Monthly Archives: July 2013

LAST THINGS TO DO IN DARWIN

Sunset“We’re all going to stay at the hotel room,” announced Jill. It was Saturday night – our last night in Darwin and our last night in Australia. Bazza had organised a pub crawl in town and we were gonna cut loose. We had begun our last drinks on land at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association bar. I was doing the rounds – again – to say ‘goodbye’ to the locals and members and characters that I had befriended.

John, the politically outspoken bar manager who gave me my first job at Dinah, Cheryl the grumpiest happy bar maid, Merco with his growling voice and antics, Chocko with his stories, Richard with his ramblings, Mongrel Mick who’s deck I sanded down, Paul with his awesome guitars (and my first sailing and fishing trip), Gonzo with his mornings ‘Can’t complain’, Josh with his late-night stumblings, Sue and Rob’s loudy-rowdy, 5-weeks Rowan, Brodes with her uplifting peppiness and Jack, who let me stay on her boat for work for four weeks.

And the mozzies and midges.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” asked Brian, the Irishman I had meet earlier when he was still sober.

“No,” I said. “She’s with me.”

I was returning from the bar with Olivia, a photographer by trade and one of the crew of the Tropicbird when he followed us back to our table. He was discussing his abnormally long eye-leashes.

“They make me look like a pervert,” he demonstrated staring right at me.

I excused myself to the toilets and upon my return was glad to see he was travelling from table to table.

“You know he’s after you, right?” said Jill as I sat between Orla and Olivia.

“Hmm?” I said, sipping on me beer.

“‘I don’t mean to drive a wedge between the two but are they together?'” Jill quoted the Irishman. “‘Because I’m after him.'” Jill was looking at me. Orla nodded in agreement.

“Whatta ya mean?” I asked.

“He was chatting up Olivia to get to you,” Orla explained further.

“Nooo…” I looked at them. “Can’t be”. Present company nodded.”You mean,” I  turned back to see that he was batting his abnormally long eye-lashes at me.

Brian wanted me to be the spoon he bends like Uri Geller.

“I just saved your ass – literally,” said Jill as we hi-fived.

“Are you blushing?” asked Olivia and as everyone drew their attention to me I said,

“No!” and could feel my cheeks turning tomato-red.

Brian lingered about like the onion-smell he was emitting. He tagged along in our taxi ride to town and even invited himself to join us at the hotel room where we put away our things.

“Can I play DJ?” he asked as he pulled out his laptop.

“We’re just about to go,” Orla said as she held the door open. He stumbled out and she shut the door behind him, rescuing us and our nostrils.

We headed down not long after to get to the pizza shop just down the road. A white coach was parked in front of the hotel. Looking left, the dark street was empty. Looking right, there were two men standing and smoking – with Brian who had his back to us.

“Oh look, he’s already chatting up two other guys,” Orla pointed out. “You’re not jealous, are ya?” she asked me. “He only wanted to take you in the bathroom.”

“How am I tagged as the taker and not the giver?” I said.

We decided to cross the street with the coach providing cover. But Jill was gravitating towards him like an out of control satellite hurtling towards Earth.

“Jill!” We called to her.

She turned around with a ‘What?’ look on her face. She hadn’t noticed him as we turned right to cross the street behind the coach. With Jill safely back in our orbit, we walked briskly down the street to the pizza shop.

The smell of onions wafted through and Brian appeared behind me. Luckily, he was chasing down his laptop.

“I left it in your hotel room,” he slurred. Dave tried to reassure him that they wouldn’t forget it.

“We’ll leave it in reception for ya,” he said as he and Brian exchanged phone numbers.

From the pizza we caught up with Baz at the Youthshack. After a shot called ‘Wet Pussy’ we headed out on Mitchell St. Our second stop, Hot Potato, was hosting a hen’s night.

We had a shot called, ‘Fresh Pussy’ and then we had a choice of Hubba-Bubba or Redskin low-balls on ice.

“Tastes like melted raspberry icy poles,” I noted, finishing my drink and tipping the ice into Olivia’s glass. “Where’s Dave?” I asked, leaning towards Jill’s ear as the poppy sounds of what some might regard as music pumped through the speakers.

“He’s gone to the ATM,” she said over the loudspeakers. “I said, ‘Thanks for coming out tonight. I hope it doesn’t get too crazy for you’ and he said we haven’t seen crazy yet. He’s going to get cash to prove how crazy he can get.”

Huh, I wondered. How much more crazy could a Saturday night out in Darwin get? And on the notoriously infamous Mitchell St.

