Sailing Through Storms & Stingers

January 2-5 – Narrated by Alaina

We’re back! Exhausted after New Years (spending the night in the airport may have done it), Mike and I were in desperate need of some R&R as we were unable to think, write or function.

 We hopped on our 6th & 7th flights of the trip, excited to land in tropical weather and experience the Great Barrier Reef. Airlie Beach is a quaint beach town with great outdoor restaurants, bars and an abundance of activities. We immediately loved the beachy, laid back vibe and the sound of live music coming from the local beer gardens.

We stayed in an Airbnb location close to town and I don’t think a hot shower has ever felt so good. Mike and I were so exhausted that after we played with the two resident kittens (10 weeks old), we went to sleep with the loud calls of the cockatoos outside. img_0564
One of our big splurges of the trip was a two-night catamaran sail through the Whitsunday Islands. They are a cluster of islands inside the Great Barrier and the home of Whitehaven Beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I had heard the experience was amazing and was hoping that we would get a good group of people on the boat considering we were in confined quarters for 48 hours.

The day after arriving, we made our way towards the marina to catch our boat. It is insane the bird life that exists in Australia. Not only were cockatoos flying around but we came across a tree full of colorful green parrots… It was like we were at the zoo!

 Once we arrived, we were introduced to each other. Our group consisted of:

  • The Boat Mom: Claire – 25 year old who was from Scotland but had been working on the boat for six months
  • The Captain: Simon – a highly experienced sailor from Tasmania with a never-ending supply of knowledge & stories
  • The Kiwis: A family of five, youngest being 21 who are from the Mari tribe… Both father and son were enormous and looked like they could have been on the All Blacks
  • The Brits: Leanne and James, recently wed and on their honeymoon
  • The Irish: Anita and Steve, recently wed and on their honeymoon
  • The German: Sarah – an 18 year old traveling on her own after finishing up an au pair stint in Sydney

To keep this post at a decent length, we are going to summarize and not go into every detail. With that said, I don’t think we could have had a better group. We all got along so well and immediately hit it off. Within two hours of being on the boat, we pulled into a beautiful inlet and broke the ice with a great snorkel.

Currently, Australia is entering into their rainy season which means a higher risk of jelly fish (deadly ones at that) so we all were educated about the importance of “stinger” suits and got fitted for gear… They actually had flippers that fit Mike!

Mike and I have never experienced such amazing snorkeling. No camera can do it justice (we had three go pros and and underwater camera as a group). It was like looking at a garden in full bloom, just underwater. The color of the fish, the different corals, it was fascinating. I could have spent several hours in the water just exploring the different areas of the reef. The kiwis were even able to swim with a turtle! We didn’t get there in time 🙁

It was a great start to an amazing two days. That evening we pulled into a quiet cove, dropped anchor and Simon pulled out his nautical maps to give us an idea of where we would be exploring (note the Kiwi photobomb):

 Simon’s knowledge was impressive. He has been captain for 7 years, has a witty personality and told us a fun story about escorting Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman between islands (they were really nice).

That evening the stars were incredible. Both Simon and Claire said the stars hadn’t been visible for weeks, so we were lucky! We all laid out in the front and looked at shooting stars, had a long discussion about Orion (here he is upside down), and managed to be baffled by a blinking light near the belt of Orion… If any of you have any knowledge of what this could be, please help us solve the mystery! Mike then spent an hour fascinated by the fish attracted to the boat’s blue underwater light.

 Our cabin was small but manageable although there was no AC but as long as we could keep the hatch open, it was all good.

 The following day was hilarious, scary and very very wet. We woke to overcast skies and Simon saying the initial plan was void due to the weather. The boat was off and we started going through a channel… The boat was rocking hard so Leanne and I decided to go sit on the bench on the bow because Claire had said it was like being on a roller coaster. We were having so much fun and going high! The swells were huge and we were going into the wind, I didn’t think we could go as high as we were, until we went too high. We came down so hard, Leanne had the wind knocked out of her and compressed her back. I immediately tried to get the attention of Claire in the cabin (who was picking up broken glass that had fallen from the hit) and didn’t realize that I had also hit my ribcage hard into the rail (I now have a lovely deep purple bruise on my left side).

