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May 20, 2006

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto ...

Well, you've all been clamouring for first impressions, no doubt shivering miserably behind your console as you type. With my stories from the Duyfken fresh in your mind, you're probably wondering how I'm coping in my first few days on the last frontier, in the far North of our beautiful State. The answer in short is that I'm alive and I'm not yet brimming with regrets - and as my mouth has been clamped shut for most of it while I let the new experiences soak in, I already have some stories to tell!

Settle in, and I'll fill you in as best I can.

While two men practiced in the art of big-noting themselves and pummelling others fight for supremacy in the bar downstairs, I have put fingers to keyboard to capture the silence of my surroundings for the first time. But for the incessant ramblings of the Japanese tourists outside my window, it is quiet at last.

Saturday

Arriving feels like a dream. We fly over the beach, its colours and scope like the brochures had promised. I put down my trashy magazine to watch as we coast onto the runway, the vague thought playing in the back of my mind that I have done something phenomenal at last, at last. My heart stops in my throat as we land.

Xavier picks me up from the airport in his dusty Landrover, filled with the minutiae of country life - tools, fishing equipment, a battered esky - which he shoves to the side to accommodate my luggage.

We drive for miles and I stare. From the pristine sands of Cable Beach to the mangroves alive with skittering crabs, it feels like another planet. Gantheame Point, on the very tip of the peninsula, is otherworldly; the glossy beach against red, red dirt and striated rocks in stacked formations stunning and the sky so blue and cloudless it stings the eyes. I am so dazed I barely notice the first tentative nibblings of the sandflies.

After a whirlwind tour and truncated history it is clear that this is a land of contradictions ... of pure white coastline stained with a grim past. The lazy drift of paradise laced with the unease of disgruntled locals. The light and the dark, the luxurious and the poor.

I arrive at the hostel, which I quickly realise is a den of iniquity. Xavier helps me with my luggage and as the door to my room swings open we are both briefly lost for words. A rickety metal bed occupies most of the space, framed by mouldering walls dotted with smashed, bloodied mosquitoes. The ceiling boasts a wobbly, dusty ceiling fan.

"It looks like a prison cell, eh!" he says, and dumps my bag in the corner as I smile weakly.

I lie in the hammock with a book among the palm trees and make small talk with travellers, thinking Well, this isn't so bad. But I feel like an impostor among all these brown, blasé types wearing little more than bikinis and smiles and speaking in obscure languages. I am not in the mood to talk about where I'm going or where I've been, or to eat two-minute noodles straight from the pot, so I slink off to read in the corner. Everything about these people feels sexy and free and I feel suddenly shy.

Later, I submerge myself in the tropical pool, repeating I live here, I live here to myself like a mantra as I cut slowly through the water.

That night I locate Coles, buy groceries and return triumphant at my small victory.

Sunday

I wake early to meet some of my new colleagues for breakfast. The office manager picks me up with her pleasantly innocuous husband their chirpy banter lulls me as we drive. By 7.30 we are sitting at a café at the port of Broome, eating over-priced omelettes and talking in that polite way of new acquaintances. Jenny is kind-hearted, bird-like, eager to please - and I wonder what she will be like to work with. I am fascinated as she tries four different ways to get Bob to order an orange juice with his breakfast, but he is quietly mutinous and drinks only water. She finally gives up and orders one herself. Trish-from-the-office has also turned up, a quiet type who is slow to respond to questions and impenetrable behind dark glasses. I think to myself that she seems like a hard nut to crack.

I am given the company car for the afternoon and am suddenly free. I take to the roads and get happily lost, eventually finding my way to Kanangae Estate where I buy freshly made mango chutney, suck down my first, delicious mango smoothie and eat my lunch among frangipanis and mosquitoes. That afternoon, I lie on Cable Beach for the first time for an hour, slow roasting under the bright glare of the sun. Suddenly aware of being solo, I awkwardly ask a woman in the change rooms to rub sunscreen on my back, tense with the notion of being touched by a complete stranger. But she is brisk, and I am soon lolling about with the tourists again, frying slowly and safely in the half-shade.

By this stage, my thoughts are beginning to scatter. Dulled by the heat, I can't string together a lucid idea and so I give up trying and succumb instead to the drift, reading Tim Winton's The Turning, which is so appropriate as to almost be a joke.

