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On Sunday, July 2 it was time to head north to the Whitsunday Islands. Dolphins on the bow (photo by Darin Hayden)Our first destination was Lady Musgrave Island, which was just under 200 miles away. All started well with 15 knots winds allowing us to make reasonable speed.  As this was Darin's first offshore passage, we tried to give her an idea of what to expect. It's winter in Australia and the whales are migrating north to warmer waters so we would had a good chance of seeing some. (In the southern hemisphere, June, July, and August are winter and north is much warmer than south - whales migrating north is akin to birds flying south for the winter in the U.S). We told her we may see dolphins coming to play on the bow. We promised to try to catch a nice fish. We told her about sailing at night - how bright the stars are and how you often see luminescent phosphorus in the water. And of course we mentioned the beautiful sunsets and the dangers of navigating amongst coral reefs.

The first day we were treated to two spectacular whale shows. First, we glimpsed what looked like whales ahead of us. As we got closer, we were able to get a great view. Two large whales engaged in what appeared to us to be mating. They were jumping and splashing and grunting and groaning - quite an impressive scene! We slowed down and watched for awhile before moving on. Just an hour or so later,  we spotted more whales, leaping clear out of the water. Though not quite as close, it was still quite a site to behold - huge monstrous creatures launching their many tons straight up! Darin's show was off to a good start!Bradley with the yellowfin tuna

As the afternoon wore on, the winds became very light and variable and according to the weather forecast would remain that way until the next day. So we decide to stop for the night at Wide Bay, a nice anchorage where we could have a nice dinner and a good night's sleep. In the morning, we set off again for Lady Musgrave. This would involve an overnight sail. We had a great day, spotting a few more whales in the distance. Then, as I told Darin it was time for some dolphins, what should show up but several of them right on cue! They frolicked and played in our bow wake for awhile, then headed off. As night came, we reviewed with Darin what to look for while on watch. Darin and I decided to share our night watches and stay up with each other. As night fell, the stars appeared - it was a dark, clear, crisp night and the sky was soon illuminated with millions and millions of them. As the darkness intensified, we could see speck of fluorescent green appearing in the wake - phosphorus disturbed by our passage glowing in the dark. A couple hours after nightfall the moon rose - a spectacular orange glow followed by an almost full moon coming up rapidly over the horizon. I think Darin was getting hooked on this offshore sailing!

The next day brought more clear skies and more dolphins. We were rapidly checking things off Darin's list. One of the few remaining items was to catch a fish. Our line was trailing out back and Bradley and Blake were down below when all of a sudden we heard the unmistakable sound of the line being taken. I sprang to the back and began working the fish, calling for the guys to come and bring in some sail to slow down the boat. It wasn't a large fish, but it was a very nice yellowfin tuna. Soon he was onboard and Bradley had adeptly turned him into steaks for dinner.  We were making good time so we went on past Lady Musgrave and headed for Fitzroy Reef where we again decided to stop for the night and dine on the day's catch. We had to arrive with good daylight in order to safely navigate into the lagoon at Fitzroy. This was Darin and Blake's first experience navigating near a reef. Fortunately, the entrance is well marked and our charts are very good. But you cannot depend on charts for navigating around reefs - you must have good visibility and be able to see well enough to guide the boat through. A reef is made up of coral formations growing together and forming a very solid structure. Often beginning hundreds of feet beneath the water, they can come right up to the surface, sometimes even being exposed at low tide. In a sailboat with a keel over eight feet deep, you must be very vigilant around reefs in order not to hit one. Bad as that would be for the reef, it would be worse for the boat, as hundreds of wrecked ships can attest! Sunset at Fitzroy Reef

As we approached the entrance to Fitzroy, the tide was ebbing, causing a fast flowing current coming out of the entrance. Blake and I positioned ourselves on the bow with hand held radios to guide Bradley through. The water was clear and we could see the reefs. We simply had to tell Bradley which way to go to pick his way through. Though we did it quite successfully, it was a bit of an invigorating experience! The current rushing out against us made it feel like we were going twice as fast as we really were. And though we managed to stay in the deep water, we were sometimes only a few feet from danger. But soon we were safely anchored and enjoying our yellowfin steaks. What a nice dinner! And there was yet one more thing to check off Darin's list - a beautiful sunset with the sky turning orange and the sun sinking down the horizon, unobstructed by anything. Just like in the brochures!

