Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sailing the Whitsundays - or - We're Too Cold to Snorkel

24 July 2013

We went out on our sail and snorkel trip today.  We went on the trip with the Derwent Hunter, a gorgeous wood sailing ship built in 1946.  (Check them out at

It was a wonderful trip, and some of the worst weather we've encountered in Australia.  And, the trip was great fun despite the horrible weather.

The wind came up last night, out of the southeast - and southerly winds in this part of the world mean from the Antarctic.  So this was a COLD wind blowing some 30 to 40 knots, according to our skipper.  COLD wind!  Whipping the normally calm and placid Coral Sea into an aqua and white froth.  The whitecaps had whitecaps, the water was that agitated.  Seriously, as we sailed (not motored, sailed - this is a beautiful old sailing vessel) we were heeled way over, with wind and spray and major water hitting our faces.  The crew passed out foul weather jackets to help us stay dry and warm - but when we were in a trough between the waves, the crests were about even with the gunwales on our side of the boat - and we were the side heeling UP! 

It was a roller coaster sea today, a wild and crazy sail from Airlie Beach on the mainland out and over to Hook Island, where we anchored in a somewhat sheltered bay.  The skipper said that he's been sailing these waters for over 20 years, and that this was some of the worst sailing conditions he's seen in that time.  I asked him later how tall he thought some of those waves were, trough to crest - he said probably about 3 meters, or maybe 10 feet.  (I thought they were about 6 feet, but I trust the skipper's judgement more than my own.)  So, 10 foot waves.  Thirty to 40 knot winds.  Yes, a wild and crazy carnival ride of a sail!

We moored at the bay, and people suited up to snorkel.  Richard and I looked at each other, soaking wet and shivering in the wind.  SO cold we couldn't stop shivering.  What can I say, our blood has gotten so used to the tropics, we can't seem to acclimate to cold weather.  We opted to stay on the boat, along with some other people who were chilled.  Turned out the winds churned up the sediment and visibility was minimal, people kept saying the water was murky.  So we didn't miss much.  (In fact, both of us sat in the sun and napped.  How is that for proof that we qualify for senior rates, LOL?)

The crew was wonderful, very helpful and solicitous, and they fed us like royalty!  Morning tea (also known as second brekkie, but for us it was first brekkie) was fruit, chocolate cake, cookies, and hot drinks to warm up before the snorkel.  Lunch was a huge spread of salads, vegs, breads, cold cuts, etc.  There was enough for everyone to have multiple sandwiches!  Afternoon tea wasn't tea as much as snacks - crackers, dips, and fruit.  Lots of water, soda, juice available.   

 The wind died down by the time we sailed back to Airlie Beach, so it was a much much much smoother trip heading home.  Still chilly, but warmer.  And less wet, since the waves were much smaller and calmer.  

Best part of the day for me – we saw a humpback whale!!  No idea how far away, it looked like a giant log floating on the water, just swimming and diving and blowing spray into the air.  Amazing!!!!!  Just a giant whale in the distance, come to mate and have her baby in the warm Coral Sea, just hanging out, ignoring the boatload of people all standing and staring at her.
All in all, it was a wonderful day!  The only discomfort was due to the weather, and that actually made it more exciting!  Well, and had we known the sail would be this rough, we’d have dressed more warmly – so we definitely were naïve and trusting about the weather.  The crew and one man in a wool sweater were warm – the rest of us were freezing because we didn’t wear a wooly sweater or fleece.  

I’d recommend the Derwent Hunter trip any time – just dress warmly and don’t let the tropical feel of Airlie Beach fool you – that water is cold out there!

And thank you, crew – Lisa, Dan, Sarah (?) you were great!!!


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