That evening, the hostel heats up with whiffs of weed, blaring music, endless drinks and a string of dodgy bogan visitors, hissing platitutdes at the girls along the lines of oi, c'mere ... nah? ...fuck off then you fucken bitch, all with the implicit support of the doggish owner who nods his bald shiny head and flexes his considerable bare-chested muscles as he plays game after game of pool with hapless Dutch travellers. Sick of hiding in my room, I head for the relative safety of the Mangrove Hotel to witness the famous stairway to the moon.

As night descends and the mozzies come out in full force, a stream of bats emerges from the mangroves and flies screeching overhead. It seems like hundreds, thousands, and it sends a shiver down my spine. I have managed to seat myself with a couple more travelling bogans who are intent on sucking down improbably pink creamy cocktails and chatting me up, but instead I talk to the nerdy scientist from Sydney on my other side about bird sanctuaries and bats. The sky darkens to black and then, to the haunting sounds of the didge, a bright golden moon slowly starts to climb over the horizon. As it rises, it casts light across the mudflats and there it is - a stairway to the moon. We all fall silent as if we'd never seen the moon before - but this time it's affecting and somehow deeply moving and ancient.

Afterwards, I finish my drink and escape before the bogans can ruin the magic of the moment.

And so begins my life as a REAL JOURNALIST on a country paper in the arse end of nowhere wrapped beautifully in paradise paper and tied up with string. So far, I love the job. Launching myself into stories on the first day is exciting and my brain complies by delivering great stories to the perfect length with the right tone and pitch and witty headlines ... you get the idea. On the first day I write a couple of boring business stories and a fun piece based on the adventures of a crazy man travelling around Australia on a one man mission to stop the privatisation of Telstra.

The next day brings a feature piece on the redevelopment of the Broome Visitor Centre, a story about prevention of child abuse and a few pictures ... and today I research the sandalwood industry in Kununurra, the arrival of a new fishing charter boat, the petrol sniffing issue in communities out east. So I love the work, the variety, the deadlines. I should have been brave enough to do this years ago, because I feel like I've come home.

My colleagues, for the most part, are wonderful and from another plane of existence altogether. We have already been to the pub a few times for editorial meetings and I have enjoyed every minute I've spent with them so far. Trish has warmed to me and is generous in her attempts to make me feel welcomed. In the interests of making friends I have accepted every invitation they have offered, so the next few weeks will see me betting a bob or two on the hermit crab races, checking out the sundowner at the local, going to the launch of JJJ, watching the Da Vinci Code (gasp - never thought I'd be lining Dan Brown's pockets!), playing ultimate Frisbee and trying to catch a giant fish on any number of little tin dinghies. We have already discussed the idea of a regular craft day. Trish's mum made her a handbag out of some canvas and embroidered corn plasters (yes,the kind you stick on warty foot-growings) so there's lots for me to learn.

It doesn't feel like home yet and I'm not sure it ever will. The food is appalling and grossly overpriced, the shops close at 3pm and some services simply do not exist. And I still don't have anywhere to live. Earplugs and my can of RID are my new best friends - in fact, my only friends.

But if I can just get used to being eaten alive by sandflies, the constant stench of bug spray and the poverty of being a journalist in this town, I think I'll survive for a while.

To sleep, to sleep, with the grim ministrations of the post-fight hyped bogans taking place below me and the sounds of bad pop music in my ears.

Love Flip x x

May 11, 2006

A tale of adventure on the high seas!

Seeing as it appeared in such short form in print ... and seeing as I'm still too traumatised to talk about this in person, herewith the true tale of my adventures at sea on the Duyfken. I hope you enjoy! Would love to hear what people think of it ...

Armed with my 18th century glossary of nautical terms, enough sea sickness remedies to sink a ship and a printout containing 101 ways to talk like a pirate, I thought I was more than ready to tackle the high seas as a crew member of the Duyfken.

Oh, how wrong I was. This little fish spent seven days out of water on the "little dove" in the most challenging experience of her life. Expecting a pleasant junket, I was instead thrown into a situation I was completely unprepared for. This is a tale about the unpredictability of nature, of hard work and survival and sea - and lots and lots of vomit.

Thursday 13th - museum day.