After a peaceful night, we waited until the sun was high enough to see our way out and headed on for the last leg of our trip, another overnight sail to Hamilton Island. The day was sunny but the winds were far from steady. Sometimes they were fine, other times they were so light we had to motor. We were entertained with more whale sightings and an occasional group of dolphins. On night watch, Darin and I had a chance to practice collision avoidance as we spotted two ships, one ahead and one behind us, but both potentially problems. It's always important, especially at night, to be alert for traffic as fast moving, large ships can close in on us in less than 20 minutes from the time they are sighted. We turned on our radar and decided to wake Bradley.  After observing both vessels, we determined the one in front was no threat and we altered course slightly to ensure the one behind us would clear us. Blake, Darin & Kathy ready for a yellowfin dinner

As the winds continued to play with us, we made only moderate speed. We arrived at Hamilton Island at about 4:00am on Friday (fortunately there are no reefs here and the charts are very good). We anchored, had a traditional Shear Madness drink (our special boat drink with a secret recipe) and then headed to bed for a few hours sleep. When we awoke, we went ashore for a nice breakfast and then Darin and I went off to explore Hamilton Island. There are no cars on the island but you can rent a buggy (a golf cart). We spent two hours driving around, seeing the sights, walking along the beach, and unsuccessfully looking for a wallaby (a small kangaroo which I have seen on the island before). Then it was back to the boat for a short sail over to Airlie Beach.  It was a great sail and Darin got some time at the helm. In just a few hours we were there, safely moored and ready to enjoy Darin's last meal onboard - huge T-Bone steaks we had bought in Mooloolaba. Mm-mm -good!           

On Saturday, it was off to the local markets to browse around and stock up on fruits and veggies. Then it was time for Darin to depart for the airport. Bradley and I got ready to head to a party for some friends of ours who Bradley met on our last visit here two years ago. They are a Swedish couple, Sven and Margaretta and they were having a 130th birthday party (he is 70, she is 60). They have a lovely house up on a hill overlooking the water. Darin at the HelmIt was a wonderful party, with great food and many fun people. We had a wonderful time and reluctantly returned to Shear Madness where we unfortunately received some bad news. Blake had just learned that his father had suffered a heart attack while driving and then was involved in a serious car accident. He had very little information, other than that his condition was serious. Obviously Blake would need to return home to Pittsburgh.

As Blake departed, we wished him well and hoped all would be OK back home. We continued to visit with Sven, Margaretta, and our other new friends. We also had time to catch up with our other good friends, David and Marilyn who own a sailboat charter company. We went for long walks in the area, played bridge with some friends, went to a local bridge club and met yet more new friends.

Bradley and I went off for a couple of days to nearby Hook Island, about a three hour sail. We had a nice sail over and arrived in time for a short dive. We wanted to test all our equipment and everything worked fine. We had a relaxing dinner and a nice evening all alone. The following morning we went for another dive - absolutely beautiful coral and some nice fish. The water was a little chilly, but all in all a very nice dive. After a nice sunset and dinner, we played a little backgammon and slept very well. In the morning we set off for the return sail to Airlie Beach.  We had a little more of an adventure than we had planned as the winds kicked up to about 30 knots. We didn't have the right headsail on for that much wind and we had not put the main up because it was such a short trip. But we eventually arrived safely back at Airlie Beach where it was time for me to get ready to head home for a few weeks. Bradley decided he would not come home as we don't want to leave the boat unattended, so he will stay and continue to work on projects and hopefully have some fun!

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