Sailing the Whitsundays - Anniversary Surprise Part 2
Posted by Elise Cook on
This will forever be one of the greatest weeks of my life, probably the best surprise I will ever plan, and the moment that Dom realised what was happening - one of my favourite moments of our married life.
Dom has been talking about buying a cheap little dinghy and towing it behind Scout for about a year. He loves being on the water, and loves the idea of being able to shoot out on a boat wherever we are. It’s a nice idea, but it hasn’t happened and in all honestly, probably won’t. However, he was telling me about this great idea to buy a dinghy, for the hundredth time (if you aren’t Australian a dinghy is a tiny tin boat), and it gave me this idea!
Sailing around the Whitsundays for our fifth wedding anniversary.
I got so excited, I started googling and sending off emails. There are a bunch of companies who do sailing adventures, I just had to pick the right one. I got a bundle of emails back, and one of them made me laugh - I had accidentally emailed a company who do bareboat yacht hire, which means they hire you a yacht and you take it out and drive it around yourself. ‘Wouldn’t that be the life?!’, I thought… but no. While I’m sure Dom could handle his dream to drive a dinghy around, a giant luxury yacht might be a little out of his league. Once I responded, apologising, the lovely lady from said company asked to have a chat on the phone, and I obliged.
We were sitting in the public library in Byron Bay, so I slipped outside to the park, and had a chat with Vikki, who informed me that The Whitsundays is the only place in the world where you don’t need a boat license to drive a yacht (which neither of us have) or even... much experience. I told Vikki that Dom had driven a medium sized dinghy or two in his time, and is a very skilled Kombi driver (which actually does take skill friends), but not much more than that.
Vikki said, “If he’s driven a Kombi successfully around Australia he’s obviously got some common sense - you’ll be perfectly fine. We do a very thorough briefing, and teach you everything you need to know before you head out.”
Before I knew it, I was agreeing and excitedly booked us in for a week on board one of the Queensland Yacht Charters boats, alone! Just the two of us at sea.
I tell you what, it was hard to keep a straight face when I went back in to the library and sat across from Dom.
It was also very hard to keep it a secret in the weeks leading up. This was my first time surprising Dom - ever, and as far as he knew, we had to be in Sydney by a certain date before our anniversary, and I told him I had found the perfect spot to camp (and keep it simple) on the South Coast to celebrate. He didn't suspect a thing.
If you read my last blog post, you’ll know already how my surprise anniversary celebration began in Byron, which he was already gobsmacked by. However, he thought that was the entire surprise and that we were just going to stick around Byron until his sister and little niece arrived a week and a half later (which I had planned it all around so he could see them). After three days at Temple Farmhouse, I told him to pack his bags, we were going somewhere else.
We had a 2 hour drive to Brisbane, where we were jumping on a flight to Airlie Beach. He had no clue where we were going, only that I made us stop for batteries, fairy lights, and lots of candles. I’d given him two clues; One was the word ‘Banjo’ and two was that it was going to be very dark at night. He was very confused. However, when I made us stop for these objects - Scout wouldn’t start again. She was making the worst noise I’ve ever heard any car make.
I immediately thought, ‘I knew this was all too good to be true.’
Normally in these situations, I’m the one who goes into action mode. I’m the one saying, “It’ll all be fine”, and jumping on the phone to roadside assistance. But I completely froze up. Or was it a meltdown? Either way, I was no help. We had to be at the airport in thirty minutes, and we were still... about twenty five minutes away.
I sat with my head in my hands, feeling devastated, saying something like, “No no no no no… not now Scout, not NOW!”
“Whats happening? Do something... Call for help.” Dom said casually.
“We have no time to call for help, you got to get this girl going!”
“That’s not going to happen, we need a tow.”
“We have to catch a flight!”
“Yes, we have to go right now.”
Thank goodness Dom still had his wits about him. He jumped on the phone to our mechanic, ad explained to sound. Our mechanic agreed is sounded terminal for Scout, the gears were gone, but explained how we could get her started and told us not to stop, or change gears until we made it to the airport.
We JUST made it. Literally - minutes to go, we left Scout in the carpark, and ran in. Because Airlie Beach’s airport is called ‘Proserpine’, and Dom has never heard of ‘Proserpine’ he still had no clue where we were going. I was laughing again now, it was going to happen!
Once we landed, Dom cottoned on that we were in The Whitsundays. We jumped on a shuttle bus, which dropped us at the boat harbour right on sunset. It was after-hours, so Vikki had left instructions for me so I could find our yacht.
I proceeded to walk straight down onto the dock, with Dom excited and confused behind me.
“WHERE are we going?” he kept asking.
“This… is Banjo!” I said standing in front of a beautiful, very big, yacht.
“Whaaaaat??” he said dropping his bags laughing.
Once he got his head around the fact that we were going to sleep on the yacht, it took a LOT of convincing that there would be no crew or skipper joining us, that he would be the captain, and that we would be spending a week on Banjo, sailing around the Whitsunday Islands, just the two of us. He went between flipping out with excitement, to looking a bit worried and saying things like, “But how am I going to get this thing out of the harbour?!”.
We spent the first night sleeping on board Banjo in the harbour, getting familiar with the space, and popped out early the next morning to do a big grocery shop. There was a full size fridge on board, so we were easily able to stock up with supplies to last the week.
I had also organised to have a couple of pre-made platters dropped off, as I thought that first night we may be overwhelmed and it would be nice to just pull up somewhere and have something ready. Gabi from Peach & Pear Catering dropped off two beautiful platters, ready to go - one for an evening and one for a morning spread.