Arriving on the docks at Bunbury, I dump my bags and am thrust into a tour guide role for the many curious visitors milling around the ship. Initially unfamiliar with its features, I quickly become an old pro on the imported 400-year-old bricks from The Netherlands used as authentic-looking ballast in the hold. Over a busy afternoon, we field hundreds of questions about pirates, sleeping arrangements and hidden treasure and get kids to sniff canvas bags of nutmeg costing more than a house in the 16th century. Visitors are awed by the ship, and rightly so. Everything has been reproduced in intricate detail, from the eight long guns to the carved and polished whipstaff, controlling the rudder of the ship. It's a mobile museum and a stunning monument to maritime history.

Up on deck, a visitor points out the spot where his friend sat all night on a previous voyage, too seasick to move. "I thought I'd take a picture of it and send it back to her," he chuckles, while I feel a twinge of fear. "Don't worry - you'll be fine," Wallace, the ship's boatswain tells me later. "We're going to have you climbing up the rigs - you're going to experience every part of the boat. But you have to throw up at least twice or I won't be satisfied."

About 5pm, we load the gear onto the ship and put away all the museum pieces in readiness for sailing the next day. Nervous but excited, I bunk down in a hammock to spend my first night as ship keeper.

Friday 14th

In the morning, the ship is a hive of activity, the crew uncoiling ropes and lashing loose objects ahead of sailing. Wallace spots the seasickness bands on my wrists and laughs. "You know what they're good for? Wiping the vomit off," he says, hanging from the rig.

Captain Gary Wilson is irritated at our midday departure, as ideal winds had sprung up around midnight and he fears we've missed an ideal opportunity to make headway. But the mood is festive and farewelled by a crowd of well-wishers and escorted by lots of local boats, we successfully leave the harbour just before midday to head SWxW for Cape Naturaliste.

As soon as I pick up my first rope to set sail, my hands are covered in the tar which will become the bane of my existence. We are quickly filled in on essential aspects of sailing - port is on the left, starboard to the right - and given a rundown on the dizzying array of ropes controlling the sails, which include bowlines, braces, lifts, tacks, halyard, sheets and clewlines. "On the foresail, haul away!" Wallace shouts, and we launch into action, yanking hard on the halyard to a chorus of "two-six, heave!". Some minutes later, the foresail yard is raised and crew are darting all over the ship to work on the other sails.

In the afternoon, we "tack" the ship for the first time. "We've got to start to remember where all this gear is, guys," Gary cautions, as we man the ropes controlling the mainsail and topsail. "We've got to be able to do this manoeuvre just like this in about 15 seconds. Where we're going, if we get a cold front coming through and we get caught aback, we'll lose the whole rig over the side if we can't get this stuff round quick enough." Easy on the topsail ... make fast there ... get the clews right down past the beak ... slack away your lead brace ... main braces let go and haul ... brace the spritsail yard - his orders come thick and fast. Unfamiliar with the dizzying array of ropes and confused by the language, I am left feeling utterly bewildered.

After lunch, I chat with Vic, an amiable retiree. A shipyard coordinator and guide for the Duyfken whose grandfather sailed square riggers in the 16th century, he's looking forward to a nine month trip. "I'm doing the whole lot - my wife's given me a leave pass," he says. "It's a wonderful opportunity. You fall in love with it. You really do."
"Two o'clock in the morning you'll be cold and all the rest of it, and it puts your mind back. What would it have been like for them in the 1600s? There they were sailing, and they didn't really know where they were going. It was the great unknown."

Placed on Starboard watch, we start work until 7pm in the first of many Swiss watch shifts requiring us to act as lookout and steer the ship. Our first mate and starboard watch supervisor, Mick, calls me into the cabin for a lesson in steering, using a compass on the binnacle and the helm, or whipstaff. "What we're doing now, is steering full and by - with full sails and by the sails. We want them to be full, and we want to get them as close to the wind as we can, so you need to watch the leading edge of the mainsail, on the windward side," he says.

Peter, an 18-year-old Dutch student on his gap year who is on the ship until Esperance, comes over to give me a hand. "See how the sail is bulging in sometimes?" he says. "You don't want it to do that. We keep pushing it, but as soon as it moves we have to respond." I am left in charge in steering the ship for the next hour at a compass course of 220, and it's surprisingly hard on the arms and difficult to control. My concentration on the irregular wobbling of the compass and the flapping of the sails sits uneasily with the undulations of the ship, and my stomach twinges for the first time.

