It seems a lifetime ago that I arrived in Airlie Beach after my wild and stormy diving trip off Cairns. I didn't realise when I arrived on a lovely sunny afternoon that not only would I again be out at sea in raging storms, but I'd also be on a boat doing it's best to hide from officially the most powerful cyclone to hit Australia in 20 years.
I joined a sailing trip on a 30m yacht called Anaconda II - planned to be a 3 day cruise around the beautiful whitsunday islands, taking in some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. We set sail on a Friday evening in pretty calm weather; the boat was pretty nice and I was lucky enough to have a (cramped, tiny) 4-berth cabin to myself. The people on the boat were mostly pleasant and quite a mix. As there were about 20 of us (can't even recall details at this stage) I won't share the details of their personalities....a mix of pleasant, annoying, dull, fun and of all ages.
Our first morning out was pretty windy but luckily the sun came out for about 30min while we docked on the most magnificent stretch of beach I've ever seen. At the time we didn't realise it was to be the only ray of sun for the next 3 days. After a few hours relaxing on the silicone squeaky sands (99% silicone and the finest beach sand on earth apparently) we set sail again for deeper seas. The afternoon weather turned a tad miserable so I decided to join a dive. I hadn't planned on doing anymore diving for a bit to give my foot some time to heal as I'd done some damage with my fins on my first dive trip and it was still infected and swollen. But I taped it up and went overboard. It was awful. The guy who took us on our dive was a young idiot (to put it mildly), the visibility was about 3m and the people I was diving with were clueless (and dangerous). Oh, and there was nothing really to see save for a bit of dead coral. I'm a fairly beginner diver (which i acknowledge) so was teamed up with a guy who hadn't dived for a few years.....but I strongly believe he'd never dived before!! I spent my entire diving watching out form him as he shot to the surface, dived down deep and went off on tangents constantly. At one point he was almost on the surface and he hadn't even realised - I desperately waved to him to come down and as he did a boat shot overhead....I envisaged him being chewed up and spat out by propellers which would have really ruined my dive!!
The other people on the dive were also just all over the place; another guy cut his foot on some coral and almost had gangerine by the time we got back to shore...it was all just a mess.
After the dive the weather really turned. We heard on the radio that all the boats out at sea (cruising the whitsundays) were being called back to shore due to a cyclone heading in. But apparently, as Anaconda II was privately owned the decision to stay at sea or head back to the safetly of land lay with one person - and he decided to keep us out at sea. We had to skip all all the stops we were meant to make and head off for what is known as a cyclone protection bay. I can't remember the name of it but suffice to say that it was not the most exciting of places to be hanging out. We did however decide to venture on to shore to go explore some caves - the caves didn't amount to much but the 10min ride in the dinghy in torrential rain, howling gales and pretty rough sea did get the adrenalin pumping a little. I realised at this point that the weather was either going to be the cause of my death by boredom, or the source of my only entertainment. I went for the latter.
After a pretty rough night sleeping in the bay we head out to try make it back to land on the 3rd day. It was through the core of the storms (not the cyclone) so made for quite a wild ride. A couple of us decided to make the most of it and placed ourselves at the bow of the boat and took a bit of an adrenalin kicking ride across the wild sea. The rain hitting my body (in a bikini as only slightly cold) was like being pelted by pellets from a pellet gun and the wind so strong that if I didn't hold on it literally swept me backwards. But the ride as we hit the 3m swells and the yacht flying into air before ploughing nose first back into sea gave any rollercoaster ride a run for it's money. Feeling the force of nature at it's wildest is just incredible - it was pretty scary but the sense of wild abandon to the elements was quite a buzz!
After hours and hours through this weather we finally made it back to land. The details of what went on on the boat in between are pretty dull so I won't bore myself writing about them - stuffy cabin with no air-con, reading books, being dished up food like kindergarten kids, and the recklessness of the crew taking people not qualified to dive to dive without even checking their equipment (I found a leaking regulator, weight-belts on completely incorrectly and one with air-supply not even opened about to enter the water)......not a bad trip but by the end of it I'd pretty much decided I'd had my fill of braving the elements out at sea :-) !
That night I booked myself a flight to Brisbane with plans to go to Byron bay......I decided that a flight might kick-start a jump from the bad weather. I flew out the next day and landed in Brisbane around 3pm - to grey, wet, dull weather. On the flight I'd read a bit about melbourne - and the greyness was the final straw and my decision was made. I went to the virgin blue counter (before even collecting my luggage) and booked myself a flight to Melbourne leaving 45min later.....bring on the sunshine!!!