2002 Australia: Airlie

Diving and boating on the Great Barrier Reef.

Click above to see the photo set.

Click above to see the photo set.

Trip Report via email (blogs hadn’t been invented yet):


Subject: Who wears short shorts?

Gday mates!

So, as you all probably know travel logs are hard to write without being too self indulgent. So
with that let me tell you all now how much I miss you and you are all traveling with me in this
fantastic little neck of the nape of the world.  I carry a piece of you all with me, which makes
for a large pack at times, but definitely worth it.  Anyway, happy and  safe holidays to all!

So, here’s what we’ve just all done together.  Last time I wrote I was a little disenchanted with
what I was doing in Airlie Beach.  Airlie (pronounced: early) is just a stop over for snorkeling,
diving and sailing the Whitsunday Islands and the Barrier Reef.  As usual, I was the last to know this.  And as such, Airlie has a sort of slightly older spring break feel to it.  Not what I was anticipating, and so when i decided to do a scuba class and just day trips out and back to the islands something inside me was unsettled.  Couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but I felt like Martin Short in the Three Amigos when he just starts to weeps and says, “What are we doing here?!”

Anyway, i was saved by a doctor, of all things.  No, I didn’t find love under a stethoscope,
Jamie.  =)  In order to dive you have to pass a quick physical.  Of course the fit specimen of raw and natural manhood that i am i was quite confident in my passing this small step.  Of course I didn’t.  The ear machine picked up that my right ear wasn’t opening and closing quite right under slight pressure.  This can cause problems when diving, because you need to equalize the air in your eustachian tubes.  I was only mildly taken aback that the doctor giving me this ear exam had a hearing aid.  I wasn’t sure whether to trust him more or less because of his own hearing problems (maybe he went deaf diving?).  It was a little like seeing the Captain’s right leg mangled and looking like he’d been in a shark attack.  Is it good or bad that he’s been through such an ordeal?  Should that give you more or less confidence?

After talking with some other travelers.  Well, actually, one other traveler who was reading the same book as me, I found out that sailing the islands on several day adventures was WHY everyone was here.  Duh.  Always the last to know.  Using the ear thing as an excuse I quickly got out of my prepaid 4 day scuba course (two days in pool, two day trips to the islands) and booked myself on a three day three night sailing diving trip.  Ah, big weigh lifted…Because it was an amazing experience.

The people were great, the crew was cool, the boat, while looking fairly derelict at first, was
pretty keen.  It’s a 60 foot Ketch, with sails, named Banjora which is Aboriginal meaning “Little Bear”.  Sleeping quarters are called berths, but after the first night in the hole of a sleeping quarter I realized that’s an old type-o, they meant “birth” since I felt as if i was tucked into the womb of this LITTLE bear.  In any event, I sweated my way through it and kept reminding myself that I had wanted something more rustic than the “Ibiza Foam Party” that was the highlight of Airlie Beach’s Monday night.  It was good rustic.  The last night I slept under clear skies and huge stars.  Yummy.

Crew and good captain well seasoned…
Rick the owner and captain was a nice guy.  Married twice, dating currently, kids from both
marriages and a third kid from an affair, he’s the one with the scarred leg.  I asked him if
it was shark attack.  He said “yes” at first and we all felt confident and secure, like Richard
Dreyfus did in Jaws.  A seasoned veteran of the sea.  I saw giant squid and great whites in my
minds eye and Captain Rick beating them away with a stick.  Then he said, “No, not really, but do you want the true story?”  Having been duped several times by the crew up to this point, I turned to Rick and said, “Well if it starts off with ‘My first wife…’  we’ll know you’re telling the truth.  But don’t tell us, let us live the fantasy.”  I thought is very mean that the crew duped
us at all, like when Martin the dive instructor told us to watch out for the fanged and aggressive koala type bears that live in trees and attack the neck so we were to all drape towels around our necks for the hike over to the Whitsunday beach.  After about 3 minutes of hearing the unspeakable horrors these creatures inflict on people, and almost believing him, because, it is after all bloody Australia — where the most lethal creature is a tiny box jelly fish — these words loud and clear just leapt from my mouth: “That’s a bunch of bullshit!”  I startled the Europeans. Only an American would be so brass.

I never did find out what happened to Rick’s leg because he had to get off the boat early to see
his kids.  His replacement was Skipper Ned.

While Martin was a man of the jungle and seas, Ned was just a man of the sea.  Martin was your typical Australian guy, wise, jovial, handsome, and living in a tree house.  Tarzan comes to mind, but Tarzan didn’t have a Playstation.  Handsome in a Chris Nutter sort of way.  Dreads, clear blue eyes (like the water), he teaches survival classes, is a dive instructor, knows all 1600 fish that live in the reef, has lived with and shared herbal medicinal secrets with both Australian and Malaysian Aborigines, only recently gotten gas and electricity to the tree, and has to check his bed for spiders and [Jamie turn away] snakes.  You know, run of the mill type bloke.  I liked him. He gave me confidence.  Doctors warnings be damed, he took me 10 meters under the most incredible clear seas, with colorful fish and even more colorful coral.  I dove three times and had the time of my life.  The kids went with me, the floaters went the first time and all of them the second time. Pictures prove it.

