One of the reviews of Tobias states…’good accurate sailing terminology.’
And it prompted me to think that my grandfather and my father would not have been best pleased if I hadn’t used the correct terms…
I was, like most of my clan, brought up on boats.
The earliest times were when I was a baby. The pic above was taken when I was on my grandfather’s boat at the Hobart Regatta in 1952. A solid seabreeze must have been blowing (what Mum called a stonker – big end first) because it appears I’m dressed to the nines in a woollen overcoat in an Australian January – midsummer.
Pa’s boat was our ticket to a Swallows and Amazons childhood. A beautiful vessel called ‘Wanderer’, she was a wooden sailboat, crafted in the coastal town of Triabunna, and had a canvas jib and mainsail. Pa, however, mindful of woman and children, never used the sails when we were onboard. That was secret men’s business! Which I am sure had more to do with language that could be saltier than the sea than deference to anything else.
And so we ‘sailed’ with the rhythmic thrum of a diesel motor. For me, that elemental sound was like a heartbeat for a baby in the womb. It’s a sound I’ve never forgotten and one day last winter, an old style fishing boat motored across our very still bay. I was transported immediately – lying on a pile of musty canvas sails on the for’ard bunk and rocked to sleep!
Every summer until Pa was too infirm to manage, we would go away on the boat for picnics to the coves of Spring Bay and Maria Island. My father taught me all the parts of a boat and Pa called us his Milky crew (one never got above oneself with my grandfather). He would wake us at the crack of dawn by walking round the house with an old axe handle banging a kerosene drum and yelling ‘Underway at 8.30!’ We kids would leap into swimwear and shorts, grab a towel and leave the parents to put food together. We chafed for them to hurry because the idea of being left behind was agony!
We’d eat digestive biscuits and vegemite for morning tea, or there would be fresh pikelets with jam and always some sort of salad and cold meat with homemade mayonnaise for lunch. All prepared by Mum and her sisters in the galley with its tiny stove, sink and a pump action water spout. We ate the remains of cakes and things for afternoon tea, because a whole day spent swimming, fishing, or rowing gave us legendary appetites.
As I grew older, Dad bought one of the first aluminium dinghies in the village – it had an outboard motor and was what Pa called a Bloody Tin Can. Mum, Dad, my brother and I would venture well out into the bay, fishing for dinner in summer and winter and still not wearing lifejackets. In summer, we kids would take the dinghy into the middle of the river and half sink it (it had buoyancy tanks in the seats), turn it upside down, dive off the hull and then tow it to shore. I also recall rowing on my own, one calm evening, and ploughing straight into the port side bow of a luxury marine ply motor cruiser on a mooring. I put a nice hole inches above the waterline and Dad made me go to the owner and confess. I’ve never forgotten my blushing and tearful shame.
Wanting his children to have the water life he had longed for as a child, Dad decided to build my brother and I a yacht. I had just turned eleven and my brother was seven. And thus Tiki of the navy hull, white gunwales and white jib and main was born – with a whole winter of swearing and lots of plastibond (a kind of glue) from Dad.
I loved sailing, with my brother as helmsman. I learned that ‘Ready About’ meant ‘be bloody ready or else!’ and a lot more too when we sailed in the local regatta.
But I also learned to rig a yacht and be handy before, during and after sailing.
As I grew older, I had male friends who sailed and so I became familiar with Sabots, Rainbows, International Cadets, Cadets and finally Dragon Class yachts. I even lived in an apartment opposite the slips of the Royal Yacht Club when I was at university, and went to sleep and woke with the harsh clang of halyards and shackles on aluminium masts – it was the sea’s very own rhythm section.
Since then, we’ve sailed with friends on the wonderful wooden yacht ‘Lady Gillian’ for a number of summers. We’ve been picnicking on the cruiser, ‘Wilhelmina Rose’ with other friends.
Even now, we have wonderful days on board ‘Dementia’ with more friends.
Our own vessel spookily has a navy hull and white gunwales and I think owning it was meant to be.
It’s a motorboat but comfortable and very quiet, with 180HP outboard that barely utters a sound but flies us across the water.
It has carpet and comfy seats and takes us on dream adventures where I can relive my childhood – diving off the gunwales, lying in the sun on the deck as dolphins swim alongside, reading while the men fish, and going to the far-flung corners of my favourite place in the world – Maria Island. The only difference is that now we have to wear lifejackets on board the boat – such is our ‘Nanny’ society.
So yes, I’ve been on the sea since I was born, and I hope I know my port or larboard from my starboard, and my strakes and stems from my hull, my sheets, shrouds and halyards from my stays and the best part of it all is that the learning was and remains an absolute pleasure and a true adventure…