Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Derwent Hunter Day Cruise

Today was the day my championship eating style paid off. We woke before seven to catch a bus to the marina to board our boat. After settling our 2 for 1 ticket debt and placing our shoes in canvas sacks, we boarded the Derwent Hunter for a day of sailing, snorkeling, and sun.

The Derwent Hunter is a boat built in 1947 as the last project of a professional shipbuilder. It is a two-masted 22 meter vessel with huon pine hull, lovely wood deck and solid pine masts. The feel is not quite pirate ship, not quite yacht, not quite racing vessel. It feels old-ish and classic-ish. All in all not a bad boat to be taking out for a day.

After the obligatory safety briefing and explanation of how to use the toilets we were off from the marina into the aquamarine waters of the Whitsundays off the coast of Airlie Beach. The water was relatively smooth owing to the calmness of the winds. We puttered along on the engine’s power for a fair ways while learning the history of the boat as it has switched hands from private to federal to private to state to federal. We did this all over the tea and coffee and cakes provided for breakfast. I’ve been one to start my day with vegemite toast or muesli and milk as of late. Starting it off with tea and cookies was a new way to go.

Part inclusionary, part energy-saving, the crew sought out any on board who wanted to help with the operation of the ship. That meant that I paired up with a middle-aged teacher from England to help hoist the sails. We got a remarkably good rhythm going from the start and the sail was up in no time. Nothing like a little exercise to start the day. Unfortunately the wind was so low that it ended up being more show than functional and the sails came down at our first stop.

As we puttered into our destination we learned about the safety of snorkeling. As with just about every activity, let the people in charge know if you are prone to heart-attacks or narcolepsy or the like. Not terribly new stuff.

The boat moored off of Black Island and we boarded a small speed boat to get us to the beach fronting Bali Hai reef. It is a reef in the style of every other reef. Coral of various shapes and sizes, large brain coral, fields of stag coral, softer waving arms of coral, weird shapes of living being, all submerged a meter of several under the surface of the water. This reef has the distinction that it is fringing the beach, so you don’t sail to it per se, so much as you sail to the island, and walk/swim out from the beach to the reef. And like just about every reef I’ve seen, the colors are there but nowhere near as vibrant as the brochures.

More importantly, unlike the last reef I visited, it was a perfect day. Sun shining bright. Clear water. It allowed the coral to light up a bit more and the fish to stand out against the background a little better. It also helped to illuminate the cone jellyfish. They are transparent as expected, but they take the form of a banana peel that has been emptied and then loosely put back together, a bit less pointy, almost in the shape of an egg. Each peel has a brown stripe running the length which looks unimpressive until you get close. That’s when you realized that it is bioluminescent and the Stroop Effect has it looking like runway lights are pulsing down the length of the jelly. They are magnificent up close, and since they can’t sting you, you can actually take a close look without fear of pain or death.

From there it was more tea and cakes on our way to the next beach. The island was a bit ridiculous visually in the sense that places rarely look like an idealized archetype. The words tropical island may stir images of palm trees or bungalows on white sand beaches. This wasn’t that place. But it was the place with jungle at one end and a long spit of sand – only sand – that ran off one side such that you could be surrounded by water nearly 300 degrees at the end. It didn’t hurt that both sides of the beach have coral, or are shallow enough that the water is much lighter for tens of meters out.

Knowing we didn’t have much time, I jumped in the water immediately and was rewarded with a sight not yet scared off by everyone. A giant green turtle. The shell was the size of a manhole cover, the flippers the size of my feet, and the head and neck the size of my forearm. While I don’t think that the turtles in Finding Nemo were particularly inventive characters, I get why they were the ones stereotyped as California stoned surfers. These turtles were chill and completely not put off by a dozen tourists suddenly swimming overhead and buzzing up close. They would just sit and wait for a bit, then when they needed air, they’d come up slowly and nonchalantly glide further down. I duck dove and swam next to one for a bit. Then with the crowds arriving, I bailed further on to find a few more turtles unattended.

Back on the boat we devoured lunch. It was included in the ticket. Being a backpacker on a budget means you don’t get delicious food all too often. And if you do it isn’t usually plentiful. This spread of sandwich fixings and salads was impressive for a boat and even more so in comparison to my options as of late. And so wishing I was like the snake that can eat an egg every few weeks and then go without, I ate a few meals worth of food. I was rewarded with stomach pains and drowsiness.

A whale logged off the side and we stopped for a bit to observe. Apparently logging is the proper term for when they just sit at the surface of the water doing nothing. It seems pretty fitting.* We turned the engine off and everyone stared at the whale intently and silently. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many people be quiet at an appropriate time without being told to. That alone was pretty staggering. It was certainly more staggering than the whale, which continued to do nothing.

Back on course I made my way to the wheelhouse for a photo op. The skipper joined me in there and lined up a shot with a photographers eye. I was genuinely disappointed in myself for the second thought through my head being, “This would make a great profile pic.”

We talked for a while and I came to learn that Dave is a lot like me. He went to university and had a pretty good IT job back in England for a while. Then he got bored and decided that fun was much more important than a career. So he quit and had a string of fun jobs (bartending, diving instructor, working at a ski lodge) that paid enough to keep going. Somehow he found his way to Australia and boats. Learn a boat, work up to where you can’t do much more, then move on to the next. He advised on my abilities to just rock up to a marina and get a boat job (not guaranteed, but quite doable with some perseverance). It is something I am considering if I find myself living near water anytime in the future. I’m enjoying the boating lifestyle enough I may choose to live near water to that end.

He spoke of training his crew, of letting them learn, of knowing it is time to move on from a job when you don’t spend you break time thinking about how to improve something, and of the importance of quality of life over financial stability. It was, in a way, like looking into a future version of myself. One where I haven’t got it all figured out, and I don’t have heaps of money, but one where I’m probably in the top three happiest people on the street on any random street.

I devoured more delicious homemade dips with crackers as I spoke to a guy traveling the east coast. I’d been trying to figure out his story the whole ride and decided that asking was the best way to know. It wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped.

I devoured more as I spoke to a German … couple? The guy was easily in his 60s and the woman could have been anywhere in the 25 to 35 range. They could have been father and daughter, but I don’t think the body language indicated that to be the case. They lamented the strict monitoring of the German people and the inability to get off the grid. I’ve never felt like the US was laid back about stuff before, but, egads!

We pulled into the harbor around 4. I was full. I had seen fish and coral reef. I had walked on pretty beaches. I had swum with giant turtles. And I’d talked work with a guy doing something I think I would love to find out is something I can break into. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, the water was clear. All told, this was an amazing day.

* For a whale, “logging” means sitting in the water like a log and doing nothing. For a human, “logging” is one of the most strenuous jobs I can think of.

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This entry was posted on August 26, 2012 by in Australia, Queensland (Brisbane) and tagged , .

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