The gentle roll and pitch of the waves on the hull made the boat rock from side to side like a cradle. So, after a peaceful nights sleep on what was a sliver of a mattress we were up on deck waiting for a sunrise that didn’t appear and quietly enjoying breakfast at the cool place on the stern when the rest of the passengers started to surface. The constant hum of the generator was to them like a kanjo hammer rather than a white noise that one drowns out. With coffees in hand and the clouds now brightening up, our zombie like room mates were set in motion to get ready for a day at Whitehaven Bay.
With colour coded stinger suits and supplies ready for a day on a Queensland beach, we performed a circus act of fitting several clowns in a mini, albeit we were the clowns and the mini tender designed for 11 was filled with 12 plus the driver. It was inevitable that with the swell and choppy waves the little boat was rapidly filling with water and when it started getting dangerously close to the level of people’s shins did we stop. A bit of hokey pokey with the the wiring in the box next to the outboard engine and with the little green button firmly pressed down and the bilge pump kicking in to action we made it the rest of the way to shore without a single man overboard. We did however have a crew member fall in back at New Horizon as they were casting off the ropes, so at least we stayed ‘dry’ on our adventure ashore. We waited on shore for the rest of the group to arrive. The official line is that the path to the lookout is confusing, but from experience you know that H&S dictates that a group stays together and they don’t want people wandering off. Thus, a gentle stroll up through the ‘bush’ and we were looking down on the infamous Whitehaven Bay. In this instance it wasn’t the picturesque calendar photo of the scene that we were hoping for, but it was still kind of special. White sand and white horses competed with blue waters and skies. The cameras we had were in no way equipped to capture the intensity, purity and vibrancy of the area and all photos that included us in them meant the poor cameras weren’t able to focus on anything past us being overcast but bright. Down on the beach we did a wheelbarrow race and a human pyramid. The vegemite came out and a queue of people formed to do various poses as if in or coming out of the pot of vegemite. We were getting ready for a splash and tried to crate the illusion of snorkelling in the stuff. It didn’t work, so we left of for a bit of proper snorkelling. Well, proper in the term that we tried, but with south easterlies wind and waves, poor viz and wind chill rather than cold water we strolled around the area. Some silly jumping photos were a must and then silly mistakes. I was snorkelling around looking for more wildlife, convinced that there had to be more than the big lizardfish. Thus, swimming with a breast stroke my right hand grazed along a rock with the shells of what must be a type of limpet / barnacle thing. Having been warned previously at Champagne Pools of these treacherous wildlife I felt a right numptee with my hand sliced like a cheese grater. Of course, what makes you feel better about yourself, ignore the excruciating pain, tighten your fist in to a ball and chase the fantail sting ray around in the shallows until you get a good look at it. Complete idiotic five minutes over, we returned to our bags. Well, we returned to where we left them and Katherine’s sundress that was tied on would have been impossible to find with the sand completely covering over it. In fact it was so windy as to blow away any trace of the wheel barrow race and human pyramid in the vicinity. The walk through the forest at the end of the beach resulted in a treasure find of a busy but quiet cove. We sat on the rocks watching the powerful waves crash along the shore. I cleaned the wounds with dry clothing and water from our bottles and let the swelling go down. It might not have been a paradise lost, but we enjoyed the moment and would have happily stayed longer. But, back to Tongue Bay we did the reverse queueing process for the tender back to New Horizon. We watched with fascination as a team of workers on deck and on boats manoeuvred the Atlantic Clipper around the bay in an attempt to fix the anchors. We were later told that they wanted to swap the good anchor chain for the other bad chain, as it was on the better gypsy (the engine winch to raise/lower the anchor). But, without thinking it through sensibly they dropped both anchors at the same time and they became entangled. Something that I’ve never heard of before and probably something the owner of the company didn’t want to hear either with a string of cancellations and refunds for people booked on the larger boat of the fleet. Oops! I’m guessing someone got in a lot of trouble for that one.
