There's a glass-like clarity to the ocean off Tasmania's east coast that's matched in shock value only by its astonishing frigidity.
We're slicing through these clear, cold waters aboard the 23-metre Lady Eugenie, sails filled by a similarly bracing breeze and buoyed by a keen sense of our isolation. There's nothing here but ocean, thick bush fringing Promise Bay, off the Freycinet Peninsula, and the muscular Hazards looming behind.
Our handsome Scorpio ketch is sailing her second season in Tasmania. From a production line of just 25 by American yacht builder Robert Perry, Lady Eugenie was bought by the Tasmanian Walking Company soon after entrepreneurs Brett Godfrey and Rob Sherrard - co-founders of Virgin Australia - acquired the company two years ago.
The Tasmanian Walking Company has been at the forefront of the island's soft-adventure industry for 25 years, best known for operating the guided Cradle Mountain Huts Walk along the Overland Track in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and the Bay of Fires Lodge Walk on the north-east coast. The recruitment of the Lady marks the launch of a sail-walk combo, the Wineglass Bay Sail Walk, in one of the island's most beautiful landmarks and a steady campaign of expansion for the company.
Last year Godfrey and former Qantas chief Geoff Dixon formed a new company, the Australian Walking Company, and bought the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk, a four-day guided tour on Victoria's south-west coast with the aim of redefining Australia as an adventure destination. Godfrey and Sherrard also own several other tourism ventures in Tasmania, including Entally Estate and Lodge, Lake House, Quamby Estate and Low Head Pilot Station, and Makepeace Island, near Noosa, with Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson.
Our east-coast adventure involves two days of hiking in Freycinet National Park and two days seafaring off the coast, with a crossing to Maria Island scheduled on day three and a visit to the more remote Schouten Island on the final day. This being Tasmania, however, the weather is temperamental and unpredictable, and we're briefed to expect unexpected detours.
The schedule kicks off with a bus ride from Hobart to Freycinet National Park and a briefing by our guides, Dayna Trevaskis and Nick Tyson. Each shouldering preloaded 50-litre backpacks, our group of six guests and two guides sets off on foot from the base of the Hazards, the ochre-coloured granite mountains that define the national park. It's a fine, clear day and we make an easy ascent to a saddle that overlooks the park's crown jewel, Wineglass Bay. It's breathtaking from above, a perfect red-wine glass of white beach filled by a sapphire sea.
An hour-long descent delivers us onto the sand, a thrilling introduction to the peninsula. With only nesting pied oystercatchers and giant dodo-like Pacific gulls for company, the scene is so tranquil it's hard to believe the bay's name is derived not only from its shape but from the blood that stained its waters when whales were slaughtered here during the mid-19th century.
Our first glimpse of the Lady is at neighbouring Hazards Beach, a three-kilometre stretch of golden sand fringed by forest. I'm almost tempted to drop my pack and swim out to her, though the dinghy ride is easier and warmer.
There are four guest cabins: two with double beds by the galley and another two with single bunks in the bow. They're cosy (okay, tight), simply appointed and comfortable, with soft bedding, hot showers, locally made beeswax bathroom products and plenty of light flooding in through brass portholes.
We gather in a compact timber-clad saloon designed for communal dining and reading, and a step away from a shoebox of a galley where skipper Chris Brearley, first mate Simon Stubbs and walking guides Trevaskis and Tyson multitask as our cooks. Our meals are simple, filling and generous, nothing fancy but fresh and satisfying fuel for hikers and wannabe sailors.
Our anchorage means we have dress-circle seats at sunset. With a glass of Arras Blanc de Blancs and a slice of King Island Dairy blue we watch the Hazards light up. "This is exactly what the explorers would have seen when they first came across this land in the mid-1600s," says Brearley, "which I think is pretty special."
A seafood banquet on the beach was planned for dinner, but windy conditions call for roast pork and apple sauce in the galley. Breakfast is served at the civilised hour of 7.30: cereals, yoghurt, fruit and a hot dish that changes daily. We head off with day packs loaded with lunch - locally produced ham and cheese to dress up a soft ciabatta roll, say, or cauliflower and quinoa salad with Tasmanian-grown seeds - and we need the fuel on our second day. The hike up Mount Graham is an eight- to nine-hour ascent, depending on fitness, to a height of about 500 metres. From the beach, the trail rises gradually over a kilometre, threading through open bushland populated by wallabies and sprinkled with pretty purple orchids no bigger than a pinkie nail. The next section requires determination and some uphill scrambling and rock hopping. From the peak, where lunch is served, we look over Wineglass and Oyster bays with a sense of achievement.
A two-hour descent lands us at postcard-ready Cooks Beach by late afternoon. The Lady awaits us, her crew bearing platters of Pacific oysters, crayfish pâté and more local bubbles. We set sail to neighbouring Schouten Passage, and it's here we glimpse the Lady's real potential. She's equal parts grace and grunt, reaching 10 knots later in the evening but maintaining surprising smoothness as the weather starts to turn.
It's at this point that we detour. Brearley reports stiffening winds from the west and wild weather to come, which rules out the prospect of anchoring near Maria or Schouten islands as scheduled. Instead, in the middle of the night we change course to the protected waters off the fishing town of Triabunna, where we moor for two nights. From here we're driven two hours' north to the Tasman National Park next morning and set off on foot along the dramatic dolerite cliffs of Cape Hauy. The four-hour round trip along a well-maintained track is usually part of the six-day sail-walk experience, and it's well chosen for its spectacular vistas.
On our final morning we set out on foot along the windswept coast near Lisdillon, about 20 minutes north of Triabunna, where the sandstone ruins of the state's first saltworks, founded in the 1830s, pop against cool blue ocean and the silhouette of the Freycinet Peninsula etched on the horizon.
On the drive back to Hobart we pause at Spring Beach, a flawless stretch of powder-white sand near the village of Orford. Maria Island looms in the distance, so close yet so far, but I'm left feeling no less satisfied having not set foot on her shores. That's the beauty of Tasmania - its landscapes diverse, the possibility of adventure so real. Navigating it by sea means that when one plan fails, all you have to do is change course.