Faced with the inexorably positive attitudes of my fellow travellers, I find myself being forced to revisit a recent 12 day sea kayaking trip through the extended chain of islands off the Queensland coast known as the Whitsundays. Forced to revisit it and see it all through a Pollyanna prism and now it is past, to recollect it with a tenderness to equal that of my bottom during the actual trip. And I have discovered that nothing is better for one’s self esteem than survival. Indeed many sea kayaking trips are deemed a grand success on the fact alone that no-one died. It is known as the bottom rung of limbo-dancing optimism.
To be fair it is not difficult to force a positive dimension onto the first day as we were bathed in the glow of the dawning sun as it emerged from behind the contours of Keswick Island and brought with it a glorious day on a glassy sea. We had set off from Bucasia, which despite its name is a delightful spot, at around 4.30am. We had been most originally awakened some time before that by a large and lusty band of whistling ducks, paddling energetically on the thin roof of our cabin in their efforts to be the first to see the sun rise and warm their big pink webbed feet. We were also encouraged to rise early before the tide went out and exposed acres of sand bank and mud flat that we would then be forced to trundle over, staggering under sea kayaks weighed down with the vast coffers of supplies necessary for twelve days’ island hopping. As 90 per cent of the islands have not been endowed with fresh water, our loads included 50kg of fresh water
As we wended our way, somewhat precariously considering the weight of the boat, out into the darkness, the Cyclume tube attached to Dee’s mast waved gently at us like a star in the East, and full of hope, we were on our way. Day one was exceptionally successful, especially for Pete who could have drowned if his malfunctioning skeg had let in more water than it did. We reached a tropical beach lined with waving casuarinas and alive with butterflies and found ourselves almost in paradise. All it needed was a Bounty bar.
To be honest it is more difficult to pollyanna-ise day two as it was hard to stand upright on the shore in the wind and consequently somewhat difficult to comprehend the group decision to embark into two-metre-plus waves flogging themselves round the point. But as the front member of the Mirage double kayak team I had little choice. Philosophically it is like being the rear end of a pantomime pony although I probably end up somewhat wetter, and I do have the dubious advantage of being able to see where I am going, although there were moments when I would have preferred not.
A major positive outcome of day two was the fact we survived the crossing from Keswick to Cockermouth despite being partially submerged and completely waterlogged all the way. We also managed to zigzag our way over each and every wave and trough, and so hopefully may turn out to be champions in terms of distance covered. As well, we managed to avoid a collision with a yacht under gib sail which changed course after it was awakened by Mike’s shouted greetings. Cockermouth beach was hiding round a number of small islets and welcomed us with turtles and calm, a great end to the day.
On day three, psychologically I found it helped enormously to believe we were heading for Island A (the nearest one) when, in fact, we were going to that F Island 32km away. We also had a strong dose of good cheer with the launch of our kite, and we ploughed merrily through the waves for at least three minutes of bliss unblemished by any sort of paddling exertion. It lasted until Rose capsized and we ground to a halt from which our kite never completely recovered. (It is good to be able to record it did fly again happily on a later beach so it suffered no lasting damage to its kitey ego.) We made it to Thomas Island and more doses of good cheer were shared celebrating Lippy’s birthday on Naked Lady Beach with his new Penthouse friend, the amusement aroused by the sexual postures of party hooters, Dee’s delicious food and much mirth and laughter. A thoroughly worthwhile conclusion to that day.
Basking in its seven metres of stream-lined glory, the name of the Mirage double kayak gives a clue to its essential enigma – it carries two paddlers and yet only has room for one set of luggage. Marriages have foundered on less. Remember too the 50kg of fresh water deemed necessary to keep us alive if not clean. And in a further irony, toiletries were an early sacrifice, which is why I ended up with Rastafarian dreadlocks hanging like salted bacon rashers around my face and building up a layer of greasepaint that even the world famous exfoliating qualities of the silica at Whitehaven Beach were unable to remove. Fortunately there was room for the gin and tonic.
Almost falling into the category of mirages were the pretty fluttering sails of our fellow paddlers dancing on far horizons as we slogged manfully (back end) and ponily (front) minus our colourful kite, at the rear. People dropped by and we occasionally enjoyed the company of Dee, or Margot paddling with great integrity also minus a sail. We were generally escorted by the valiant and invincible Vince who deemed it his (much appreciated) responsibility to cheer us on.
Overcoming an almost overwhelming allergy to salt water and sand which developed during the trip, we discovered beaches consisting totally of coral fragments that crunched in a friendly fashion as we staggered up great cyclonic spoil heaps clutching our kayaks as though they were our dearest possessions.
Life perked up enormously underwater and armed with anything to keep us warm we entered the world of old man turtle and liked what we saw (apart from the sight of Pete, who despite enjoying himself enormously, looked like a cross between Don Quixote and the personification of cold). Lippy and Margot took to the water like dolphins, John was unable to catch any crays and for a short time I joined a submarine squad of squid who disguised themselves as Spanish flamenco dancers until their cover was blown. Afterwards, we lolled on the beach like basking walruses in the small quota of Queensland sun that we were permitted and life was indeed good.
So overall what were the positive seams that threaded their watery way through our trip? Rose said her toenails grew faster on the sea. But more than anything, the place: the emerald islands rising like Japanese woodcuts mislaid in Oz; rain falling like jewels on the surface of the black sea; Pentecost’s prow heaving skywards; joyfully racing Raggamuffin, complete with its complement of yellow-coated and miserably wet pepper pots, up Solway Passage; bouncing around the Pinnacles on N.E. Hook; the turtles peering slowly out of the waves and blessing our passing. Secondly, the group, each one – Dee, Pete, Vincible, my lovely John, Margot and Lippy, the moonstruck Mike and Rose – all eager in their own way to suck every iota of marrow out of life’s fish bones (metaphorically speaking, we caught none). Yes, the group that hooed and hurrahed hilariously as we heaved the boats up and down the beaches and found so much to laugh about and be content with. It almost persuaded me that I had, after all, enjoyed the trip, even if I had ended up with someone else’s biceps.