In the description of When We Get Inspired is the short story version, though I feel completely compelled to try and write the whole story lol…A small fountain in a hardware, triggered a memory, which provided an art challenge, which lead to this story…I hope you can see it thru to the end. It is a true story of which I thought I would die for certain before the night was through.
A LITTLE HISTORY FIRST…
In the 90’s I was what some might consider a drifter. Going from town to town on the word of the next job was the way I lived. I did own a perfectly good V8 Ford panel van but, to me, the adventure was 10x by hitching. The panel van was usually parked in a shed on the family farm while I went off North to see what to see what life had yet to be discovered.
Hitching gave me the highest regards for the human race, and when I look back now it was when the chips were down I left the car behind. The absolute kindness that me and Bud received from complete strangers was always inspiring. Bud was my best friend on the planet, he was an English Staffy and loved hitching as much as I did. They say a dog is like its owner. I don’t know how times I heard we were both built like “brick shit houses” but I do remember he used to float between 27-28kg. He wasn’t fat, he was just very solid and very well exercised Staffy. So, yeah I can see why folks said we were alike 🙂
So, in 1992 I heard of a job on an old professional fishing vessel called The Priscilla (can’t remember the name so this one will do) and Bud would be as welcome on the boat as I would be. Off we went, hitching the 2350k’s (1460 miles) to Broome. I won’t go into the adventure itself as that could be a book on its own…
Around 10 days after leaving Perth on the most memorable hitch-hiking journey of my life, we arrived at Broome and the location of Mum. She too had started travelling once she heard some of my stories, and she gave the best hugs ever! That hug was the best hug she ever gave me, or so it seems, but to be honest it might have been because it was the hug I had been looking forward to for at least 10 days. Bud was beside himself when he saw her and she picked all of him up and spun around squeezing him like the Lord Almighty might when so happy so see someone. He was, of course, trying to lick her face like a lunatic while Mum was trying to dodge it. This was just one of the games between them.
It was bad news on the job front. Apparently the boat had been leased by the government as a scheme for the local Aborigines of Broome to learn the skills and trade of professional fishing. The skipper, Gary, was a white fella and had managed to get a full Aboriginal crew for the first two trips. Problems began when it was time to find a crew for the 3rd trip. He had been to the communities, every bar in town, and any other location he could think of…not one person would go out to work. The owner of The Priscilla instructed the skipper to take a white crew if he had to, but the boat had to be working. Having a white crew was enough to create a literal riot had it been allowed to develop that far?
So, I turned up assuming the job was mine but instead I turned up in the middle of a literal battle between black and white. It was actually Mum and Bud that bought it all to an end. Gary and myself were down on the boat when two 4×4 ute loads of Aborigines rolled up where we lived, and Bud went off his nut. Mum put the chain lead on and walked out into the driveway to meet all these fella’s who were demanding to know where myself and Gary were. Me? I hadn’t done anything to anyone, why were they asking about me???
Anyways…one bloke jumped off of a ute demanding he was going inside to look for us and Bud pulled on the lead so hard Mum near fell over trying to hang onto him, the simple comment that she will let Bud off the lead was enough for the mentioned fella to leap back into the ute. Mum told me they said they would be back, but she wasn’t sure on that. She had a quick chat with the oldest in the group, and he said it was done with.
At this point I had only been in town a couple of days. The boat owner had been to a lawyer about the legal side on the contract and the only way out of losing the boat to the banks, and out of the contract, was to sell it. Great, my job was now gone as the lawyer said no whities are allowed. I’m 1/16th Aborigine but as I wasn’t a local it was pushing boundaries.
It didn’t take a week and the boat was sold but the new owner wanted it delivered to Fremantle as part of the contract. Freo is a historic suburb of Perth. I left Perth about two weeks ago, but yeah I would jump on the boat for the trip…and this is where the story begins.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. YES, THE HIGH SEAS BECKON!
Two skippers were hired for the vessels relocation, Gary being skipper #1 and Pako was skipper #2. I was the only deckie as Pako (who turned out to be a complete wanker) wouldn’t allow Bud to come along as deckie #2, and after being on the boat not 30 minutes all ready I wondered what kind of adventure this will become with Pako. If it wasn’t for Gary talking me round I wasn’t going without Bud. Now, Broome has tidal changes that can be 10+ metre’s (33 feet), and when tied up on the wharf that can be a big deal. Either the boat could be left hanging on an out tide…or it can be sunk with an in tide if the ropes are not let out as the tide rises.
One of the first things I noticed the first time I boarded The Priscilla was that the seat was missing in the wheelhouse. The pole was there, with the steel plate on top of it to hold the seat. This is a point to remember!