Dave came back and bought everyone tequila shots. Everyone means the entire crew consisting of British Bazza, Irish Orla, Aussie Olivia, the Yankees Jill, Omar and Alison and me.

I don’t do tequila and neither does Olivia. We passed our shots on to Bazza’s Aussie crew that were up from Adeliade while Dave prepared the entertainment. He had a low-ball glass full of lemon wedges and a few packets of salt. He ripped open the packets and lined up the salt like cocaine. Then he produced a straw.

“Dave,” I said, “you’re not going too…”

He looked at me with a devilish grin as I stared at Jill.

“No…” I began as Jill nodded and Dave drew everyone’s attention. He shot the tequila, bent over the line of salt, snorted it up through the straw, grabbed a wedge of lemon and drowned his eyes with the citrus juice he squeezed out of them.

Into his eyes.

His eyes.

Both of them.

Tears were streaming down Dave’s face as he rose up. Bazza, like the rest of us, was jaw-dropped, but thought quickly as he raised it up and grabbed a napkin to wipe Dave’s face.

We were all staring at each other, jaws on the floor. Jill was the only one who wasn’t surprised. She just shrugged at us. Orla and Olivia leaned in to be heard over the speakers. “I can’t believe we just witnessed that,” Orla said what we were all thinking.

“I know!” I said. “I always thought it was a myth! Something they came up with in Hollywood!”

“I feel blessed and privileged to have seen that ,” Olivia summed it.

Baz rounded us up and herded us out to the next bar, Wisdom. The line spilled out to the street but being a group of 12 on a pub crawl, Baz cut us through and we went straight to the bar for more lolli-flavoured shots of ‘Fresh Pussy’ followed by a few beers.

We tried to dance to the noise that the crowd was bouncing too but it was cheesy pop with extra feta.

Our next stop was The Deck where shots of sambuca were poured out. Dave demonstrated his party trick again. This time Baz was ready with a napkin. We were still jaw-dropped the second time round as Dave wiped away lemon tears from his eyes.

“Omar!” I called out to him. “Sambuca shots! Let’s do this!”

“I don’t do Sambuca,” he replied. “Let’s do tequila!”

“I don’t do tequila!” I said back.

Well, this was a quandary. I looked over at the bar and took a deep breath. “Alright,” I announced. “If I do tequila, will you do sambuca?”

“It’s a deal,” and he headed off to the bar to get us tequila shots.

We lined up the clear shot of the Mexican beverage next to the dark (and quite thick) Italian muck. As I shot tequila, Omar shot sambuca and vice versa.

“Oh good god,” I groaned as both shots hit me deep in the stomach.

As the music progressively became worse, Olivia and I danced on the stage until the bouncer requested us to get down from it. Baz herded us out to our last bar and the only place to really finish up a proper night in Darwin – The Vic Hotel.

A live band was playing covers of pop songs. We had another round of lolli-flavoured shots, a beer and hit the dance floor as the band played Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ and some other covers I can’t recall.

By about 01:30 we had all retired except for Olivia, Baz and his Aussie crew. I walked back to Dinah beach and after a couple of Skype sessions with my brother and a good mate from back home, I tip-toed onto Richard’s catamaran and crashed in the salon with an irremovable smile on my face.

Today we set sail to Indonesia, where the waves await my surfboard and my soul.

I think the last time I was this excited about anything was when I saw The Rolling Stones live at Fenway Park in Boston back in 2005.

Start me up.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Hitch Hiking, Northern Territory, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

THE MACKEREL KING

“Tell ya what,” I said munching on the grilled mackerel. “Food tastes so much better when you’ve caught it.”

“And the fish is fresher because it’s straight from the water,” threw in Paul.

“And it’s free,” added Richard.

Along with Brodie, we were sitting in the BBQ area of the Dinah Beach bar. We had just returned from an overnight sailing and fishing trip on Pauls, Clair de Lune. He had sailed us on his beautiful boat out to a secret spot he knows.

“Guaranteed you’ll catch fish,” he had said a couple of days ago when he had invited me to the trip.

© Brodes Mate, 2013

© Brodes Mate, 2013

We set sail on Monday morning, just beating the change of the tide. An old trawler that was moored out in front of the pontoon had listed over and was under water. It’s starboard side jutting up, just breaching the water like a beached whale.

We loaded up the dinghy and took the provisions out to the boat. While I put the stock away, Paul motored back to the wharf to collect the rest of the gang.

 

Wanting to get some hands on experience with sailing, I was shown how to drop the mooring lines, prepare the winch handles for winching and most importantly, getting the boat ship-shape for sail.

Meaning, everything that could fly needed to be secured.