Back on board we enjoyed wraps and sandwiches for lunch. Typically this is served while underway to our next destination but frankly that would have been messy. With grated cheese and shredded lettuce already flying around the deck with the wind I can only imagine the scenes with a swell added to the mix. As it was there were quite a few green faces en route to Luncheon Bay and only the true hardcores were touching their goon. After a briefing for the Discover Scuba Diving initiates, Phoebe, Katherine and I had a briefing on our dive site. Still at the same location as the snorkelers and DSD’s, we were probably over excited for an area that would be shallow and perhaps a bit worse for wear from all the activity it sees. But, it was UNESCO Site #50!!!
While preparing an underwater slate for the UNESCO sign (we kind of figured there wouldn’t be one there for us) we put everything aside when the kitchen blew up. Now, that is a bit melodramatic, but the eggs, sauces, milk and several items from the fridge went flying across the galley and the oven door slammed open with such force as to break the outer pane of glass in to a thousand pieces and leave it hanging on one hinge. The garlic bread although still in trays would have been unsafe to cook even if we did have the means as glass seemed to everywhere and the butter had a lovely shimmer to it. An Italian coming upstairs from the lower deck found it hilarious much to everyone else disapproval. Needless to say he didn’t help with the clean up.
We went snorkelling for a bit before diving. The 1mm stinger suits provided absolute zero thermal protection and with everyone else zooming around not knowing what they were actually seeing, we stayed in one small patch and watched George the resident Humphead Wrasse pass by a few times and the fusiliers shoal back and forth. The cold of staying motionless meant we went back early on a tender and waited for our dive. Geared up and raring to go we soon rolled backwards off the edge of the tender to begin The Great Barrier Reef. Bex led the dive, as the instructor on board the New Horizon she knew the area well and we headed for a boomey (underwater rock formation in Ozzy slang) and Evan the newbie on a week long interview process was buddied with Phoebe. She’s a recently qualified Open Water and she was surrounded by people looking out for here and finding cool stuff underwater. With loads of nudibranch and corals with finned along for some time. Evan and Bex were given fresh tanks of air before their fun dive and Evan was unfortunate in that it only got filled to 150bar. A bit of simple maths means having 50bars of pressure less than everyone else in an 8litre tank meant he was 400 litres of air short of the rest of us. The average breathing rate being somewhere around 20ltr/min would be irrelevant except at the depth we were at and the good old physics playing its part, he was effectively taking 40-60litres of air per minute at the 10-15m depth we were at. Thus, he had 10mins to live, less when someone (already arranged and approved with Bex) gave him an ‘Out of Air’ signal, while swimming towards him with no reg in mouth and flapping around like a turkey being chased at Christmas time. He wasn’t best pleased when he realised we were testing him, but he responded well and I lived. That’s also a big plus. Putting my own reg back in my mouth and waving goodbye to the air depleted Canadian, we swam on. But, it must have been really tough to hear that 30seconds after we left him we found a turtle. Nestled in the coral and giving the casual ‘What are you doing here?’ look that all turtles seem to project to divers. In to a small cavern with the light shining through the crack to silhouette a lovely turquoise shade of blue. With the turn around on the surface being so quick and efficient, Bex dive computer didn’t start a new dive, but rather continued as if on one continuous long dive. So, we may have gone a bit over the allowed bottom time rules for the boat regulations. But, we only found this out back on board while queueing for warm showers and striping equipment.
Katherine was really nice and plaited my hair so as not to get messed up in the wind and with diving tomorrow. But, Phoebe, her sister Sonia and a plethora of other girls were queueing to get their hair done as well. She only managed to do one complex braid before dinner. A triumph of spaghetti bolognaise, despite the earlier mishap in the kitchen and now the back of the boat was the cool place to be. We became trend setters. We’re so hip and down with it. Lols
Kat plaited a lovely design for Sonia before the sun set in the distance. Cameras and phones were a plenty and the tone for the evening was now set. Peaceful and quiet, the boat was now split with half the people chatting and playing more ‘Gunno’ and the other half watching passing sea snakes in the water, stars and chatting. We wanted to reclaim a piece of the boat for ourselves again and sat on the roof of the galley, arms stretched up above our faces to block out the light on the foremast and we could make out the stars and Milky Way in such much detail. The call for the main lights to be turned off and the silence was now only interrupted with people shouting ‘There’ as more and more shooting stars were observed. We finished our wine and snuck off to bed, the evening having been perfect and snuggling up to the gentle hum of the generator and roll of the hull.
Friday 5th August 2016