Before dinner, we go through the safety procedures and are given a Stormy Seas jacket and personal Epirb. I am comforted by the fact that even if I fell overboard the crew could find me in a hurry. Just as dinner appears, my wristbands fail me and I duck below to throw up heartily for the first time. Back on deck, I am met with a smattering of applause and the announcement that I am now in the running to win the prize awarded to the most prolific chucker - a beer in Albany. "It's a bit of a wooden spoon award," Peter mutters, as I sit there sucking miserably on Sao crackers. Eventually released from service and too sick to even wash, I dash below, climb into my merrily bouncing hammock and lie there feeling sick. Neil presses some wet wipes into my hand and I would hug him if I could move.

Saturday 15th

I wake up feeling revolting. Woken at midnight for the first of many miserable night watches, I spend many hours during the night retching over the side of the ship or curled up against coils of rope trying to quell the nausea.
Steering on the whipstaff is out of the question, as it brings on instant queasiness. I also discover that my lookout skills are questionable, Mick frequently pointing out ships' lights on the horizon which I'd managed to miss.
I feel rather pathetic and wonder if they regret inviting me on board.

After a short sleep, we are up again at eight for our next watch. For breakfast, I chew gingerly on the corner of a piece of toast, but it's no use. Within minutes I am barfing over the side of the ship again. I turn around to find Gary grinning at me. "Still alive?" he asks. "This is hell!" I shriek, to the mirth of the others in the crew. "I really don't belong here!" It's day two and I'm already dirty, dehydrated and desperate to go home.

I quickly discover that being on watch is by far my favourite job, being outside in the fresh air with a clear vantage point. It's a beautiful, clear day with blessedly calm waters and we've managed to sail past Cape Naturaliste which feels like quite an achievement. Over the course of the day, with the wind shifting between SE and SW, Gary has us gradually working south, wearing ship a number of times to make best use of each shift in the wind. "I wanted to get well offshore so that when the forecast fresh SW'ly set in on Sunday, it might give us a slant to get past Cape Leeuwin," he notes in his log. Once again, each occasion is a confusion of tarry ropes, shouted orders and flapping sails - it doesn't seem to get any easier.

Every time I look around there's someone with their head hanging over the side.

Just before lunch, Neil, a builder from near Katanning, and I chill out on the poop deck. "I just saw this and I had to be here. You can't do this stuff all the time - you see an opportunity and you've got to take it," he says. "Here, there's no news, no radio, no business to do - you can leave all that behind and be isolated on this boat." He reckons he knows what the Captain's shouted orders are about roughly 70 per cent of the time. I tell him it's better than my three per cent.

Come 7pm, I'm back on lookout, loaded with Quells and trying to keep down my dinner. I am struck by the scene before me, which is the stuff of pirate films - black water roiling beneath the ship, a bright full moon peeking through wispy clouds to cast light on the dark silhouette of the rig against the sky.

Sunday 16th

At 4am, we struggle upstairs to be met with total chaos - wild winds whipping the sails to and fro. "Stand by to wear ship!" the Captain shouts, and we assemble by the ropes. In pitch darkness, we have trouble staying on our feet as the ship pitches heavily from side to side and my heart is hammering in fear as crew bounce precariously close to the edges of the ship. We eventually settle into a port tack and the situation calms, but everyone looks frazzled and edgy.

At about 6am, Alan, the ship's engineer, is downstairs checking the bilge when he is almost hit in the head by a flying chunk of wood. He looks up and to his horror discovers that the wedges holding the main mast in place have all dropped out, bar one, leaving the mast swaying dangerously in the wind. It is too risky to go on, and there's an immediate danger of the mast falling and taking the rig with it.

Sleeping unawares, we are woken suddenly by the Captain roaring "All hands on deck! All hands on deck!" and are again faced with a hectic situation. While some crew try to force a couple of wedges back in, the rest of the crew works amid a great deal of shouting, slipping and tying to get the mainsail down in record time, squaring the foreyard and running off downwind. To my disbelief, we are forced to head all the way back from Cape Leeuwin to the calmer waters of Cape Naturaliste to conduct repairs - going back the way we came.

