Sunshine Sailing Shenanigans – Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sunshine Sailing Shenanigans
Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

The annual problem of giving the impression you don’t care about New Year’s Eve, while at the same time racking your brains for something to do to make sure you don’t end up at home alone listening to the radio countdown, had again reared its mocking head.

So the opportunity of joining a group to cruise around the Whitsunday Islands was quickly taken, before some other undeserving nigel no-mates could step in. How glamorous! A crewed 70-foot yacht, freshly prepared seafood meals, tropical fruits, snorkeling over pristine coral reefs, and a well-stocked esky being relieved of its contents under a night sky studded with shimmering constellations would be a New Year’s story worth dropping into future conversations.

However, a 70-foot converted prawn-trawler named Sunshine was not the seagoing vessel expected to be seen waiting for us upon our arrival at Airlie Beach Marina. Although it did seem to float reasonably well which was a start. And adequate storage for copious cartons of beer sealed it…this would do fine!

The skipper, obviously a very experienced old sea-dog, was even more reassuring as she gave the pre-sail briefing. Fun times ahead were promised, all with the helpful assistance of the First Mate; Bill. All eyes were on Bill. Never before had such an unlikely First Mate been observed, by even our inexperienced group. Think of an extraordinarily large number of tattoos, double it, and you would still not be close to the quantity of inked figures adorning this hard, muscled, semi-naked, very scary body. However, inverse the number, and you would certainly be closer to the number of teeth inside the head of this blatant prison fugitive. However, with a broad, albeit toothless smile, and a palpable enthusiasm for the voyage upon which we were about to embark, Bill was accepted, and with a 12 ring-pull salute of popping beer cans, sails were set, the bow was pointed in the direction of hazy green islands on a brilliant blue horizon, and the journey began.

As promised, a snorkeling session in crystal clear water followed by a very credible lunch effort by a previously unseen cook had everyone in a jovial mood as our valiant craft docked in Hamilton Island Marina, under the shadow of motorcycle legend, Mick Doohan’s private five-storey boat. New Year’s Eve festivities were well underway in the harbour, and with our boat eager to join in, our Skipper issued us the one binding rule for the evening: “be back on the boat by 8 a.m.”.

Looking back, the moment where “it all started to go wrong” still to this day cannot be defined. It is likely it is somewhere between when everyone was enjoying a few pleasant drinks on deck, and when it was noticed that the Skipper was dancing topless on the roof of the Wheelhouse. However, it could also be between when the group was considering checking out the action on the island, and when First Mate Bill crashed through an adjacent yacht’s diving platform into the black depths of the harbour.

In any case, the exact moment in question became irrelevant when it was suddenly apparent that our gallant Skipper had decided to now remove all clothing, and was racing erratically down the jetty to join the family fireworks display about to commence outside the Yacht Club. With Bill noticeably hesitant to join the subsequent struggle between the local constabulary and our naturist Skipper, it wasn’t too long before the brake-lights of the paddy wagon were seen receding into the distance.

It was even less time before Bill decided that the contents of the ship’s purse were rightfully his, and with this securely stowed in the pocket of his Hawaiian shorts, and the cook’s guitar strapped firmly to his back, he rapidly disappeared into the night! And so it was on a crewless yacht (apart from the cook assumed to be chained down in ‘the hole’ somewhere) that the change of calendar was rowdily celebrated.

A bleary eyed 8 a.m. soon came around, and with all sailors and one cook dutifully present and accounted for, a suitably trained and experienced crew only remained to be located. Joyous greetings to the eventual return of our shabby and sullen Skipper were met with open hostility and barked orders to ‘haul the lanyard’ and ‘stow the thing that needs stowing’ or something similar. Our relaxing cruise had suddenly become a hung-over back-breaking training exercise in maritime pursuits! The mood was subdued, and with the island disappearing behind us at a rate of knots, while the Captain gloomily studied her charge sheet, there was only one thing that could be done to prepare for the long hours ahead…crack one of those lukewarm left-over beers!

Post Script – First Mate Bill was again spotted in the early hours of the New Year…sporting a Mexican sombrero, swigging a beer, driving a Hamilton Island golf cart with three blonde women, the cook’s guitar strapped to the roof.