The timing has to be right to get through the Broome channel to and from the wharf, without enough water a decent sized boat will hit the reef and become stuck. At 2300 (11pm) on a Friday night we got out to The Priscilla, loaded all the stores on, secured things where they should go, and a rope was thrown in my direction with the instructions of taking my excitement and “tie that shit the fuck down” (sorry thats word for word). We were ready…man I was keen to “hit the high sea’s” for the first time in my life, perhaps a little too keen haha . I was already missing me mate, and I knew he would be missing me.
(Funny fact. When I got back to Broome, the Federal Police had him in custody, but thats a story for another another day!)
Gary hit the key to start the main engine just before midnight, and nothing but one single click. The Priscilla had three motors on board her, the main engine was 24 volt, one generator at 12, and a small backup generator at 6v. So we put two 12v batteries in series (making 24v of power) and the main turned over, but it didn’t start as those batteries didn’t have enough charge to give the main true life. Luckily there were 4 batteries at 6v, but unluckily they were not all charged. So we spent the night trying the charge all the 6 and 12v batteries on board. Come 0700 on Saturday morning there was no way we could get out of Broome without an Electrician checking things first.
Just in case it hadn’t occurred to you there is no simple towage to be arranged if you break down at sea. I don’t know about these days but back then, if you got towed at sea, the laws of the sea were that legally the vessel doing the towing could actually claim title over the vessel being towed. Now, more land laws of any country are (were?) based on laws of the sea so I doubt its changed much in the last 30 years?
The sparky came with two new 12v batteries as he didn’t have any 24v until Monday, maybe Tuesday. He started the main and stated that both the 6 and 12v engines were charging fine but the mains wasn’t charging as it should. We might make the trip down without any major farts, or we might walk into some farts along the way. As you might be able to guess, we left on Saturday night, with a boat that was going to have the knackered alternator before we got far from Broome. As long as we kept the main running we would be right, yeah?
The deal I agreed to with both skippers was that we would take 4 hour shifts on the wheel and, as I wasn’t being paid, all expenses would be covered for me. Yeah right! Along the way on Sunday we had a chat about where we would stop along the 1300-1400 nautical mile journey to Fremantle. As Pako was an Onslow Boy, we would do an over night there. As I was an Exmouth Boy, yep we would do a night there. Gary was whats known as a Gero Boy, meaning he was from Geraldton, so we would do an over night there too.
Before we made it as far as Onslow we had discovered the mains alternator had shit itself. Here we were in the middle of nothing, no land in sight, and Pako decides now is a good time to change the fuel filter as its obviously becoming blocked. Filter changed, and of course that main wouldn’t kick into life again. Pako and Gary messed around with the battery situation while I enjoyed my first experience of seeing a school of sharks circle a boat, it happened right there while I was watching. There had to be 12-15 sharks visible all the time literally circling the boat. As one would disappear from view another would appear, so my idea of a quick dip before moving on was, well, done. I was always a risk taker but even I wasn’t that stupid. We even got one hooked on a lure and that is the only time I have seen a shark take a lure. I had seen plenty sharks in Exmouth, I actually used to go scuba diving in their breeding season inside the Exmouth Gulf just to be with them…but these sharks were behaving a little abnormal. No dip today Buck!
The weather had been beyond perfect, we had glass all the way to Exmouth to be honest. With the battery issue we had going on a new plan was in place. The GPS was to be turned on once an hour and give it a couple of minutes to get a true set of coordinates, write them down, check them twice, turn the GPS off. All lights to be off until absolutely required, at all times.
We turn up to Onslow after a couple of days and had to take an engine off of some other boat and tie it down with us to be picked up at Fremantle. That job done, we anchored not far off shore on Town Beach, showered, dropped the dinghy and headed to the pub. This wasn’t my first time in Onslow so I had been to the pub before, but I had never been offered a head job for a 6 pack of VB (beer) before…not anywhere. Getting some idea of Onslow yet? It was a small fishing town, fairly isolated on the beach, with only one pub…enough said yeah?
Drunk was the mission, and the mission was achieved, by all three of us. We got so drunk that neither skipper remembered anything, not even fighting each other. It was one of those funny fights because between them they couldn’t throw a punch, it was more one of those sissy slapping games you see in comedy movies. I did manage to break it up between my fits of laughter and get them both down to the dinghy.
Twice Pako fell out of the tinny. First time was trying to start the outboard motor and over the back he went, splash, in maybe a metre of water? He was calling for us to come back? The outboard wasn’t running and I am still, to this day, not sure where he thought we disappeared too? The tool was facing town and calling us! The second time he stood up and was telling us what a pair of bastards we were when Gary’s hand slipped and the throttle went to idle instantly. Yep Pako was calling us to come back again, this time you could have hit him with a hand full of dry sand he was so close. I’m just happy it was still glassed off across the ocean.