Paul revved the engine and we chugged out of the harbour, crossing the city of Darwin to our starboard side. Once we were out in open waters, I helped Paul raise the main sail and then the smaller head sail known as the genoa. Once we were wind powered, Paul had Brodie cut the engine and all that that was heard was the wind pushing the sails and pitching the boat across the open waters of the Timor Sea, averaging about 5-7 knots (about 11-13 km/h).

I’d never been sailing before and I’ve never properly fished before either.

We skimmed the waters, listing at more than 45 degrees, almost sailing on the rails of the starboard side.

“I reckon this is about as close to surfing as I’ll get,” I said, balancing myself on the bench as though it were a surfboard.

We drank beers and smoked as the day went on. Richard was at the helm, steering the boat while Paul and I adjusted the sails. We let out a line with a deep-sea lure on it.

“This is called ‘trolling’ as apposed to ‘trawling’,” explained Paul. “‘Trolling’ is when you let out one line while ‘trawling’ is when you drag a net behind ya.”

We sailed under blue skies, the sun grinning down on us. Over the horizon of the mainland that was kept to our starboard, we could see the smoke from the controlled fires at Kakadu National Park (at least, I hope they were controlled).

The smokey haze covered the lower line of the horizon, making it look more like something you’d see in China rather than the northern part of Australia. We reached Gunn Point Reef and dropped anchor. We were only 3 K’s offshore so it was surprising that we were only in 5-7 meters of water. Clair de Lune had a larger keel than most boats so we needed enough water to anchor in so that we wouldn’t get caught out on the low tide.

We used squid and small fish for bait as we hooked the fishing rods. I threw my line in and almost instantly could feel little tugs on it.

“They’re biting,” I said as Paul instructed me to pull up on the rod when I felt a nibble. I followed his guidance and reeled in a small trevellie, a silver bodied fish with yellow dorsal, side fins and tail. It was no bigger than my hand (they can grow to over a meter).

Paul adjusted it on my hook and I threw the line back in. I could feel an increase in bites and something big took the trevellie with the hook. As Paul re-hooked my line – again – Brodie was catching some trevellies and a few brim which were too small and were thrown back in.

The sun was setting over the water. The hazy smoke from the mainland behind glowed the sky red as the moon rose up over the land. It was a night away from being full. Still, it was very bright and lit up the boat and the surrounding waters.

With the light off the moon, I fished from the bow, from the port and starboard side. I lost a bit of bait to the fish that had figured out how to avoid the hook and as evening settled in, I reeled in two decent sized snappers, one after the other.

“Dinner is served,” I proudly announced (although dinner ended up being steak sandwiches).

We continued fishing well into the night. By 22:30 I was nodding off. Paul had retired to his V-berth cabin up in the bow and Richard and Brodie were playing with the trolling line. It had attracted a hammerhead shark that was now circling the boat.

I threw my line with a small trevellie on it and that’s when I felt the sheer power of something very large in the waters below.

Whatever had taken the bait was gunning for it, churning out the line on my roll, smoke just about rising from it like a controlled fire. But let’s be honest here, I had no control and as I tried to reel in the aquatic monster from below, the line went limp.

“It took the hook!” I yelped. “The fuck was it?”

“It was definitely shark,” said Richard. “Might have been a tiger shark.”

Damn.

I continued to fish off the port side when another powerful jolt had me concentrating on the line. This time, I was determined not to lose the hook. I reeled and pulled, watching the top of the rod bend over as whatever was hooked swam under the boat.

Slowly I pulled and I could feel the fish lose it’s battle. In the light of the spotlight shining down from the main mast, illuminating the entire stern, I saw what I had caught.

“Its a shark!” I said with excitement. I was staring at a 2-foot black-tip reef shark. We weren’t sure how to handle it. Its sharp teeth were not inviting. It’s skin felt like sandpaper and its eyes seemed to scream out ‘evil’. Brodie and I tried to dislodge the hook from it’s mouth to return it to the water but the shark didn’t survive it’s interaction with us. We felt bad about it and decided to call it a night.

I rearranged the cockpit so I could sleep out under the stars. The breeze was just right, feeling like a fan set on ‘3’. The water had barely a ripple as I dozed off on my first night without having to endure mosquitoes, midges and sand flies.

In the middle of the night I awoke and sat up. The light of the moon lay a creamy path across the water. But it was the sound of something releasing air that had risen me from my sleeping state. The sound was familiar, something I recalled hearing when I was out surfing in Lorne last year. A seal had surprised me by popping up right next to me, opening its nostrils, breathing in and out with huffs, staring at me with it’s huge eyes.