Arriving in Geographe Bay just after 2pm, we continue for an hour or so with the engines on and anchor off Dunsborough just before 4.30pm, about 1.5 miles offshore. I corner Gary, who is looking stressed and grumpy. "How long do you think it will be until we reach Albany now?" I ask meekly. "Yes," he replies obliquely, and I take the hint.

Our crew is subdued, with some estimating it could be anything from a day to three days before we're able to set off, so my dreams of dry land begin to dissolve. I thought it was over, but it's nowhere near begun. With time to kill, I wander around to use the rare opportunity to chat to a crew at rest. Archie, a genial policeman from Fremantle, says he is there for the experience and to help with a marine youth program he's developed, but he's struggling.
"I know what I'm doing in Fremantle - I don't know what I'm doing on the ship," he says. "I get barked at with these orders and I have no idea what to do!"

Pedro, a burly checkout chick from the Tamala rubbish tip who gets about in short shorts and a series of amusing t-shirts, is unperturbed by the conditions. "Been there, done that," he says. "I've seen greenies come over the side before and I don't like it, but it happens." That night we're all able to keep down our meals for the first time since we set off and it feels like a major achievement. Our cook, Bree, has kept delicious meals coming whatever the conditions, but this time we're able to eat with gusto. Despite the setbacks, there's a growing sense of camaraderie - that we can beat this thing together. We hit the hammocks early.

Monday 17th

We wake at 7am, supposed to be refreshed after a long sleep uninterrupted by the cycle of watches except for an hour each checking the anchor and coordinates. But a steady chorus of snores, farts and sighs has kept me tossing and turning in the hammock all night.

Mick spots me on deck in the morning. "The look of despair on your face when I came in from anchor watch was so funny," he says. "You were like, 'please - make them stop!'" Despite the lack of sleep I am feeling chirpier than I've been since we've set off, even after I am instructed to scrub the decks and clean the shower and heads (toilets). Thankful to be keeping my breakfast down, I am not even bothered by the clumps of hair, tarry slime and the putrid smell.

Everyone is busy, second mate Adey leading the crew tightening the shrouds while Archie and Neil slowly replace the wedges keeping the main mast in place. Gary catches me looking longingly at the shore in the distance. "You wouldn't make it - you'd drown," he says. "It's further than it looks." Finally caving in to my fate, I give in and call to cancel my bus ticket home from Albany.

By about 2pm we are all set to have another crack at the Cape, the mast held firmly in place by the wedges, shrouds set up and a relatively refreshed crew keen to get going. We "weigh anchor", an exhausting exercise forcing all crew to have a hand in heaving the dripping and heavy load from the water. We set the foresail, mainsail and topsails, handing the mizzen to stand out on a port tack - but once again the wind is against us. Still, we're in a merry and hopeful mood as we enjoy Anton's delicious chocolate cake and a rousing chorus of happy birthday to celebrate Bree's 25th birthday. Our debt to her is enormous, as she's had three hearty meals on the table a day whatever the conditions, so our cheers are loud and enthusiastic.

Tuesday 18th

The day we're supposed to land in Albany dawns cold and grey and we're still surrounded by water and barely 40 miles from Bunbury. Anton tells me: "I was on the helm at 8.30am and I was like 'I see land! I see land!' and then I thought hang on - I've seen Cape Leeuwin from the sea and it doesn't look like that. I was looking at Cape Naturaliste again."

I have woken up scratching at my neck, which feels tight and sore. I go to the bathroom and am horrified to discover that my cheeks and neck have blown up like a bowling ball and my arms and legs are covered in an angry red rash. On deck, I hold out my arms for inspection to Mick and Gary. "I think I've got leprosy - or maybe it's scurvy," I bleat. "You'll live," Gary says authoritatively, when they've stopped laughing. "And besides - if you don't, I've got plenty of canvas and twine. We'll have a sea burial." As I scuttle off grumpily, he calls after me: "The last stitch goes through your nose - to make sure you're dead."

I am moody after another rough night on pitching waters. We had to wear ship twice in the night and then I was woken from my cramped sleep in the cabin to pump bilge. I could have throttled a grinning Mick when he asked, "Were you actually pumping? It didn't feel like it..."

