My Worst Holiday Ever – Stranded on Michaelmas Cay

March 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Travel & Adventures

I recently got reminded of this adventure, when at my language school here in Milan we were asked to talk about our worst holiday ever.


Here it goes:

Map of Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, Tropical North Queensland, Australia

Map of Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, Tropical North Queensland, Australia


It all took place about 13 years ago in Tropical Northern Queensland in Australia. My husband at that time, two male friends (of the softer more feminine kind) and myself had decided to go on a boat trip for a 7 -10 days over the Easter holidays. The owner and skipper of the boat; a man in his mid to late sixties that had been at sea most of his life had worked with my ex some years ago. They had come to the agreement that if we cleaned the boat, filled it up with fuel and got all the food for our trip…there would not be any other costs.


The plan was to cruise around on the Great Barrier Reef, snorkel dive and explore some small islands …and we had been assured that all the dive and snorkel equipment was included and in good condition.

It took us hours to clean he catamaran (motorboat) as it had been sitting in the skipper’s back yard for quite a while. When she had been filled up and we were just about ready to taker her down to the sea, the skipper’s son and his friend turned up. Like the rest of us they were in their early twenties, but we couldn’t have been further apart personality wise. It turned out that the son owed money to his friend, that he could not afford to pay back. Instead, the friend had been proposed a holiday on his fathers boat to cancel the debt….and he had agreed.  They had been up all night and morning, high on god knows what and were not taking no for an answer. When we said that the food would not be enough (they had not brought anything …but drugs it turned out later) they said that they would catch their own food…they had brought their harpoons. The father wanted to help his son and in the end we were left with the choice of not going on a holiday or going with them. Without really thinking that much we decided to go and we all left promptly.


Photo: Upolu Reef, Tropical North Quensland, Australia

It all started reasonable well; we anchored near Upolu Cay and jumped in the water. The dive equipment didn’t look safe so I went for the snorkel gear even though it was cracked and bleached from years in the sun and the tube was covered in green algae. Anyway, I went for a swim and saw the boat that I happened to have worked on a couple years earlier. (An old-fashioned wooden sailboat with two masts, that took tourists diving and snorkelling over the day) I swam over for a visit and by the time I made it back to the boat I needed to go to the toilet. There was a toilet…the skipper was right about that…but the toilet did not have any walls, no visual protection at all. It was right in the middle of the boat and surrounded by 6 men. – It’s ok, you can go, we will look away. Strangely I did not feel comfortable having a shit in front of a handful of guys. My ex suggested the water, but as the two junkies were diving just below I didn’t warm much to that idea.  I came up with the brilliant idea of taking the zodiac to the small coral cay Little Upolu, near by.




Photo: Rick Steininger Little Upolu Cay, Great Barrier Reef Australi

*I met Rick in the late 90’s at the Pier Shopping Mall in Cairns, where we were booth working at the time. It was pretty much at the beginning of his photographic career, but was already attracting a crowd with his beautiful panoramic photos of pristine nature.  I befriended his lovely Japanese wife Michiko… we used to drive for an hour 1-2 times a week to go and meditate with an enlightened woman named Patricia. Great times!

A lot of planning went in to the shooting of that photo. Michiko sat still for 13 hours on that island while Rick was up in a 45 foot tower in a game fishing boat. Thanks to all that meditation practice she was cool with it.  It was before mobile phones were commonly used…well it wouldn’t have been coverage there back then even if she had had one. She simply sat and meditated the whole time under a red umbrella.

I can really recommend to check out Ricks site, or even better, one of his galleries if you have the opportunity.   



Photo: Bjava, Red snapper grilled over the fire on a spit

Unfortunately the others thought it was a great idea as well and suggested to make a fire and have lunch on the cay. As the others prepared the food I snuck off to the other side on the cay. As you can see from the photo, there were no trees, not even some grass to hide in. Like a turtle I dug a whole and laid down to do my shit…..what came out of me wasn’t by far as nice as turtle eggs though. Then I went in the ocean and scrubbed myself with sand. Mission accomplished!