But what I heard was bigger. I scrambled to the deck and looked around. I couldn’t see anything and after a few minutes I returned to my sleeping bag.

I woke up twice more due to the same sounds of what I would later learn was a dugong.

I slept soundly, as I always do when I sleep outdoors, and cracked an eye open to watch the red glow of the sun rise over the horizon at the early stages of the morning. I watched the awesome sky go from it’s veiling black night to its brightening morning light.

Paul brewed some coffee and after de-bedding the cockpit, we were all up and fishing. My first catch of the day was a whaler shark. It was about the same size as the black-tip reef shark I had pulled up the night before. I watched as Paul grabbed it behind it’s head and pulled out the hook, returning it safely to the water.

He cooked up some bacon and eggs. Not really one to eat bacon I was surprised to discover that it was actually pretty good. With renewed energy, I returned to fishing as Paul strummed on the guitar.

I reeled in another shark. Another black-tip reef and this time I was determined to release it without it dying. The hook was well embedded in its jaw bone and after a bit of a struggle, I managed to get it out and return the shark to the water, watching it swim off.

“I’m going to the toilet,” announced Richard as he went below deck.

As I released another line I saw a cloud of a yellow coloured substance. “Is that blood from a fish that just got eaten below?” I asked Paul who was standing on the platform above it.

He looked down. “Nah, mate,” he grinned at me. “That’s Richard’s poo.”

As soon as he said it something took my bait. I assumed it was another shark but when I managed to bring it in and saw that it was a fish, I was beaming.

“Mackerel,” informed Paul. “Get it over here quick cause their skin isn’t very strong and that hook might rip out. And watch out for it’s teeth.”

I looked at it’s snapping jaw and saw teeth that were bigger than the ones the sharks were sporting.

“Sheesh,” I said, as I swung the line over to the stern area where Paul released it from the hook.

I had barely returned the line to the water when I hooked another mackerel. Both fish were about 60 cms in length. Before long, I had hooked 4 mackerels.

“Mackerel King,” grinned Paul.

“It’s Richard’s poo that’s bringing them out,” I said.

I was re-baiting my hook when something big took Paul’s bait. He was standing on the platform just behind the stern, over the shark-infested waters. The line whirred out at blinding speed. Paul fought for control but whatever had taken the bait was determined not to be brought to the surface.

We watched for anything, ready to jump to any assistance Paul might need. I followed the line out to the open waters when something dark breached the water about a hundred meters off the port side of the boat.

“D’ya see that?” asked Richard.

“Yup,” I said, squinting against the bright sun. “What was it?”

“Tiger shark. Might just be what Paul’s fighting there.”

After a 2-minute battle in which Paul almost lost his footing, whatever had been hooked snapped the line, leaving us all to wonder what it was.

“Definitely shark,” said Paul. “Probably tiger.”

Hammerheads, black-tip reefs, whalers and one of the most dangerous sharks in the water, the Tiger shark.

Do Not Fall Over Board.

I had thrown my line back in after reeling in mackerel number 4. I felt a few tugs and nibbles on the hook below and snapped the rod up.

“He’s on,” said Paul as he watched the tip of the rod bend almost all the way down. I pulled on it, reeling in whatever was caught.

“It’s a real fighter,” I braced myself. The line was going under the boat.

“Come round to the stern so the line doesn’t get snagged,” suggested Paul.

I rushed around and clambered over to the platform behind the stern. That’s when I watched my iPhone get pushed up and out of my pocket before it landed with a quiet splash in the Timor Sea.

“That did not just happen!” I groaned.

“What?” asked Paul.

“My phone just fell in.” I began to see the outline of what I had hooked. “This fucker better be big,” I said.

“It’s another mackerel,” said Paul as I pulled it up and over. It was the same size as the others.

“Ah well,” I said. “Maybe it was meant to be. I actually feel free without it now.”

Paul filleted the fish while we prepared the boat for departure. We had her ship-shaped and read to go within the hour. I looked over the starboard side and saw something large and round in the water. Brodie was standing in front of me and I pointed her towards the, “Sea turtle.”

Paul revved the engine and raised the anchor. Brodie decided to take an extended nap while Richard was at the helm. Once we were out in deeper water, I helped Paul raise the main sail and then the genoa. Something yellow was sticking out in the green coloured water. As we came up alongside it I recognised the,

“Leopard shark!” I pointed at it. It had leopard spots and was just swimming about near the surface.

With the down wind we were flying across the water, averaging 6-8 knots. Paul turned the engine off and the natural silence of nature greeted us.

