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Shaolin...sailing the Coral Sea
By Leonie J Campbell
Monday, April 21, 2003
Not rated by the Author.
The mystic of sailing in a junk named 'Shaolin' and exploring the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef in Northen Queensland...is paradise
The trees rustled in the breeze and the birds welcomed the new day with their morning greetings. With a gentle sigh the waves surged towards the white sands of Four Mile beach, bringing their largesse of small shells and broken pieces of whitened coral. Stretching my arms above my head I gazed skyward noting the beauty of my garden and the brilliant azure blue of the sky. Little puffs of high cloud fled towards land; retreating inland, seeking to shroud the highest mountains.
Today was going to be a wonderful adventure; a trip to the Low Islands off the coast of Port Douglas, Queensland; to snorkel in the Coral seas. ‘Shaolin’ is a Chinese junk out of Hong Kong and has an interesting history spanning fifty years. Its current owners, Alex and Ric wet the imagination of the tourists; with tales of pirates and drug running in Shaolin’s dark past, as the junk sailed throughout the South China Sea to Southeast Asia. Alex and Ric’s passionate concern for the precious ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rain forest is shared by many locals. They remind visitors of their responsibility to the environment; its future depends on keeping a balance between man and nature.
“Shaolin’s history is rich with stories of battles with marauding pirates and violent storms as she ran the ‘drug run’ into exotic ports. In the late eighties, Shaolin ended her days in a Kowloon dry dock; her hull and decking in a sorry state, forgotten by her masters.” States Alex gazing up into the rigging.
An English gentleman had been making enquiries about buying a genuine Junk, and promised a reward to his servants if they could satisfy his desires. The offer of a reward tempted his servant and with the assistance of an old seaman, he found the Shaolin. Elated, and they ran to their master bearing good news. Mr. Holmes, was delighted with their find; the junk although in poor condition was still sound and he instructed his men to repair the junk, back to its original condition. Three months of hard work finally restored Shaolin to her former beauty, and her new brown sails were unfurled, ready for her first voyage in many years. Mr. Holmes was a wealthy man who had made his money in collecting antiquities throughout Asia, plus his clever investments in commercial property, in down-town Hong Kong. The Shaolin was his latest interest, and he invited a number of influential members of the community to accompany him on its maiden voyage. As Mr. Holmes was an important man with many varied interests, the time he had to spare cruising on ‘Shaolin’ lessened and she was forgotten, once again.
Shaolin was discovered once again, by a young adventurer called Nicholas Dene. He offered Mr. Holmes a fair price for the disused junk and immediately set sail; destination Australia. Leisurely Shaolin cruised in the South China Sea, following the coastline to Hai Phong, Vietnam. Nicholas Dene was a rich man and his interests lay in collectable antiques; his knowledge of the markets of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand were extensive. He was renowned for recognizing something special, and he employed dangerous men to protect his treasures of the east. Shaolin visited many of the tiny islands of the Philippines and Indonesia; at times the journey was fraught with danger, as pirates firing cannon shot over her bow, and attempted to board the junk. Finally Nicholas Dene tired of his Asian voyage and decided to seek land on the Australian coastline. The junk surged through the Coral Sea heading for Cooktown’s port. A fierce storm blew them off course and Nicholas Dene found that he was nearer to Port Douglas; decision made, they negotiated channels of the Barrier Reef and arrived in Port.
Dene decided to travel inland to the Hinterlands, seeking new adventures and sold ‘Shaolin’ to the first bidder. The Junk being in a sad condition and needing repairs from its long ocean voyage, sat in dry dock for months. Over a period of many months, several interested buyers would view Shaolin, but they all decided that she was worst for wear and would be expensive to repair. Forgotten, Shaolin continued to sit in dry-dock; her sails needed mending, her decks needed caulking and painting.
Eventually Shaolin came to the attention of her current owners, Alex and Ric, and they began the task of restoring the junk to her former splendor. They had been looking for a boat and a life style of sailing visitors to the Great Barrier Reef; exploring the abundance of sea life and the wonders of the reef. Many months flew past, while they re-fitted Shaolin; repairing her great sails, until finally she was sea-worthy once again. The day they took the junk to sea was a memorable one; this important test was to make sure she was capable of handling the run out to the Low Islands with a crew to gain her accreditation of sea-worthiness. Alex and Ric were now ready to advertise their afternoon cruises and prepare for the tourists season.