Struggling with seasickness and my fear of deep water, I have been unable to climb on the poop deck at night even when shouted at. Watching the boys scale the rig at night to tie up the topsails makes me feel sick. I can't keep track of the ropes, I'm crap at steering the ship, and I keep missing ships' lights in the distance. I start to l like a useless whinger. But when Gary reluctantly takes the decision to power up the engines so we can try to keep to schedule, I immediately feel perkier despite the heavy pitching of the ship.

"With the iron topsail you can sail much closer to the wind," Mick explains. "If we make good at 6 knots we could do it in a day and a half." Later, I spot the Captain staring out to sea, looking grim. "You've got that pensive look again," I say. "I always have that look," he replies. "But sometimes you're smiling," I venture. "Nah - that's not a smile - that's a grimace," he says. That night, I curl up at Vic's feet as he sits in a half barrel positioned neatly in front of the gusts of warm air filtering through from the engine. "Ahh - it's like a home away from home, eh?" he says.
Eventually sick of the fumes, I wander on deck to chat to Archie, who is leaning on the lowered main sail and staring out to Cape Leeuwin in the distance. "I'd rather be home in bed," he says quietly, looking drawn and tired. I readily agree.

That night, after seeing Sandy and Peter throw up their dinner for the umpteenth time, I pray to God, Buddha, Ganesh and even the Channel 7 helicopter to get me off the ship before morning. Not one of them comes to my rescue.

Wednesday 19th

Waking up depressed to find myself still on the ship, I pull on my wet socks and sea boots and I contemplate stealing a lifeboat or trapping sea birds to fashion Icarus-like wings. As I munch glumly on my breakfast, Anton points out some land in the distance. "That's Cape Naturaliste again," he says. "We had to turn around and go back because we missed Cape Leeuwin." Just as disbelieving tears are pooling in my eyes, he grins. "Just kidding!"

I am told that while our journey overnight had started off in promising fashion, before too long the breeze had eased again and forced us to resume using the engines. By noon, we're about 18 miles to the SE of Cape Leeuwin, which according to Gary makes us the first square rigged jacht to enter the Southern Ocean since Tasman in 1642 with his Heemskerk. "However we have done it in less than glorious circumstances, creeping around under power, pitching and rolling heavily with ship, rig and company taking a pounding," he notes glumly in the Captain's log.
Up on the poop deck, Anton and I compile a list of pros and cons of the journey so far.

Anton's from a long line of seafarers - his forefathers were in the VOC and his dad in the merchant navy for years - so the sea is in his blood. But we agree that Archie's snoring, the wet conditions, hard work, seasickness, sticky ropes, lack of wind and lookout at 3am have made things fairly miserable. On the flipside, however, Bree's cooking, flaming sunsets and sunrises, occasional dolphin sightings and rare time spent lounging around have been pleasant. And I've discovered that I can sleep anywhere - wedged between giant coils of rope; on carved wooden chests lining the cabin and even sprawled on the deck with engine fumes filling my nose.

"See - it's all worth it," Anton says, patting my shoulder, but I am entirely unconvinced.

Later, I corner Gary again. "Any idea when we'll be getting to Albany now?" I ask hopefully. "Half past," he says. "Half-past what?" I say, but he has gone.

On our first watch that night, I sit on the poop deck, feeling mournful. "Flip, you look like you need a motivational quote," Mick says, pulling a handy stash out of his pockets. He entertains me into the night with cheesy quotes imploring me to stay positive, fight my fears and test my limits, while I pretend to be inspired and contemplate ways to escape.

Thursday 20th

I climb up to relieve Sandy from watch in the wee hours. "We should be tucked up in our warm beds, not up here growing icicles on us," she groans, as I try to find a warmish spot to sit.

In the afternoon, our watch is asked to wear ship on our own. Exhausted and wobbly, I lose my footing while trying to control the bowlines and wind-whipped sails and am twice thrown around the deck, much to the Captain's frustration. "Keep your footing," he roars, "Move smartly!" but I lose control of the ropes and he grabs them off me. He yanks off my offending gardening gloves and throws them overboard. "I told you - these things will have your hands off!" Stung and embarrassed, I sit up on the forecastle and sniffle to myself while the others tuck into lunch.

