For sailors and adventurers alike, one of the jewels of the world’s oceans is the Great Barrier Reef. The three of us have all traveled among the islands and reefs that form this 1250-mile-long string of pearls in the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia. It is the one place in the world that we all agree we would each visit again and again if we had the chance.
Captain Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to sight this incredible formation, and even with his expert seamanship he was one of the earliest explorers to experience its danger. While mapping the area HMS Endeavour ran aground on a shoal. The only way to save his ship and crew was to throw six of his cannons over the side to lighten its load and refloat his damaged vessel.
Cook careened his ship—that is, removed its cargo and used ropes tied from the masts to the shore to pull it onto its side—to make repairs to its hull. He later went back to retrieve his cannons, which he had marked with buoys, but was unable to find them. An underwater expedition from the American Academy of Natural Sciences found them 200 years later, and the cannons can now be seen at museums in London, Wellington, Philadelphia, Cooktown and two in Sydney.
These days the region is no longer navigated by those iron men in wooden ships, and is relatively safe for modern day sailors. You could spend a year roaming about this vast area and never see all of the natural beauty that it has to offer.
This is where Ron of Argyll, the classic wooden yacht featured in Beer in the Bilges, spent many years as a charter vessel, taking passengers on adventures of their own into the sublime enchantment of the islands. Chief among its sailing destinations was the Whitsundays.
Chart Your Course
You don’t have to be a sailor to chart your course to the Great Barrier Reef. In the past, the islands have welcomed celebrities like the late George Harrison of the Beatles, tennis champion Chris Evert, and “Quincy” star Jack Klugman. These days the area hosts contemporary celebrities like Sir Richard Branson, who bought one of islands for the exclusive use of his Virgin Airlines employees, and many other less well-known visitors.
No matter who you are or how you find your way there, you will be sure to find a part of the Great Barrier Reef that appeals to you. And you can also be sure that it will call you back again and again, just as it does the three of us.