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.
“Straight in,” said Dad, pointing toward the reef. We nodded and moved on, each of us making desperate strokes to lead the group. Ethan gave a small shout, and I checked to see what was wrong. I found out moments later. A jellyfish tentacle had wrapped around my leg, too, giving me a nasty sting. My voice echoed across the water as I yelled to Dad to tell him what had just happened. He met my gaze with a worried glance, and then before I knew it, Ethan and I were rushing back to the boat. We each clenched our teeth and grimaced as we swam. The distance seemed doubled as the painful stinging slowed us both down. Cheval was our sanctuary. We quickly made it up onto the transom and studied our wounds. A red streak ran across my leg. The pain would last for several days.
After that, we enjoyed a smooth sail to the outer reefs. We were beam-reaching in wind that never rose above 15 knots. It almost went by too quickly. In fact, it did. It was time for us to start heading back.
The forecast predicted a favorable weather window, so we took advantage of it to make time heading south. With luck, we hoped to make it to the shelter of Fraser Island once again. Our original plan to hop slowly south was swept away with the favorable winds. It hurt me to see the islands we’d spent so much time on zoom past in the long hours we dedicated to getting south. We often woke up early in the morning, just after midnight, and sailed until sunset, spending short nights in anchorages and then moving on. This schedule let us cover much ground, and we quickly managed to sail the distance south that took us many wonderful months to cross on the way north. The days were often tiring, but Ethan and I usually got good nights of rest after helping Mom and Dad get under way each day.
The reality of how little time remained on our trip left us to think, “We should spend each moment to the fullest.” So we did, gradually moving back down the coast, stopping at Fraser Island. But we were always headed to the waiting black hole in the distance, the end of the trip. It was strange seeing the places we’d already visited, almost like going back in time, but we also discovered new places, wishing for the one thing we lacked: more time. We took time for granted when we were heading north, but now that our days were numbered, it stood in our way. Less than two weeks remained.
“Time flies when you’re having fun” proved for us to be all too true. Almost six months had passed in what seemed like a week. We laid up Cheval in Mooloolaba once again, a small but fit marina for protecting her for the season. Tears filled our eyes, and regret tore at our stomachs. I’d miss Australia and its variety of wildlife, unique scenery, and friendly people. This trip had painted for us a vivid picture of wilderness unlike any other. For six months we’d blend back into the crowds of California, but there was no doubt that we’d again find ourselves back in Australia and ready for another adventure on board Cheval.
I was already excited.
Tristan Bridge was 11 years old when he wrote this story. He and his family sailed Cheval tens of thousands of miles through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific before heading to Australia and New Zealand. Each year, they lay Cheval up for the cyclone season and return to California.This year, they’re cruising aboard Cheval in French Polynesia.