Without even mentioning my childhood, I would say that when one is an islander like me, being surrounded by sea one comes to terms with the ocean very early on in life. It’s as natural to living as breathing.
But in my case, the sea is in my blood. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t on, in or beside the sea.
(on board Wanderer in Hobart for the Hobart Regatta and in ‘proper’ clothes for the sail past the Governor.)
My grandfather had a beautifully crafted wooden boat called Wanderer.
It was a wonderful motor yacht made of Huon and King Billy pine and it felt like Britannia to we kids. Invariably when Pa took women and children away he would motor, not sail – sailing was men’s business. He also always had the women and children back to the jetty by no later than 3 PM because in those days before climate change, one could set one’s clock by the sea-breeze coming in at 3PM and thus roughening The Passage (Mercury Passage – the stretch of water between Maria Island and the Tasmanian mainland).
He also believed that the northern end of Maria was the absolute furthest women and children could be taken. Any further and we wouldn’t be back by 3PM!
He’d wake us at 6AM, walking round the house banging a kerosene drum with an old cricket bat, shouting ‘Come on, you milky crew. Underway at 8.30! If you want to come, be at the jetty!’ We kids would leap from bed into our swimsuits and shorts and our parents had no option but to blearily load eskies and boxes with food and hasten. Those two expressions – ‘miky crew’ and ‘underway’ – are firmly in our family lexicon.
(Pa at the jetty waiting for the milky crew to get underway)
I didn’t care about coming back by 3PM because the trip was such an adventure! There were no such things as requisite life-jackets - we wandered all over the boat. I expect if we fell in we would have been expected to float until the boat had turned back to pick us up. But none of us ever did go overboard!
On very rare rough days (very very rare!), we kids would sit along the sides of the boat, dangling our legs or sitting before the mast and getting wetter and wetter and roaring with laughter.
(The Michelin Man look is from the wind filling my spray jacket!)
It was all very Swallows and Amazons! Pa would tie up at the old Maria jetty and we would swim under it in pristine aqua water amongst the fish and kelp. The oldies would all lie in the sun on the beach and sleep and Pa would snore with his mouth hanging open and we would snort behind our hands! In those days, we would be the only pleasure boat there … an occasional fishing boat but no one else. It was quite simply our own private playground – both the water and the old convict settlement of Darlington because this was well before the island became a World Heritage Area and a popular day trip spot.
If The Passage was beset by a northerly he would take us to Okehampton for the day, We’d anchor in the lee of the south-facing shore and I would take the little clinker-built tender and row myself over the kelp forests, peering down into another world of sheer fantasy where shadows would waft back and forth giving glimpses of white sand and then rock. Sometimes the strangest puff of air would disturb the surface of the water and spoil my view and I would say: ‘Bloody Un-breeze!’ and love that I could swear so without being told off!
(Moored at Darlington. My Dad with the ubiquitous cousins on board)
Morning Tea on the journey was often fresh pikelets spread with real butter and homemade raspberry jam. Lunch was always egg and bacon pie and salad and we drank fizzy cordial (usually red) and we’d lie around the deck getting sunburned (who knew about melanoma in those days?), marvelling at strap marks and red noses. My cousin used to see if she could peel layers of dried skin from her nose in one sheet. If we were burned, we’d just dive into the water, cool off and start all over again! Life was for living!
The journey home was always placid, the throaty throb of the diesel motor so very soporific. We’d be saturated with sea air, sea water and exhausted with energy expended. I’d find my way to the for’ard cabin in the bow, under the for’ard hatch, and I’d lie on musty old canvas sails either looking out the porthole or upward to the hatch, seeing nothing but sky and seabirds. I’d hear the water creaming along the planks, I’d run my fingers over knots in the wood and I’d drift into a state of perfect being. Awake and aware but elsewhere. Wonderful!
(Darlington Beach, Maria Island)
Life on shore was punctuated with the ocean summer and winter, and so it’s a fair enough bet that I would always love the ocean. Even now, when I am taken inland where I can’t see water, I feel something in my soul stretching back, back, back to the coast. When we finally see the water again, I can feel myself becoming fluid and content.
I doubt it will ever change.
(PS: this has been the most deliciously time-wasting post to write. I had to go through all my mum’s old pics in order to find ones that were just right. What a fabulous journey it was!)