Gary, to me, was like a master with ropes and knots. This guy could near fix anything with a rope! Once back on The Priscilla, Gary starts with how hungry he was. I offered to tie the dinghy off but was laughed at by The Laughing Man (Gary’s laugh is one of those infectious and loud laughs) so I headed in and and was diving through our most choice canned delicacies available. I had decided on 4 larger cans of gloop to feed the three of us. And thats when I heard “oh”. My first thought was Gary was so drunk he dropped the rope. Then I starting pulling out some pots when it occurred to me things were too quiet. You know, like when kids are up to no good they go quiet, yeah he was that kind of quiet.
Out onto the stern I went and there’s Gary with his shoulders really slumped forwards. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost the tinny!” I said. His reply was simply, “ok” with a stupid chuckle. Obviously the tinny was floating away at a rate of knots, so I kicked my shoes off and swam the 80m to get it, which felt like 180m by the time I got it. Eventually I got back and convinced Gary that I should tie it off this time. All he could manage was to laugh. He laughed so long, in the end he couldn’t remember what he was laughing at in the first place. By now the gloop is about ready to eat when it dawned on me I hadn’t seen Pako for a while, at which Gary gleefully filled me in with the knowledge that Pako was going to start the boat and cruise across to Exmouth. “The batteries haven’t been charging long enough. And besides, who is on watch? Im eating then snoring meself!” was all I could think of saying. The main turned over a couple times but it didn’t fire up thankfully.
Morning came, at a price. Damn that sun was bright coming off the water, like blinding kind of hurt. Gary had the 6v batteries in place and was gonna have a crack at getting the main to purr…bugger me he did!. The sound of that diesel engine was both sweet and sour. My head was hurting enough as it was, but I wanted to get the heck out of Onslow and walk up that beach in Exmouth.
Off we went again but this time it was only round the cape point and into the Exmouth Gulf, one of my favourite places I have ever had a privilege of enjoying. Gary, having been a fisherman for 25 years, laid down the challenge of showing him the clearest ocean waters he would ever see. I had said many times he wouldn’t ever see waters that clean, so it was challenge accepted. Instantly I said “Fly Island! We will pull in this side of it, just behind its little reef and grab a couple Spotted Crayfish eh”. “Yer righto” said Gary, “with what?”
We got to to Fly Island and both Gary and Pako agreed it had to be at least some of the clearest waters they had ever seen. We only had one mask and snorkel set, no fins on board so it was barefoot swimming. I’m sure they thought I was full of bull shit until I turned up a crayfish in each gloved hand. Gary was too crook to go swimming but Pako managed to grab a good sized cray as well, so fresh crayfish it was for lunch.
Again, we anchored pretty close to the Town Beach, showered, dropped the dinghy and headed for the pub. Once we hit the beach I saw a mate’s car, the big brown Fairlane of Micks was at the yacht club. Turned out he was caretaker now for the Exmouth Yacht Club. Sweet! We could get on it after the pub, right here near the boat. “No fights this night” I told the pair of em as got into town. The first one that turns into a dickhead, I will knockout. Pako laughed, Gary said fair enough or something. Pako was laying down the challenge when Gary told him of some of my achievements as a martial artist. “Unless you reckon you’re good enough to beat one of Australia’s national champs in open freestyle martial arts, don’t bother” Gary said. Pako’s wanker hat never went on that night.
Once word got round town I was back for one night only, a whole bunch of friends made it down to the pub. I love small towns for this kind of reason, friendship has a different meaning compared to larger towns and cities. Drunk was again achieved, and quite a few of us ended up back at Micks caravan at the yacht club. There was shot glasses everywhere, big fat joints following each other around the circle, challenges of shot gunning beers, drinking beers while doing hand stands…and thats all I recall for now but there might have been more?
Following morning the skippers had decided that we needed to get more stores. One half of lamb to start with and we will go from there. When we got to the butchers me mate Wolfy (who was involved in last nights shenanigans) asked if we’re still serious on going out. Both the skippers said yeah. I had mentioned while having breakfast that the clouds were changing and the barometer was dropping. Now Wolfy and his boss were telling us its not even beyond brave, its just plain stupid. As I knew the things Wolfy and I got up to while we were knocking around together, if he said its stupid…its stooopid!
And this, folks, is where things started towards life threatening. We got on board, tied up the tinny, put the stores away and headed out. They wouldn’t listen, the skippers just wouldn’t hear it. If we are bouncing inside the gulf its gonna be ultra ugly once we get around the lighthouse, hit open waters and head south. From memory it was about 1400 when we lifted anchor, and around 1800 when I went to take a pee over the starboard side (right side) when I looked up and took in the height of the swell. I got Gary’s opinion (by now already Pako and his opinions were wearing thin) on how high the swell was. “Would that be three stories high” I asked. “Yeah, and then some I guess” he replied. To me it was just swell, there wasn’t even white wash on the waves.