When we returned from our shop, Vikki came down to say hello and wish us happy travels, and Frank, a seasoned sailor, came on board and spent a couple of hours teaching us everything we needed to know - how to read the map and tide times, how to radio in twice a day with updates and to check the weather, safe places to anchor depending on the weather, how to anchor - something that definitely requires teamwork - and how to drive the yacht! Dom was the designated captain, and I the anchorwoman.
It was a lot of information, but as we began it all sunk in and Dom absolutely loved the learning aspect of the whole experience.
We set out towards the islands and spent the week island hopping, swimming, snorkeling, and paddle boarding off our yacht, watching the sun rise and set from the water, drinking plenty of wine and aperol spritz, dancing on the
front of Banjo with the music up, and sleeping under the stars. All but one drizzly night, we pulled our bedding up onto the big daybed and slept outside under the most sparkly skies.
Each morning we'd assess the weather and tide times, look at the map and make a plan for the day, choosing where to stay each night. If we liked a spot, we could stay as long as we liked, but we enjoyed exploring so we moved daily.
Almost the entire time we had no reception. What a majestic place to be completely unplugged and disconnected from the rest of the world, and completely connected with each other and our surroundings. What a perfect way to reflect on our marriage so far, on everything we’ve discovered and learnt since we first said ‘I do’, and set new intentions and dreams for the next chapter.
On the actual morning of our fifth wedding anniversary, and the one night we slept downstairs in one of the rooms, we woke to realise that we’d come unanchored. So there we were, 4am, yellow raincoats on while it absolutely poured down, in the pitch black both holding torches, trying to re-anchor the yacht in the inlet we’d chosen to anchor in because of the weather. There were cliffs on either side that we couldn’t see because of how dark it was, and it took us five attempts before the we were successful and the achor took. Frank had warned us this might happen, and had taught us what to do, but it was still a little stressful.
However once we were safely anchored, we dried off, put the kettle on, and waited for the sun to rise. As a golden glow began to light up the day, the rain cleared, and everything went still and calm.
For me, this was my absolute favourite morning and almost felt like a little metaphor of our last year.
Navigating new waters... learning so much and working together... re-anchoring together through stressful, or fearful, moments... and learning to trust that the light is never far.
Well, it makes sense in my head. :)
We truly didn’t want our time at sea to end, and you can bet your bottom dollar that we talked about one day travelling by boat rather than by van, and Dom decided he definitely wants to get his boat license so we can do this elsewhere. But for now, the Whitsundays has our hearts and we can’t wait to do it again someday. I also can’t speak highly enough of Queensland Yacht Charters. (If there is anything, or any more intricate details you would like to know about how it all worked, or where we stopped each night, please leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you.)
When we returned I bumped into a man in the office who promptly thanked me with a hug for posting a video story on my Instagram 24 hours prior, because his wife had seen it and saw that I mentioned Dom had no boat license. They were in Perth, and the next day jumped on a flight with their kids and were about to spend a week sailing as a family. I honestly can’t tell you how happy it made me, the ripple effect happening so fast! It made me so overjoyed because I know that family were about to have one of the most incredible experiences together. I hope they pulled the bedding outside one of the nights.
The fact that you can have this incredible adventure, in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, immersed in nature, unplugged and away from everything, with an element of learning and having to work at something as a team - it’s pretty special.
I’ve spoken before about how important I feel it is to have getaways, short or long, and go somewhere where you can see the stars. Not somewhere where you’ll be entertained, wining and dining or seeing shows or sights or being immersed in more busyness. Go somewhere where there is no artificial light, where there’s no noise pollution, where you can see the stars in all their glory. The stars that are always there regardless, but that we just can't see with everything going on in our cities.
Because when you’re somewhere that lets you see the stars, somewhere away from it all, you have the opportunity to connect with yourself or your loved ones in a way that we are rarely able to do. Rarely able to do because we are constantly surrounded by busyness, and artificial light, and noise pollution. And when you connect in this way, or go within yourself, you’ll see stars of another kind. Hundreds of thousands of sparkling stars that are always there, we just let our lives get so full and busy, we can’t always see, or feel them.
Queensland Yacht Charters - if you'd ever like to plan your own Whitsunday adventure, Vikki will look after you and they have so many different boats for all budgets. I can't praise them enough, they were wonderful.
Peach & Pear Catering - for beautiful pre made platters and spreads.
Ride the Tide Paddle Boards - for anyone who is on the hunt for an inflatable paddle board. Dom bought me one of their vintage wooden boards years ago for my birthday, which was too big to travel with, so we got a wooden looking inflatable one for the road - and love it!
And in case you're wondering... yes - when we landed back at Brisbane airport, Scout would not start. We sat in the carpark from 8:30pm until 4am, waiting for a tow. We wound up getting tows all over Brisbane to various mechanics who all said it was far too big a job and sent us on our way. Eventually we got a recovery tow back to Byron Bay to a wonderful mechanic, but he still shook his head and told us this was a BIG job. Big, bad and nasty. Although this was a hard hit, if there's one thing we've learnt, it's that every single breakdown so far on our journey has led to some kind of breakthrough for us. Being in the right place at the right time, for a very specific reason that we could never have foreseen, or meeting someone we feel we were meant to meet. It's hard to explain, but we've learnt to trust it and lean into it. The light is never far away. So this time, as we sat in the tow truck, the driver commented a number of times at how 'calm' we seemed. We both prayed about it and just knew that we needed to trust that what was happening was, somehow, for some perplexing reason, exactly what we'd called in. And it's a long story, but we were right.