We had a lovely late lunch with fresh as it can get grilled red snapper …caught by the son and his friend… and a big green salad. Yummy!
 Photo: Craig Lamotte / Michaelmas Cay, Natural Reserve and Bird Sanctuary

My ex, our 2 friends and myself wanted to go snorkelling around Hastings Reef and Norman Reef but the two junkies told us that they were in charge. We tried to negotiate but they would not have it…. they wanted to go harpooning in deeper waters. They started to show an aggressive side and wondered if we wanted to have a fight over it. We went along. We started to notice how the captain seamed to be senile, he forgot where we were and would hit the reef a few times. When it started to get dark one of the 2 motors stopped and we were told that we (my ex, our two friends and myself) had to sleep on some island because there were not enough room in the boat.

The captain kept an eye of for an island, saw Michaelmas Cay and decided to drop us there….despite my protests.      *Michaelmas Cay is a famous Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary.  Almost 100.00  birds were nesting in that period and it was strictly forbidden to even get close to the island.



At least they left us with food and water. We were pretty confident that, even though they were very likely to just abandon us, we would find help the next day…surly at least one boat should be able to spot us.

Photo: Rick Steininger Michaelmas Cay Natural Reserve and Bird Sanctuary

It was already dark and painfully noisy from the nearly 100.000 birds nesting on the island. Blasted with sand, I still managed to set up our portable gas stove and coked up a tasty (but sand crispy) Khao pad (Thai rice dish). The boys sat and drank bears after the meal and I started to dig a hole in the sand… I had practice now. But I was not digging another latrine, I was digging me a bed where I could sleep without being sand blasted. The guys laughed at me and thought I was over ambitious. It didn’t take long however until they joined me….it had started to rain! Everyone jumped down in my hole, broadened it a bit and put a small plastic cover over us (the only thing waterproof that we had). We were lying tight like sardines in the sand. It was cold and hard, my mouth and ears full of sand, the noise was deafening and our plastic cover not entirely water tight. The only thing comforting was that we were in good company and that at least there was no chance of freezing to death.



Photo: Unknown / Michaelmas Cay Natural Reserve and Bird Sanctuary

Surprisingly, about 10 o’clock the guys came to pick us up as if nothing had happened. They had been up all night again! They also offered us some stuff to not have to sleep, to get the most out of the trip…..we weren’t overly curious to try.

One of the motors want quiet and a few minutes later the second motor stopped as well. Reason being that the petrol tanks had been without lids over the rainy season…. the skipper had not removed the water from the tanks before filling them with fuel. They took the small motor from the zodiac and hand held it. We said we wanted to go back home. The son and his friend started to be nasty: – You fucking pussies, you are not men! Can’t you ruff it! We don’t want to waist our time by taking you back to Cairns, especially now when we only have the small motor…it will take forever to get back. You wanted a holiday at sea, well we are at sea now…what’s your problem! My ex and friends got scared and used me as an excuse, saying that I am a woman and it’s too much for me. They were buying that so we started heading home again.

I got my period there and then. The thought of putting up a tampon in front of all the guys was not appealing. I managed to climb up on top of the captains hut, held on to a small antenna with one hand and fiddling with my shorts and a tampon with the other…. the sea was pretty ruff and balance wise it felt like standing up on an angry bull. I couldn’t help to feel a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, wondering if any of the boats around had used their binoculars. What a sight!


Many hours later when we came back to shore the junkies thought that they were just going to drop me off and get out again. When they realised that neither of us were interested they started to abuse us. By that time my friends had lost their temper and started to yell back. The 2 guys charged ….and we ran. They gave up and went back to the boat. That was the end of that holiday!


I can warmly recommend the area, for snorkelling, fishing, diving etc. but not quite the way I did it.