Not long later the wind came in hard, and white wash was everywhere. I swear the swell was over four stories already. I went off to bed, bouncing round like a ragdoll on heat in an acid induced ragdoll orgy. Thin mattress, nothing to stop me flying out of the bunk and down to the floor. Needless to tell anyone still reading (which I thank you if you made it this far!) that when it was my turn to do four hours of watch I was already yawning. I took my pillow with me and taped it on top of the bare post I mentioned earlier…I put the pillow where there should have been a seat.
I turned on the GPS, gave it a couple minutes, wrote down the coordinates, checked em twice, turned it off. Then I went to plot them onto the chart. Yeah the dots had been getting closer and closer while I was attempting to stay inside that Bronco that fishermen call a bed. Only four hours and its Gary’s problem, right?
Yeah right! Things were so bad we couldn’t risk auto pilot. We would go up the wave and I swear on me mothers grave that boat was physically going backwards before speed racing down the back of the wave. Now remember, there’s no lights to see the next wave, the spray off the waves was impossible to see through let alone how hard the rain was coming in. And Im banging down with every bump on a pillow on steel.
An hour later, on with the GPS, give it a couple, write it check it, plot it on the charts. I deliberately left the GPS on, just that gut feeling you know. Well, according to the numbers and the chart…we went backwards 1.5 nautical miles. I did it 3 more times…and yes we were going backwards. Even allowing for my lack of seaman experience and dealing with charts, we were going backwards. Definitely. Backwards.
The GPS was off, and it was about an hour later so I checked everything again. Basically we hadn’t moved. The main engine was on full bloody rip, the waves were feeling bigger and angrier, the wind was sounding louder, and I still got two hours to go! It wasn’t half an hour later, we went up this monster and we seemed to just sit there? From what I could tell the next wave was bigger, but even worse it was closer than the others had been.
“Fuck this for fun” I yelled as I was tucking my arms into the helm (ships steering wheel). I buried my arms in so deep my elbows were behind the helm and my fingers were wrapped around it but were facing me. I tried to dig my feet into the floor as the boat rose and rose while it was going backwards. I remember thinking on the way up that wave that if I was found (if?) and there was poo in me pants I don’t suppose anyone could hold it against me. We peaked. I was hanging on like a seagull with a chip in a hurricane. We seemed to be at the peak forever, and the wave just, well I don’t know how to word this, it just wasn’t under The Priscilla any more. I suspect we were travelling backwards on the peak of the wave, but I cant be sure on that?
Then the bow (front end) dropped! It dropped like it was tied up in the air and the rope holding the bow suddenly snapped while the rope on the stern held tight. We were now free falling without water touching the boat, or at least that’s the best way I can describe it. A 64 foot vessel, made of wood with a round hull, free falling! I could see the bottom of the next wave racing towards me, my hands were slipping…
I was trying to yell “DONT HIT THE BOTTOM DONT HIT HE BOTTOM” but I couldnt. I was so busy screaming FAAAAAAARRRRRRRKK all the way down I couldn’t fit another word in. It seemed for ever but obviously it was not, and we ploughed into the next wave so hard my legs came over the back of me. Have you ever done that on a trampoline, where you get it wrong and your top end is the only thing to touch fabric because your feet are trying their best to lick you in the back of your head?
We hit the oncoming wave above the valley floor and this big old bloat just stopped! The pain shot through my lower back, I was winded so bad with it I couldn’t breathe. And I had to get back on my feet, I had to maintain and control steering of the boat, which was now down at the bow a bit but I couldn’t move as the boat was flying backwards. If we get caught side on to one of these waves we are brown bread!
Holy shit we were now 3-4 stories under water as the next wave was pushing us backwards and upwards. By the time I got on my feet we were just starting the break free but all I could think of was what’s next, and what’s after that one!
After a couple more waves Gary made it out for a chat. He was drenched. The Priscilla didnt have A/C, it had one of those old school (not so) shiny brass looking tubes, bent at 90 degrees, that feed fresh air into the bunks. Being under water for as long as we were, he near got drowned on the top bunk. It wasn’t that the bunk room was full of water, just that he was asleep directly under it.
“I take it that was a big one, was it?” he said. The pain was stopping me from talking so I pointed and waved at the wheel. I simply couldn’t get any words out, I think it was not being able to breathe deep enough to be able to talk, as much as anything.
When I felt I could talk, my first words were “I’m glad Bud didn’t come”.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was my first trip out on to the open sea’s. So that fuzzy wuzzy looking creature in the art work, it just might be me. Its possibly more likely Gary? Its a moment of panic. Out of control panic, with water all around. It’s a piece of digital art inspired by a mere moment in my life.
I have had two occasions in my life where I thought my bell had been rung, where either the devils minions or gods angels were going to round me up very soon now. That was my first…