We managed to sneak Leanne through the access window on the front and I refused to allow Mike to go out… It terrified me! Fortunately Leanne was ok after a few hours of spasms and we were able to get to calmer waters, but man it was exhilarating one second and terrifying the next!

A huge front was coming in, hence the choppy seas, and it was decided that we would head for Whitehaven immediately to try and beat the storms. It didn’t work. We got on the dinghy to head to the beach and the skies opened and it absolutely downpoured. We put on our stinger suits to stay warm, arrived on the access beach and were laughing hysterically because we all looked like drowned rats and other boaters were being hilarious “make sure you have your sunscreen on!” I was most entertained when I saw people in wet suits holding umbrellas… Um really?

We began the ascent to the scenic overlook and Claire said she had never seen waterfalls coming down the stairs – awesome. Somehow the minute we arrived to the overlook, the skies cleared and we were able to see the absolutely stunning Whitehaven Beach. I completely understand why it has received such world recognition, the water was so clear we could see stingrays swimming and the sand is as white as can be. (I have included a pic from google images because we only brought our waterproof camera because it was too risky with the rain… Soooo we will update with our pics once we are home 🙂 ).

We then walked down to the beach and the sun somehow managed to make an appearance. This is good right? The sand is so white, we were all blinded. Because it had been raining, none of us thought to bring sunglasses. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was peeking through my hands!

Because the sand is so white and fine, NASA has a contract to take sand from the beach to make its lenses. Hubble Telescope? Yup, the sand from the beach was used to make those lenses. Insane!

We immediately headed into the endlessly shallow waters and had fun trying to avoid stingrays, seeing the spots where they slept and perhaps taking a gazillion pictures.

For an adventure that looked like it was going to be a complete washout, we were thrilled that the weather decided to cooperate. It started raining again the minute we left the beach.

Initially Simon said there was no way we would be able to snorkel in the rough seas, but by mid-afternoon the front had blown through and he brought us to another spot and it was awesome. This spot had a lot more fish from the day prior. I spotted a lion fish, there were these cool neon fish, and the clams! Huge clams with the coolest neon “lips”. I decided to not bring the camera to really enjoy it and was happy I did.

That evening we had a glorious sunset and we all enjoyed cocktails on the bow, learned about the Mari traditions (we desperately wanted to learn the Hakka) and again did some stargazing. It was one of my favorite nights of the trip… Great people, intelligent conversation all while floating amongst the Whitsunday Islands. Life doesn’t get much better.

 When our final day came, we weren’t able to go snorkeling due to the front bringing in Urigangi jellyfish into the area. Simon was not willing to put us in water with jellyfish that could potentially paralyze someone and we didn’t fight it. We did do a small climb up to some native cave drawings and Claire said we had to go through the right of passage… Aka lick a green ant’s butt because it’s tastes like citrus. We ALL did it! Hahaha!

 We enjoyed the sail back to Airlie beach and while sad we would be leaving each other, we did the full email exchange and plan to keep in touch. We actually had dinner with the Brits that night and we were all so happy to be showered and have access to AC 😉

*Sidenote: We have booked several Airbnb rooms on this trip. When we arrived to our Airlie beach location after the cruise, we were speechless. The place we booked was a penthouse condo located on top of a huge hill that overlooked the bay. They had a small private pool on the party deck and the hosts told us to make ourselves at home. This experience was less than $100 a night and if it had been a hotel, I am sure it would have been $250+. We scored big time.

 Because we were so in love with our residence, we decided to veg out the following day. I read a book, we swam in the pool and booked the next day’s activity which I think warrants a new post 🙂

2 thoughts on “Sailing Through Storms & Stingers

  1. Love reading your updates when I’m up at 2am feeding CE2. Sounds like you are having lots of fun and I just love your boat mom’s name! Can’t wait to hear your voice soon. Have a fun last few days. 🙂

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