklessly along the surface of the water. Cheyenne stared ahead, a small grin playing at the sides of her mouth. She was excited for what was about to happen: feeding wild dolphins. “This is Mystic, an endangered indo-pacific dolphin,” said our local guide as she waved a hand to the smiling mammal. Ethan and Cheyenne stood speechless. I waved my fish in the water, bribing the dolphin to come closer. A row of brown teeth closed around the bait. With a tug, it was gone.
We worked our way up the coast to Cape Capricorn. Going ashore, we managed to heave the dinghy up the beach, far enough so the tide’s lapping tongues couldn’t reach it. The huge sand dune loomed feet away from me like a giant wall stretching to the sky. Ethan gave me a look, I nodded, and we charged up. We ran up the 45-degree angle with the hot sun beating down on us. The wind spit sand at us. Then we were at the top, with a view of the anchorage and the mountains towering over the hills that lurked beneath.
Continuing north, we hugged the coast until we hit the Cumberland group and the anchorage in the Percy Isles, with its gorgeous white beach. Here we found that a small shack had been assembled; objects of every sort hung across its wall, keepsakes cruisers had left for others to look upon. Time had left many battered and torn. Each object was signed with the name of a boat, and some had poems written on them. I remember our family sharing chuckles as we reminisced about past trips, and we left a burgee hanging proudly against the wall marking our latest sailing adventure.
The Cumberland group, lying on the outskirts of the Whitsundays, share many attributes with neighboring groups, but there’s a quietness in the Cumberlands that marks them as different from their island cousins to the north. Tourists without boats have a limited ability to get to the Cumberlands, and as a result, they’ve been protected from the hectic activity of the Whitsundays. Occasionally, we saw a fishing boat or a fellow cruiser sailing past, but the anchorages were always empty and peaceful. A lot of the stops offered protection from the trade winds that often blew strongly, and we were never disappointed.
Leaving the Cumberlands in our wake, we moved into the Whitsundays, the most popular area on the entire east coast. When we arrived, the clouds sagged with darkness, and a seemingly never-ending wind chilled our skin. Tongue Bay, a fair anchorage on the east side of Whitsunday Island, swarmed with boats. It was just a resting point for the racing boats now in charter; their real destination was Whitehaven Beach. They moved so quickly that they missed what lay right around the corner, Hill Inlet, the most photographed area in the Whitsundays. Despite the stormy weather, we drove our dinghy around the headland. Swarms of rays darted away from us. We motored through dozens of channels, making our way through the banks of sand, and we watched the scrambling shapes of crabs below and gulls screeching away into the sky. The turquoise water remained turquoise even without the sun to enhance it. The beauty made a lasting impression.
Just farther north is Hook Island, and on the east coast lay the famous anchorage of Manta Ray Bay, known for its snorkeling. It wasn’t long before I was again crashing into the coldness of the sea. I flicked myself up with my fins, the sun shooting small piercings of light through the surface.