Sailing with the Smallwoods: Fun in the sun

Sharon and Julian Smallwood enjoy some fun in the sun when they call in at Airlie for the annual Fun Race and then head out for some whale-watching.

Since my last post we've been getting to know the mainland suburb of Airlie Beach. Affectionately termed “a drinking town with a sailing problem,” Airlie is a lively place to say the least. On Saturday, September 12, the Whitsunday Sailing Club hosted its annual Fun Race, accompanied by one of the biggest parties of the year.

So the story goes, the fun race started in 1976 as a private contest between sailing vessels Dahlia and Torres Herald II. Owners Bob Porter and Allen Southwood originally competed for the grand prize of a bottle of Bundaberg Rum. Allen and his wife Barbara were reputedly spectators at this year's event, which inflation seems to have bypassed. After three decades of racing history the trophy has been downsized to an empty bottle of Mount Gay Rum. No wonder the entry fee is only $10!

Happily the Fun Race isn't just for sailors. Would-be models can also compete for the hotly contested “Mr Six-Pack” and “Miss Figurehead” titles. This year's prize for Miss Figurehead was a generous $1,000 while Mr Six-Pack commiserated with a (full) bottle of Mount Gay Rum.

On Friday night we paid a visit to the clubhouse where registration was taking place. Julian somehow won the lucky door prize – the beer of his choice. Walking out with a bunch of Pure Blondes undoubtedly put a smile on my husband's face.

Brilliant II anchored briefly in Muddy Bay to watch the start of the race. In contrast to the recent Audi Hamilton Island spectacular, this year's Fun Race participants had plenty of wind for their 16-mile triangular course.

Unfortunately Muddy Bay is not the most quiescent of anchorages in any sort of developed breeze, so rather than wait for the winners we weighed anchor, left the party behind and headed for the sanctuary of the Whitsunday Islands.

Here creatures of a different sort are also having fun in the sun. Over the past few weeks we've seen some amazing displays from migrating humpback whales. Courting couples have treated us to shows the like of which I've never witnessed before. Fin slapping, tail waving and crashing leaps have held us mesmerised on deck.

The ship's cats don't quite know what to make of it all. On one occasion my blue Burmese turned to me with a wide-eyed expression that might as well have said, “and that's a fish?”

At 5am one morning we were woken by the sound of whale song resonating through the hull. The low moans of adults were clearly distinguishable from the higher-pitched cries of their calves. We are so incredibly fortunate to experience the wonders of nature in this way.

Of course, we're not the only ones who've had good luck in the whale-watching stakes. On August 25th the famous white whale Migaloo paid a visit to the region. Passengers on board the Fantasea Adventure vessel Wonder spent an hour observing this marvel of the species, en route from their day trip to Hardy Reef.

With daily events like this I sometimes have to hold my breath. You certainly never know what's next.

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