There is something romantic and exciting about sailing on a junk; perhaps it was the boats history, which is told to visitors on each voyage to the Low Islands. It stands alone when you view it besides the huge Catamarans like ‘Quicksilver’ who travel to the outer reefs, daily. Shaolin has its own mystic, and a wooden boat with large brown sails is always more fascinating to the individual’s imagination.
Once you have discarded your shoes and been invited on-board, you are offered a hot or cold drink and told about the cruise and the responsibilities of snorkeling off the island. You are taken through the ‘drill’ and learn about the safety precautions necessary when diving or snorkeling in deep waters. Ric stands before the ships wheel, steering a steady course through the azure seas, towards their buoy mooring near the Low Islands. If the winds are right the broad-sheets are un-furled high above you, brown and square sails, taut and proud. The lucky tourists sit on the bow deck, which presents a wonderful 360o view, as you leave land, far behind.
It’s not unusual for Dolphins to follow the boat and schools of fish or large tortoises to rise to the surface. While you relax in the sunshine and breathe the sea air, you get a whole new perspective of life and troubles simple melt away. Before you reach the Low Islands, a substantial lunch is served and conversation flows between tourists and locals. Once the boat is moored against its buoy, Alex fits out the tourists with Lycra dive suits; these are necessary because of the ‘Boxed Jellyfish,’ who’s sting can be fatal. Much laughter ensures as goggles and flippers are fitted and you are taught how to maneuver in the shallow waters. Then over the side into the ‘Glass-bottomed’ boat for a short ride to the white sand beach of the island. As you head towards the shore, Ric explains about the sea-life below you; large grouper, flocks of ‘Clown fish’ and an obliging tortoise rises to the surface. Your ‘under-water world’ experience is waiting to begin, and you clumsily done your goggles and flippers and head out into the warm waters of ‘The Great Barrier Reef.’ Time seems to stand still as you float on the surface, face-down, fascinated by the waving, brilliantly colored corals and the giant clams searching for food with wide-open mouths. The swaying life of the corals is fascinating and many divers specially come to the reef to see the release of the coral spore, as it explodes forth from the flowerets of the coral. Black and yellow coral trout swim past within hands reach, and shoals of tiny fish surround you. It’s a magic experience; where else could you see a living world of movement, color, and exotic creatures all around you. If you’re really fortunate, you will see the tortoises rising from the depths and swimming on the surface with their heads raised, as they take a deep breath. They are curious of humans and will often swim towards you, and you must retreat, allowing them room to pass by.
We are very fortunate to be able to share this experience with all creatures and protection of the reefs is paramount and must be abided by all fishermen and divers. Run-off from the land through poor farming practices, and the ‘Crown of Thorns’ starfish has devastated sections of the reef, which must be protected for future generations to experience.
Returning to the Shaolin everyone is excited by their personal experience of another world beneath the waves. We are offered fruit to eat and a cool drink; diving for an hour is tiring and refreshments are welcome. Some people prefer to sit quietly inside the boat and chat with friends. The more adventurous ones are offered the opportunity to steer the junk or take down the main sail when entering port again. My most memorable experience is sitting on the bow, watching the sea and sky change color as we return to land. The sunset is brilliant oranges with tumulus clouds building on the horizon; the distant mountains and land mass hazy in the dying sun. I will never tire of this experience of reef, color and friendship and intend to return again to the under-water world of the reef. The light is almost gone as we enter the inlet and pass the ‘Combined Yacht Club’ full of people who love the experience of life in the tropics. The diners raise their glasses and wave welcome, as another boat returns safely to its nightly mooring.
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|Reviewed by Barbara Terry
|Thnx Leonie for sharing this educational jaunt to the Great Barrier Reef, a place I have only read about in National Geographic. As it is for Regis, this is a very educational piece for me too. I am looking forward to reading more of your stories, as you do write them so well and so vivid. May the Lord Jesus bless you, and those whom you love, and be with you always, and at your side constantly. With much love in my heart, stubborn to a fault, joy to the world, peace on earth & ((((HUGGGSSS)))), Barbie
"If I have to be this girl in me, Then I may as well be."
|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|This is an educational experience for me, Leonie. Thank you. Love and peace to you. Regis|