Three Days on the Ragamuffin II
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Sailing on the East coast of Australia in the Whitsundays is an extraordinary experience. However, at the time the water looked awfully close, and I couldn’t help but think that the boat should have tipped over by now. If you looked at our sailboat, the Ragamuffin II, it was keeling so far to the left that if I did not have my feet on the two-inch think steel rail around the boat, I would have slid right off.
I had been on water slides before but I really did not want to get wet on this one. Looking at the rest of the guests on the boat, you could tell by their expression that they were thinking the same thing – that is, until our captain, Splash, yelled out “Ok, now we are sailing!” He would later explain that the bottom weight of the boat was much heavier than the deck and mast. That kept us from capsizing. It showed how green our group was but hey, these trips are made for people who rarely or never sail.
We were in the Whitsundays now. Splash and his first mate, Robbie, make their living by sailing most of the week with people who usually have never sailed before. However, you could see by the expressions on Splash and Robbie’s faces that they loved their job and everything about it. As the wind caught our sails, it pushed us through the blue green water faster then the motor could have ever achieved.
To get to sail in the Whitsundays most people start in the small costal town of Arlie Beach which is about half way up the coast of Eastern Australia. It is a bustling little tourist town with hotels and many backpacker hostels. Most of the boats leave from Abel Point Marina early in the morning on the first day and return late in the afternoon three days later. On the plus side there is no shortage of boat companies to pick from.
There is one thing I heard that I took to heart, though. When I was in Sydney a travel agent at Backpackers World travel told me that when sailing in the Whitsundays, “What you pay for is what you get.” Some boats were much cheaper but they would cram people on board until there was little room to move. Some of the pricier ones would accommodate quite a small group of 10 to 13 people on a 55 foot boat. If you look around you can usually find what you are looking for.
Once you find a boat all you have to do is get on it and relax while watching the few clouds in the sky drift by, and the sun disappear and reappear behind the sails. In the first four hours our crew stared out and watched the two major islands, Hook Island and Whitsunday Island, slowly pass by. One of the strangest things to witness was the odd butterfly that would keep pace with the boat, as if it were in a race to our final destination. They would never land on the boat for a break, just keep a few feet from us, flying as fast as we were sailing. After living out of my backpack and sitting on busses for the past four weeks, watching butterflies race the boat was quite a welcome change.
Sailing in the Whitsundays is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable experiences that you can have in Australia. Every day brought with it new sights and experiences – from snorkeling in the lush coral reef gardens, to walking through the forests of the many different islands the boat stopped at. On our last day we witnessed something rarely seen. As we passed by a sea turtle coming up for air, we noticed a shadow coming towards it. A lone reef shark suddenly attacked a sea turtle as we watched, coming completely out of the water in an attempt to get the best of the turtle.
By sailing in the waters and around the islands you get up close and feel the magnitude of the Whitsundays. Its 74 tropical islands, 70% of it protected by the National and Marine Park, will keep you active for days no matter what kind of adventure you are looking for. The Whitsundays are a truly unique experience.