Queenslander Simon Thornalley has found connection and purpose in sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural experiences aboard a century-old timber boat. For travellers looking to explore the Mooloolah River while supporting local communities, that’s a very good thing indeed.

“Sometimes I think I’ve inherited an old timber boat curse. I just can’t get away from them. It’s an obsession,” says Simon Thornalley, founder of Saltwater Eco Tours, a Mooloolaba-based business that runs Indigenous cultural tours aboard Spray of the Coral Coast, a beautifully restored sailing boat.

A Torres Strait Islander man who calls the Sunshine Coast home, Simon spent his formative years on a sailboat with his parents, an experience that sowed the seeds of a lifelong fascination with old timber boats.

Spending your days cruising along the Mooloolah River sounds like a dream job for an experienced sailor, diver, and self-confessed boat tragic like Simon, yet he sailed straight into headwinds when the global pandemic hit just as his dream was coming to life.