Anyway, while Martin was our underwater guide, Ned was our sailor.  Big, BIG bushy bear, short hair, and wearing Hard Yakka short shorts, Ned came on where Rick got off.  Ned would last about 15 seconds on Castro Street before a huge crowd of men would be following his every sea tales. Well, they would be following his tail and his tales.  When the short shorts came off, the speedo was underneath.  Few men have the panache to pull that off.  I mean wearing a speedo with such confidence, not pulling off Ned’s speedos.  Tight assed, tanned and driving the boat through 3 meter swells with his feet while rolling a smoke, I, the slightly green guest was trying to make small talk while we crashed and banged our way to the outer reef.  I held up a pole starting at 5am and didn’t let go until 7:30am as we bobbed and weaved, rolled and rode our way to the outer reef.  This is the famed area where the reef comes out of the open water and where you see more and more interesting creatures.  Cinti i missed seeing the reef shark by seconds, I was busy taking pictures of the kids underwater.  No worries, the small sharks are timid and easily scared.

Food was decent, but meat heavy.  John the young cook was affable.  A nice guy.  The rest of the guests were pretty damn cool, all and all.  Four Germans, two Dutch girls, a couple from London, and a young, effervescent woman named Siobhan from Sydney.  Siobhan and
I got along great.  People immediately thought we were traveling together.  She reminded me of a young Kristy McNichol/Jodie Foster.  Slim, tanned, cute and frequent smiles.  A real good kid.

One of the Dutch girls was Debra Garcia meets Kelly Patton (but not as outgoing as either).
Everyone got along great (except when the Dutch girls got drunk on rum and wanted to party when we all decided it was time for bed). In fact the crew said we were one of the better groups they had been with, and this is a stead job for all of them.  Two trips out (6 days), one trip off, year round.  They kept saying, “Welcome to my office.”  When the Dutch girls brought out the bottle of rum I ran, literally ran to the other end of the boat.  I wisely didn’t drink a lot, cause the next morning was that bang crash boom run to the reef.  Mr. Ouchie for them.

Saw an amazing sunset and have great shots from that.  The color of the waters changed with the sun and are astounding. Blues, greens, teal, powder, every blue under and over the sun.  Bright colorful giant wrasse fish named Elvis and Wally that come out of the water and eat bread from your hand.

Anyway, more stories to follow, sorry this is so long, but I’m in great spirits and have my
traveling head on straight now.  I head to Melbourne tomorrow and would give Ned’s Speedo to see the Boxing Day Cricket Test match.

Again, I hope you are doing well.  I pine for you to see all this.



P.S.  Apparently after we got off the boat Ned had slipped off the short shorts and put on pants
that Rick could only describe as hot pants.  Heckled openly by Rick, Ned was flustered having to suffer the laughter of Rick’s 14 year old daughter.  I am quite confident there is no greater
shame than having a 14 year old girl laugh at your hot pants, but I’m equally confident Ned just let it roll like water off his hairy back.  Ah Ned….=)

Trip Report v2…Minutes later

Subject: Oh that DOG!! (Follow-up)

So, right after I sent that email I popped down to the lagoon.  The lagoon in Ailrie is a man made pool come beach.  Since the box jelly fish live in the waters off Airlie, and they are the size of a thumb and can KILL you if you touch them (most people dive into the water and get stung on the face.  A vinegar bath helps take the horrendous stinging away, briefly), and the heat and humidity here is oppressive, Airlie wisely built a pool that looks like a beach.  Anyway, I was to meet Siobhan there, so I walked through and spotted the Dutch girls.  I last saw them leaving a bar where the whole group of us, including Martin and John, were having traditional post trip beers.  The Dutch girls were headed to go dancing, Siobhan and I were headed to a wet t-shirt contest, her first (she was dragging me there, really! =).

Anyway I say “hi” to the girls and ask, “Where did you guys go last night?”  Dutch girl one,
Annmarie, just sort of laughs a funny laugh and all I could think was, “hmmm…I bet she hooked up,” while the other explains that she was outside the bar where the wet t-shirt contest was, and saw Siobhan drag me in.  (Seriously, she grabbed my hand and dragged me in.  “Let’s go before we miss it!”.  It was lame anyways.)  Then she says, “Well we went to Tricks and danced there.”  I said I went home cause I was beat after the wet-shirt scream fest.  I turn to Annmarie and inquisitively ask, where did you go?  I should have seen this coming but she says, “Well i woke up in a tree house with kangaroos all around me! Ha ha ha ha ha!”  No shame for this little Danish pastry.  She caught the big blue eyed fish, saw the great white (c_ck), sailed the seventh dreadlocked sea….

For you astute readers I need not say more.  For those of you who haven’t had coffee yet, that dog of a dive instructor, that slut of a survivalist, that Tarzan of love Martin….oh I just would
give Ned’s Speedos to see him for one minute and give him a solid poke in the chest and mockingly ask him if that was his plan all along.

Ah, I’m not bitter, cause the woman was irritating and not my type.  Really.  I’m just saying,
that’s all…



P.S.  Avocados here are A$11 each (about US$6)!!  That’s some expensive guacamole, huh Steve?  Pineapples are about US$1.