Up at dawn this morning, took the dogs for a walk to get the paper, wandered home and sit down to read the paper before going for my first jog of the year. On page two, I see a familiar looking ship, and read that it has berthed in Gladstone for a couple of days. I’m so surprised that I spray my Weet-Bix across the table, and while I frantically grab my carry bag and bicycle helmet, I hurriedly explain to my wife where I’m going. The run is forgotten…
On the way down to Auckland Creek, I wonder if the ship has already left, I hope not. Parking my faithful pushie, ‘Pubtruck’ outside the Yacht Club I gaze up and down the creek, Duyfken is nowhere to be seen. Two men hosing down their outriggers are watching me, and one of them says, “Miss ya boat mate?”
I smile, “Don’t s’pose you saw an old sailing ship round here somewhere?”
The younger bloke points out to sea, “Yeah, passed one about an hour ago, it was in the main channel making for open water.”
My heart sinks. I thank them, saddle up and drift along the road that follows the creek to the inlet. Riding up the road alongside the creek I glance into the marina and spy three masts covered in old fashioned rigging. With a whoop of joy, I turn Pubtruck around and hammer across the bridge to the marina, where I find the Duyfken alongside and securely moored. Excellent!
I am watched by a young man and an older man with a beard. We get to chatting about the ship. Brian, the older bloke is a mine of information, and I tell him I am writing a novel about Portuguese caravels, and he immediately invites me on board.
The next half an hour is an education. We stay above decks, and chat, I pepper him with questions, and he talks about the historical journey of the Duyfken, and the story of the current replica. He is a good natured sort of bloke, easy going, laid back and knowledgeable. The sort of person who is perfect to organise groups of volunteers to keep the ship afloat.
I am full of questions and he tells me that the best way to learn about the ship is to join the crew and do a trip. Sweat breaks out on my brow. They are leaving tonight he tells me, but they are short a cook and a mate. A cook is coming, but the mate, well that’s a different story. Am I interested.
Am I interested! Right then, the appeal of running away to sea is very real. I’d read about it, dreamed of it, and watched movies, and now, right now, I’m being offered the chance to throw in my lot with the crew and sail off tonight.
His phone rings. I take the opportunity to get some photos, and give myself an uppercut… I have to work tonight, my team is shorthanded, I haven’t prepared, I worry about the coming weather, I’m searching for excuses… I haven’t got the guts.
The ship will sail tonight if they get a mate. If not, then tomorrow, maybe. It is, as Mark tells me, in the lap of the Gods.
The crew is mostly asleep, scattered about the deck, some are under the deck. Room is sparse. They look tired, and Brian tells me about the shifts, how they work for 4 hours, on a round the clock roster. I ask him about travelling at night, do they stop. He laughs, “Every landlubber asks that!” he says. I am a landlubber. No they don’t stop at night. It takes too long to get the anchor up and down, and anyway, the anchor is poorly designed, the ship will drift.
I want to stay, to learn more, but instead I go silent. He tells me that the ship is always looking for crew numbers, they rely heavily on backpackers, or enthusiasts. Because it is a replica, you sleep rough, it is not a luxury cruise, but a working ship. I am entranced by the idea, and ask him when he will be back. He shrugs, “Might not stop in Gladstone, maybe Bundaberg, or Mackay. We’ll be down south for three months, before returning to Cairns.”
I shake his hand, and bid him farewell. I have a plan in mind. I will not sail tonight, but will do my best to sail with Duyfken from Brisbane, on her journey northward. This gives me time to prepare, to organise time off from work without rushing.
I pedal home from aerobics, and tell my wife about the trip. She asks, “Why don’t you just go? Ring work, and join the ship?”
Sweat breaks out on my brown again. I’m reaching for the phone as I post this, I have to make some calls…