“You wanna try steering, mate?” he asked me.

“What? Really?” I sat up. “Fuck yeah!”

I clambered over and stood behind the wheel as Paul showed me what to watch out for.

“You want the red line to be about there,” he showed on the iPad screen that was tracking our navigation. “Keep us out of the green patches cause that’s too shallow for the boat. And try to keep us just on the white-light blue area. Keep the point of the land in between those staunches,” he pointed at the space he was indicating to the port side.

I took hold of the wheel and was surprised to discover that to steer a sailing boat, you really need to fight the wheel. I was spinning it left, waiting for it to react, then spinning it right, mistiming the reaction on it.

After a bit of lefting and righting I had control and was at the helm, steering a 47-foot mono hull doing 7 knots an hour.

Paul had made some ham and cheese rolls for us. Richard took over the wheel to allow me to eat as we flew by the Darwin waterfront, people lined up and watched us sail by. Paul took over the wheel and brought us into the mooring up the creek.

ImageAt the bar, we fired up the BBQ and cooked up all the mackerel. We invited John, the bar manager and Poppy, the new bartender for a feed and said goodbye to Gemma who was going back to the cold of Tasmania.

“Thanks for the trip, Paul,” I said to the skipper.

“Thanks for the fish,” he grinned.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Northern Territory, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

THE BOAT THAT ROCKED

My left eye cracks open, allowing the stream of bright sunlight rip the iris a new one while my right eye slept in a bit more. The sun streamed down through the hatch out of a blue, cloudless sky. A cool breeze whipping about on another 28-30 degree sun-filled day.

FRIDAY

photo 3 (2)Dean, who owns a beast of a catamaran, asked me to help him paint the keel while the tide was out. I suited up and painted alongside his 15-year-old son, Gemma. His pregnant partner, Mel, was looking after two-year-old Jecanje, the cutest blue-eyed, blonde-haired kid you ever did meet.

“How much cash you want for the job?” Dean asked.

“I’m happy to barter, mate,” I said.

“Alright, how ’bout we take you out to the Palmerston Night Markets for a feed?”

“Done,” I grinned and headed off to clean myself up.

I didn’t even know there was a market out in Palmerston, the original name of the city of Darwin before 1911.

Out on the grass, a troupe of swing dancers performed and entertained the crowd, getting people to get up and swing. The food choice wasn’t as varied as Mindil Beach Night Markets but some of the same stalls were there. I was tossing up between Asian food and Asian food.

In the end, I settled on some Asian food.

On the drive back Mel was singing along to Florence and the Machine that was playing on the radio.

“Geez, you got a voice on ya Mel,” I said. “You know every Friday is open mic night at Dinah.” I was recalling my last performance at Dinah the previous Friday where, although my guitar playing skills did well, my singing might have caused a spontaneous migration of all living things in the surrounding mangroves. I knew that with Mel on the mic we could blow away the audience.

“Alright,” she said without the need of persuasion. “Let’s work on a few songs.”

SATURDAY

I was invited to dinner at the Sariks. “Roast beef and vegetables,” Izzie had written in her text. I didn’t need any arm-twisting. I biked the 12 K’s to their home and caught up with Damo, Izzie, Cheyenne, Xavier, Paulo, Paul, Suzette and her youngin’, 5-month-old Mali.

We drank and stuffed ourselves to the extreme and polished off the evening by watching the 6th installment of The Fast and the Furious. These car movies were nice the first time round but milking out ludicrous storylines to bank on an international market was over doing it like with any sequel, prequel, and any other quels Hollywood’s lack of imagination comes up with.

And there definitely weren’t enough souped up cars tearing up the crowded streets of whatever city they were in.

12 K’s later, I was back at Dinah Beach where I crashed into bed.

SUNDAY-MONDAY-TUESDAY

I sat with Mel and we went over some songs before we decided on Bill Withers’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and The Foo Fighters, ‘Best of You’. We rehearsed when we could over the following days. I figured she’d sing, I’d play and we’d call it a night. But then Wednesday happened.

WEDNESDAY

I was sitting at the bar when Amy came up with the refreshing idea of beers and a swim down at the waterfront. Brodie was on her break from sanding Paul’s boat so the three of us biked over for a splash.

Returning from the water, Brodie went back to sanding Paul’s boat, ‘Clair de Lune’ (French for ‘Moonlight’) which was tied to the wall opposite ‘Jaz’.photo 4 (2)

“We should jam a bit,” suggested Amy. We were sitting on the wharf above Paul’s boat. Amy had a pair of bongo drums from Steve and a voice that just kept you in the moment. I brought out my guitar and as Paul and Brodie worked, we provided a soundtrack of covers and Amy’s original (which was mind-blowing).