Archie comes to sit with me. "I'm feeling sorry for myself," I wail. "It's hard," he agrees, "and it's ok to feel a bit sorry for yourself. I feel like that when I climb into my bed at night. In fact, if there weren't so many people about, I might have even had a wee cry to myself!" Neil says it takes people a long time to settle in to the harsh conditions on the ship and that I'm not alone in my feelings, which makes me feel slightly better. "There's not a soul on board who hasn't been through a personal crisis - seasickness, fear, sleep deprivation," he says. "The wind has certainly dealt us a rough hand. This north-east breeze we've got now is the one we should have had coming down from Bunbury. Now it's appeared at exactly the time we don't need it."

That evening, I am dejected as the wind again forces us to wear ship and head away from the land. Despite the fact I have grown to really like all the people on the ship, I'm desperate to get off. Woken for one of our last night watches after an uneasy sleep, we are confronted by the sight of a wan and shaken Archie being helped slowly below by his fellow crew. A white bandage barely conceals the angry red gash on his head and it seems he's cracked a few ribs, having tumbled off one of the sea chests in his sleep. Sandy and I spend the next few hours downstairs, taking turns talking to him to keep him awake as an anxious Gary orders us to lower the mainsail and foresail, sparks the engine and begins the final journey to Albany. Archie feels guilty that we're heading back under inauspicious circumstances, but I tell him not to worry as I was considering throwing myself overboard if we didn't reach land soon and he'd saved me from a watery fate.

Friday 21st

About ten hours later, we cruise slowly into King George Sound and my happiness grows by the minute, even after my microphone tumbles overboard to a watery grave.

Alan and I torture ourselves with talk of our first meal when we get off the ship. "Mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and thick pork sausages - and a beer or two," he drools. "Steak," I sigh. "Cooked medium rare, with mashed potatoes and pepper sauce..." "I can finally have a cigarette," Bree says. "And a scotch!" Anton adds.

The sun peeks through the clouds as we putt gently past the islands outside Albany and I feel like dancing. "All the pain and suffering and misery you went through to get here was all worth it," Wallace says. "It's moments like this that need to be experienced."

But Gary is unimpressed. "We've wasted the last three days' takings on fuel," he growls.

Cruising into port, I suddenly notice how bad we all smell. Dirty, sticky and half delirious, all we can talk about is that first hot shower. As we finally pull in to the jetty, I call out to Mick, who is standing on the poop deck. "Hey Mick - I can't quite believe I'm doing this, but ..." and I smile and give him two thumbs up. Just as his face breaks into a wide grin, the skies open and the rain buckets down on my head.

In a final show of incompetence, I misplace the fender and almost cause the ship to bash into the jetty and Mick shakes his head. "How was the trip?" asks one of the well-meaning crowd of onlookers. "It was the hardest thing I've done in my life," I say, honestly, "and I'll never do it again."

Later that night, freshly showered and groomed, my sneaking notion that I have looked like crap for a week is confirmed when we reconvene for dinner in Albany - minus Archie, who's sadly been flown home nursing cracked ribs. "Bloody hell - you scrub up well!" I hear at least six times from fellow crew, who can't believe I'm smiling at last.

Someone asks me if I'm glad I went: "Aren't you proud of yourself? You made it!" But with the freezing nights, vomit and misery still fresh in my mind, I'm really not sure. It's not a trip to be undertaken lightly but it was certainly an adventure like no other. I contemplate what I have gained. Very dirty clothes, an enormous amount of respect for the others on the ship and even more for the original sailors who had suffered the same conditions coupled with the uncertainty of sailing into the great unknown.

But I have discovered that I'm not suited to a life on the water and that I enjoy my creature comforts very much.
"Sorry I was so useless," I say guiltily to Gary after dinner, "Ahh, you weren't that bad," he says somewhat charitably.

I wobble away on my sea legs and leave the rest of the crew, two men down, to their watery fate.

Death of a blog

You may experience a drop in your energy levels today and a sense that you'd rather be on your own squirreled away just reading or thinking. If you can swing it, that's exactly what you should do too! Try not to become discouraged by your lack of motivation, it is, after all, just a passing phase, remember that.

