sailing the blizzard in the whitsundays
After endearing such excruciating situations of camping in tents, living out of backpacks, ravioli or soup dinners and driving in a car for so long, we needed to pamper ourselves. You’d agree, right? We know, it’s a stretch…but how else could we rationalize a need for a sailboat excursion in the Whitsundays region? We decided that while in Australia, we needed to experience the Great Barrier Reef. It would be a shame to blatantly ignore one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Not to mention, it is beautiful, iconic and a UNESCO Heritage Site.
The next choice: Traditional Sailboat or Catamaran? We weighed our options: we’d get the real experience in a traditional sailboat, but on the other hand, the Catamaran would provide comfort. In the end we opted for adventure. Adventure was what we got aboard the Blizzard. Dev booked the trip on iSail Whitsundays.
Arriving at Airlie Beach
We arrived in Airlie Beach and were able to store our backpacks at the iSail Whitsundays office. We ate and walked around Airlie until it was time to get to Abel Point Marina. We waited near the pier with 8 other people, unsure if we were on the same trip as them or not. Avoiding embarrassment, we all sat quietly and waited for the Captain. Later on, we would be past all of that, you tend to get to know a lot about people you spend so much time with in such close quarters.
The Captain arrived and followed him to the sailboat. Crikey, she was a beaut! The Skipper, Dan, collected our shoes and we boarded to learn the ins and outs of living on a sailboat for 3 days. We quickly dropped our stuff of in our room- about as spacious as my Hong Kong bedroom. We went back up to the deck, taking in the breeze, sunshine and the views. Most of us sat on the side of the boat, feet dangling above the water. Others stayed in the back, buckets in hand. Sea sickness is a bitch.
Food & Fears
We dropped anchor about two hours away from Airlie Beach, for a short break. Skipper Dan provided us with spring rolls for a snack and we got to know the others on board. Our Captain talked to us about what we’d expect to see in the reef. To be honest, we didn’t care about the lifecycle of coral. Ryann wanted to hear more about Australia’s less-friendly species, i.e., stingrays, jellyfish, sharks. Ryann’s ears perked when he asked us, “so tell me what you are all afraid of.” She didn’t want to be first. Devin squeezed her hand, coaxing it out of her. Once the typical animals were mentioned, she impressed the Captain with her immense knowledge of all things deadly in the water: blue-ringed octopus, irukandji jellyfish, yellow-bellied sea snake, and cone shells. His response and demeanor was excellent. He made Ryann feel MUCH better about everything and Skipper Dan pitched in that we would be lucky if we saw a shark. LUCKY? Devin agreed but Ryann did not.
First Night on the Boat
We sailed a little further until our anchored spot for the night. We were served dinner and some stayed up drinking and talking. We were the youngest and the first to bed. SO TIRED. Because of the rocking and swaying of the boat, it took a little longer to relax and fall asleep. We got used to it and were snoring soon enough.
Snorkeling for Turtles
The next morning we had breakfast and got ready for our first snorkeling experience in the Great Barrier Reef. The area of the reef we visited was known for sea turtles. We were reminded of the sea turtles in Bundaberg. Sadly, we both didn’t spot any. But we definitely saw our share of jellyfish. We were equipped with stinger suits but Ryann expressed her worry about her uncovered areas such as ankles, hands, neck and head. She tried very hard to ignore it but she claimed that she only saw little jellyfish. She has since admitted that she is a baby. Devin was swimming around with his GoPro, attempting to capture some good footage. We got back on the boat where everyone was talking about what they saw. Everyone was very excited for the next dive- full of promises for more marine life.
Snorkeling at Blue Pearl Bay
We set sail for our next stop- Blue Pearl Bay at Hayman Island. This time, Ryann told Devin, she will be braver and ignore the jellyfish. And she was, but it didn’t help that days before, her Dad had told her via Skype to stay away from the water in Australia. Thanks Dad. Devin, on the other hand, was the first one in his gear and in the water. THIS WAS MUCH BETTER! The water was clearer and the reef was beautiful! We were mesmerized by all the curious fish. There were many different types and it was fun trying to swim in their schools as they swam by. Ryann didn’t feel scared at all here! She was too distracted by the fun fish.
A Hike, Stingrays and a View
Before long, it was time to board and continue on our trip. This time we let our gear dry to do the Hill Inlet hike at Whitehaven Beach. The “hike” to the view point was maybe 15 minutes in the rainforest to the viewing dock. Cameras were out in full force, for a VERY good reason because oh my goodness, the view was incredible. We felt like we had to blink and rub our eyes to make sure we were really seeing it right. Beautiful. Stunning. Incredible. Any other synonym you can think of can’t solely describe what is Whitehaven Beach. Devin pointed out where stingrays were swimming. The bluest water, the whitest sand in one place. Even though we could’ve all gawked and stared at the scene below longer, we had to get back to the boat.
We got back on, ate lunch and headed to the beach! Praise to the Captain and Skipper, we got there JUST in time. There weren’t any other boats and we had Whitehaven Beach all to ourselves. Timing was perfect. We were dropped off and walked along the beautiful shore. The sand is 98% silica and the water was crystal clear. We were appalled when we saw a wrapper on the shore. We hoped that Whitehaven would stay protected because it would be a shame if anyone bought property and made it the next Phuket or Cabo.
Dinner & Drinks
Before long, the boat pulled up to bring us back to the sailboat. We piled back on and took turns spotting the many sea turtles swimming around us. There were so many! The Captain and Skipper Dan sailed the boat a little further off the protected shoreline to a spot nestled between the mountain view, perfect for watching a sunset.
Wine was poured. Aloe Vera was applied. Dinner was served! Delicious gnocchi, salad and chocolate almonds was the perfect meal to end a perfect day.
No Snow on this Blizzard, Just a Cyclone
Unfortunately, the Captain and Skipper Dan could only control so much. Our sailboat’s name may have been titled “the Blizzard,” but another storm was brewing on those waters: a cyclone. We had to get back to Airlie Beach, and fast. Devin and I could type out an intense, dramatic account of the force of nature aimed our way, but it honestly was not that bad. The waves were predicted to be a lot higher, the winds a lot stronger– than they actually were. We all wore yellow rain jackets prepared for the worst, but ended up riding the side of the sailboat the whole return to port.
With the help of the cyclone winds, we made it in record time. No need for a Blockbuster movie screenplay about us- The Perfect Storm II could wait another day.