As the sun set and the day’s work was coming to an end, Paul invited us to sit in his boat. Richard, our neighbour to the left of ‘Jaz’ who lived on the catamaran ‘Catalyst’, also joined us. But it was when Paul brought out ‘The One’ that had me return my rickety travelling six-string to ‘Jaz’ so I could completely rock out on this beautifully wood-crafted, steel-string electric Ibanez. Every string emitting a sound that made knees buckle (luckily, I was seated). It was perfection.

Paul added to the party by plugging in his other acoustic pick-up (a Sanchez) which had one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard an acoustic ring out.

And like Bob Marley, we were jammin’. And to think, that jammin’ was a thing of the past.

Being it a Wednesday night, the club was hosting it’s weekly member’s night. They have a badge draw where they try to give away a thousand dollars to a member. A member’s number is called up and if that member is present then they have 60 seconds to claim their winnings. If the winning member is absent then the money rolls over to the next week.

At 19:30 we made our way to the bar for the draw, each hoping our number might be called up and make one of us a thousand dollars richer.

“7561,” called out the wheel spinner.

A chorus of, “Shit,”‘ went around the packed bar and it wasn’t due to the State of Origin rugby match playing live on the TV. For the third week running, the winning member was absent and the money rolled over to be drawn next week.

We bumped into Jack at the bar and stayed for a few drinks, listening to Reggae Dave, an Aboriginal musician who ripped on the guitar with world-renowned bass player Jayco (who was playing his last gig) accompanying. But the call of our own instruments on the Clair de Lune was too enticing and we heeded to it.

Amy, Brodie, Paul, Jack, Richard and myself sat around the table in the cockpit. Brodie had bought 4 packets of beads in plastic tubes that were turned into shakers. She poured one out and rubbed the beads against the wood of the table, producing a sound that just added to the ensemble. Paul added volume by producing a microphone and I provided a capo and harmonica.

We had just finished a song when a resounding applause was heard from the wharf just above us.

Looking up I saw Chucko, Jayco and a few others that had pulled up some chairs and were just chillin’, listening to the music.

“Venus is bright tonight,” noted Richard as the evening’s first star shone like a spotlight on our concert stage.

But it was when Paul started playing with the effects on the amp while I was strumming on The One that really kicked things off.

Especially when someone in the next bay set off fireworks to light up our night.

Suddenly I was transformed from a backpacker who was strumming a few sing-along songs to having the soul of Jimi Hendrix channel through me as the effects turned this boat-jam into a stadium show.

I was jaw-dropped by the sounds we were all producing but this guitar, The One, I didn’t want to let her go even though it was nice to take a break and swap around to the other instruments. I drummed on the bongos and then blew the harmonica while Amy and Brodie utilised the guitars.

And then I ended up with the microphone in my hand.

Now, I dunno know about you, but when I get a microphone in my hand my voice turns from the charming, charismatic, deep-based soprano that I’m known for and into a seducing, late night radio show host. As Paul started a beat, I found myself beatboxing into the mic.

We became an unstoppable musical force playing four hours straight. And like the Foo Fighters, we weren’t gonna stop unless someone pulled the plug.

We ripped through what felt like hundreds of songs. Paul, who’s only been playing guitar for a year and a half (and playing it fucking well) smashed out some of his originals. We improvised on the fly, Amy and Brodie singing out in harmony while beating out a beat on the bongos. Jack took hold of the harmonica and Richard… well, Richard just rambled from one story to the next without pause.

We drank and smoked and sang and laughed and I reckon the boat could have sailed on the musical energy alone. Kinda like the boat on the chocolate river in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The crowd that had gathered on the wharf had long gone. At just past 23:55. Amy and Brodie retired. I continued to jam with Paul and Jack, Richard telling another story.

At 00:19 I called it a night and went to bed, leaving the three of them to try and play over Richards ramblings up until about 03:30.

THURSDAY

I helped out on Paul’s boat in exchange for a few beers. Paul invited me to stay for dinner with Brodie and Richard.

“Got some steaks,” he said.

“What can I bring?” I asked.

“One of those ready-made salads,” Paul said.

I looked at him. “Bought salad? Nah mate, I’ll make us a salad,” and I biked off to buy some salad produce to make my famous diced garden variety.

The dinner guests included our small, tight-knit wharf community – Brodie, Amy, Richard, myself and Paul. John joined us later on for the jam session that inevitably happened after dinner. Only this time, we were going unplugged so as not to disturb  the wildlife.

