Storm above, Calm below
As the wind kicked up to around 35 knots, the entire boat slammed against each wave as we raced towards shore. Braced in my bunk at the bow of the RumRunner, I overheard one of the crew members voice her fears about making it back. The entire night had been rough, with a storm tossing the boat around like a toy, but nothing compared with the three hours of pure hell it took to make it back to Cairns in one piece. While snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef was incredible, I'm mostly glad that I lived to tell the tale.
Day 1 - Leaving Cairns
We set off from Cairns early in the morning and the waves got choppier as the land disappeared behind us. It was about 3 hours to our first dive and snorkel stop and I stayed on the deck to combat seasickness with fresh air. The RumRunner goes to the Outer Great Barrier Reef (as well as a Coral Sea trip which takes 10 hours to reach). It was quite cloudy, but when the sun shone on the reef, all the vibrant colors came alive. Stunning is the only word to describe it.
After spending the day snorkeling, we showered over the toilet (um, a bit difficult...) and tucked into some dinner. The boat's quarters are very simple, with bunks and foam pads mounted right into the sides of the ship. However, it has a full kitchen and the captain and crew took turns preparing food, with plenty to go around. At night, after anchoring into our "campsite," the captain gave a presentation on the different kinds of fish that can be found at the Great Barrier reef. We learned about the 'Romeo and Juliet fish' that spend their lives in pairs. If one of them dies, the other dies of a broken heart in less than 48 hours. There are snails that can kill you, fish with spines that can kill you, seasnakes that spend their entire lives in the ocean... so basically a lot of reasons not to touch anything.
A night of no sleep
After a captain led sing-along, the wind and rain started to pick up. David, his mom and I retired to our bunks in the bow of the ship and as the wind increased the boat began to sway. Back and forth, back and forth. I couldn't sleep. Not one bit. I didn't sleep on the overnight train in Thailand and I didn't sleep on this tremendously moving boat. Rain pelted down. Waves crashed over the side. By the wake up call I was exhausted.
Day 2 - nearly shipwrecked
Day 2 I attempted to nap as David fought waves while snorkeling. It was really difficult to see anything because the waves were churning everything up. With just two dives on day 2, the crew raised the sails and that's when the wild ride began. Normally, boats will go out until the wind reaches 15 or 20 knots. Our sails were fighting against 35 knots of wind, with huge waves thrown in the mix. The worst part was that it didn't stop. It was three hours of bracing ourselves in our bunks, feeling like we were bobbing up 10 feet in the air only to come crashing down 5 seconds later. Ironically, we had met a former crew member of the RumRunner on our rainforest tour the day before. He told us some stories of the ship without power or signals, stuck in the Coral Sea 10 hours from land and about being caught in a cyclone. He also mentioned that the RumRunner would never sink, because it's extremely buoyant. As David and his mom grew seasick, my adrenaline was kicking in, and surprisingly I wasn't seasick any longer. At no point did the crew ask if we were ok or if we needed anything. The situation seemed to be beyond them as they fell over and got seasick just like the rest of us. Thank goodness our captain knew what he was doing, because it sure appeared that the crew didn't.
As we neared Cairns, the water finally began to smooth out and we cruised in to dock. I've never been so happy to see land in my life... well except for that time that my plane hit the runway, bounced back up and then slid in Costa Rica.
Have you had a rough trip? Tell us about it in the comments below!
is an American educator, creator and wellness influencer who has been living the abroad life since 2009! She is bird obsessed, always a travel jinx and pays the bills by teaching English. Learn how to get abroad and live your best life once you're there!