I'm discovering a terrible thing about this blogging world - it breeds addiction. Minutes can turn into hours can turn into entire afternoons trawling the web, reading snippety snippets from people's lives and discovering obsessions ranging from stuffed toys that look like baked goods to the mundane lives of people living in midwest nowhere with a penchant for cooking with organic ingredients. 'Less reading, more writing' I have often thought to myself, as I traverse the sprawling hills of this guilty pleasure and watch my precious time tick away.

But today I unashamedly mourn the death of one particular blog, Conversations About Famous People, which managed to roll my own penchant for celebrity whoredom and acid-laced cynicism into one delicious site. Checking in regularly would mean being treated to a witty alternative take on that glossy Hollyweird world of botox, brain freeze and bimbo-ism, the latest updates on Brangelina and TomKat coming replete with pictures and snidey remarks. What will life be like without this time-waster of a phenomenon? God forbid that people should start to take celebrities seriously.

May 10, 2006

The times they are a' changin'

Your focus is on love or a primary romantic relationship at this time. An enthusiastic or wholehearted approach to your partnership is one way in which you will express your feelings to a mate or lover. You may give the impression now that you are seeking more fulfilment, commitment, stability, and teamwork in love relationships. If you are unattached at the present time, you may attract a new love interest or search earnestly for a meaningful relationship. Also, this period can bring an increased need for security in both job-related and financial affairs.

I can't believe how skewiffy time gets when I'm about to depart for distant shores. Things speed up and slow down willy nilly and nights slip into days almost without provocation, lending everything a confused and frantic and mournful air by turn. With but days to go, I am fixated on the moment when I climb on the plane but starting to feel those regular pangs of pain and nostalgia for times that are about to slip into history. My eyes are heavy with lack of sleep and too much red wine in the company of friends, but I am grasping at every precious moment I spend with them before I have to say goodbye.

Somehow, I don't think this is the time for romance. The sudden interest by certain boys in me and my charms has been ridiculous of late and has left me feeling frustrated and irritated. Now is not the time for manifestations of fondness or puppy dog eyes, attempts to unhook clothes or whisper words of charm. The boat has sailed out of that harbour for the time being, I'm afraid, dear boys.

What do I think about most this week? Money, that grubby purveyor of dreams. I am entranced by the pursuit of it, the way it seems to trickle through my fingers as I shed my life in Perth and my fear about what life with reduced amounts of it will be like. But cast with the dim glow of distant suns, it is a thought that ebbs and flows.

I think of my friends and the new ones I'm eager to make. I have spent the past few years building a snug little network of people I love, whose faces are already fading into the distance. About this, I am not afraid. I think of the chance to shake off the many distractions that have held me from my first love, writing, and relish the thought of the discipline of the daily grind.

This Sunday, I will read the newspapers on the whispery sands of the beach, drinking coffee in the fresh early morning air and turning the pages with clean, dry hands.

May 5, 2006

Life's just beachy keen

Your world is changing, dear Gemini, both internally and externally. You feel a need to broaden your horizons. You contemplate a move to a new neighbourhood or a trip to a faraway land. The people in your life will change as a result of this. You are about to embark on a new phase of your life, and these new friends will act as able guides.

With but a week to go until I fly away to pastures new, I am struggling to fake an interest in work. So as of now, I'm giving up trying. Instead, I will devote myself to a moment or two of introspection while I have the chance.

I'm going to live in Broome!

I'm ... going ... to ... live ... in ... Broome. Only now is it starting to roll off the tongue with ease, this strange and startling statement. I have no idea where I am going to land in a matter of days (well of course I can work it out in geographical terms) and the excitement is almost too much to bear. Who will be my new friends? What will my new abode look like? Will I love my new job? The questions are roiling around in my head without cessation.

So how did I get to this point? One minute I'm letting my mind drift with possibilities (I cannot shake this feeling of suspension at present it feels like I'm holding my breath and waiting, waiting for something to happen. This week saw a lucky escape from Bunbury for the time being at least but by god I can feel how close I am to closing my eyes and flinging myself out of here) and the next I am packing my life into boxes and saying goodbye.

And thank god - it couldn't have come a moment too soon. The anticipation is akin to going travelling, suffused with the flurry of trying to be organised ahead of a new adventure. The job shimmers in the distance, viewed like a mirage - surrounded by palm trees and tropical fruits in imagery all too close to the truth ...