I was surprised that I still knew some songs that we hadn’t played last night and we rocked on well into the night. Richard retired early at midnight and I followed not long after. Amy, Brodie, John and Paul stayed on until about 5 AM.

FRIDAY

It was game day. The Sariks were coming along with Suzette and Roger. Names were being written on the Jam board as I stared at it. I was nerve-racked. I couldn’t even bring myself to write my name on it let alone get up and play.

Shit, I thought. The fuck is wrong with me?

I mean, it’s terrifying (for the audience) every time I get up and play. I always feel like a newborn giraffe, trying to workout how the legs move, getting them to cooperate in sequence. I figured the anxiety I was feeling was due to me deciding last minute that I’d play a few covers before bringing Mel up.

I got up to get a drink at the bar and on the way forced myself to detour by the Jam board and put my name up.

I had two meals as I was starving and after about five beers (which didn’t help ease me nerves) I was finally called up. I was glad Paul’s Sanchez was up there and I magnetised myself to it. I broke out with a Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’ followed by The Velvet Underground’s, ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ before I finished up with U2’s ‘Desire’.

“Thank you, thank you,” I thanked the applauding crowd (I’m not sure whether it was because I was finally done or because I may just have sounded a bit of all right). “Now I’d like to bring up someone who can actually sing and give some proper ear-listening pleasure. Mel?”

ImageMel came up with her lyric book. She stood in front of the mic while I placed a capo on the fifth fret for our opener, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. She ripped out a soulful rendition that blew the audience away, just as I had predicted. I smashed out Bill Withers song on the guitar and together we rocked the crowd.

The applause almost knocked me off the bar stool as I lifted my head at the end of the song, astounded by the love. We glided into ‘Best of You’ as Cheyenne and Xavier danced in front of us, twirling around without a care in the world as most kids do.

The crowd was still applauding as we left the stage. I realised while I was up there I was lost in the moment. I didn’t even notice the audience while I was playing.

After everyone had left, I hung out with Brodie and John. We rode over to his place to grab a couple of fishing rods to try and fish for Barramundi off Paul’s boat.

I had told Paul that I’ve never really properly fished.

“What?” he stared at me. “Never?”

“I once went with my brother and while he was emptying the ocean I just sat there waiting. And waiting. And nothing.”

“I’m heading out Monday with Brodie. We’re gonna sail to this secret spot off a reef off an island off the coast where I guarantee you’ll catch a fish,” he said. “We’ll be spending the night.”

“Sweet! I’m in!” My first proper sailing trip. I can already see an intimate jam sesh that’ll have the fish eating out of our hands.

Life is much better with music.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Northern Territory, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

STOP! HAMMOCK TIME

Tropicbird“If you need to take a slash, then do it from the swimming platform at the stern,” Julian indicated with his head towards the back of the boat when I asked what the procedure was with number 1’s.

After a day of driving around town, running errands to get things fixed on the boat – steering shaft, hydraulic ram and other technically impossible terms – I was invited to dinner, movie and see what sleeping on the boat out on water was like.

Jill, who had arrived the day before, had spent the day at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association where we boarded Tropicbird’s dingi and chugged out to the 50-foot ketch.

“I’m pretty sure I saw a crocodile last night,” she said, looking around the waters as Julian guided the tiny rubber dingi to the boat.

Calming thought, I thought.

Tonight’s menu were lentils with regular and sweet potatoes mixed in with tomato paste. A lack of refrigeration meant that until we hit the islands of Indonesia, I was on a vegetarian diet.

Unless we caught fish.

I’ve never caught fish. My brother put me off it when he took me fishing as a kid. While he emptied the waters of its marine life, I sat and watched my line.

And watched.

And continued watching.

Until it was time to go.

But I digress. For the evening’s entertainment we started with ‘Tropic Thunder’ but Julian wasn’t grabbed by it so we switched to “The Goods – Live Hard, Sell Hard’.

The captain was highly entertained – until he fell asleep halfway through.

The night was hot. There was cloud cover which, like glad wrap, kept the heat in. And like any hot dish wrapped with glad, it was sticky-hot under the sky. The air was stifling and almost choking as it came to a standstill, like one of those human statues on a major city street.

Since my bed was a choice of the sitting area of the cockpit or a hammock hanging in the cockpit, I figured tonight would be a good opportunity to test the hammock out.

Julian set it up and he and Jill each retired to their cabins below. I stripped to my boxers and decided that executing a number 1 before clambering into a hammock would be more efficient then trying to hop off it again in the middle of the night.

I stood on the swimming platform at the stern and looked around as a warm stream left my body and hit the dark waters below. I peered through the darkness at the mangroves surrounding the waters. The platform was barely a foot above the liquid when I realised that crocodiles hunt near mangroves.

And are pretty active at night.

And can leap out of the water almost their whole body length.

“I’m pretty sure I saw a crocodile last night,” Jill’s voice echoed in my head.

I looked down as despair flushed over me. I pictured a scene in a horror movie where ‘evil’ is a predatory animal. I tightened pelvic muscles that I didn’t know existed to hurry up the process, squeezing every muscle below my navel, watching the water like a hovering dragonfly. Shaking out the last drops I clambered back onto the deck and breathed, waiting for my heart to slow back down from the Usain Bolt speed it was at.

The hammock hung under the cockpit canopy and didn’t leave much space between the ceiling of it and where my body would lie. Recalling how, a few years back at the beach, my attempt at sitting on a hammock sent me somersaulting into the sand, I strategically approached the hanging material like a tank driver figuring out the best route to tackle a hill.

Avoiding an Olympic gold medal gymnastic performance, I managed to lay down comfortably. But the suffocating heat was not going to let me sleep.

And neither were the abundance of insects that crowded around me as though I were a Nyotaimori  – minus the sushi rolls. I almost slapped myself unconscious until I decided that I would endure the heat and covered myself up with a bed sheet. My face was as hot as an oven and I concluded that the next day, top of the list was getting a beard trimmer and destroying the face-hell I was going through.

Just past midnight I was woken by a resounding ‘buzz’ in my ear. My hand, set to automatic rapid fire, slapped me to wake. I looked around, dazed, and could see the outline of the mangroves.

I could also see the outline of the tide. It was low and exposed the roots of the mangroves, and a large chunk of the shoreline, as though a new island had risen from the murky depths. It also meant that blood-guzzling insects would be, as the Canadians say, ‘Out ‘n’ about’.

I heard their impending approach and quickly covered up, leaving only room for my nose to stick out for air (the only time my large schnoz has proved advantageous). An hour later, I was woken again. The hammock was swinging to a silent rhythm being played by the wind. It started as a simple jazz beat but slowly turned into a speedy rock riff.

Finally, I thought as the cloud of mosquitoes blew away, sleep. That is, until the hammock was swaying as though I were doing a half-pipe down a snowy mountainside.

You gotta be kidding me, I grimaced as I tried to adjust my weight without falling off.

At six am, after a restless night of windblown mozzie rampage, I woke up to a breakfast of porridge with raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. And a new day where I would find myself scratching all over like a DJ .

Today’s errands and running around were with Jill and Julian. It all started off with doing the laundry, driving around the industrial zone looking for someone who could take a look at the hydraulics without charging a hundred bucks just to strip it apart and then decide if it was fixable. Shopping at K-Mart and Coles, getting a beard trimmer, scoring a 75-liter waterproof backpack at an op-shop and picking up Julian’s foldable bike from the shop.

We arrived back at Dinah Beach towards the evening where I immediately headed to the showers with my beard trimmer to put it to the test.

A small mountain of hair accumulated in the sink as I sheared off my 2.5-month-old beard. No longer held down by extra weight, my head sprung up and I could stare myself  at eye-level in the mirror. The temperature on my face dropped like a sudden change in Melbourne and I could see where the mosquitoes had penetrated my hairy defence.

They will pay, I promised myself. They will all pay.

All 73 jazillion of them.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Northern Territory, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

FIRE – WORKS FOR SOME

“I’ve just put you down as a member of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association,” said Jackie, owner of ‘Jaz’, the boat I’ve been working and living on.

What does it mean? For the next two years I have free use of the amenities, discounts on drinks at the bar and a chance to win a thousand dollars once a week in the member’s badge draw.

“Sweet,” I thanked her and headed off for my first guilt-free shower (not that I ever felt guilty about using them).

It was welcoming news to start the celebrations of Territory Day.

Of the 7.692 million square kilometers that make up Australia, there is one place – and one place only – where fireworks are legal for purchasing and setting off. Once a year Northern Territory residents empty their pockets of thousands of dollars to purchase fireworks. And we’re not talking pesky little Chinese New Year’s fire crackers that sound like your nicotine-addicted uncle in the morning. We’re talking sky-ripping, ear-drum tearing, hit-the-deck-we’re-being-bombed! fireworks.

So why does the Northern Territory sound like the Gaza Strip for one day of the year? On the 1st of July, 1978, the Northern Territory was granted the right to self-govern and that day has forever become known as Territory Day.

I caught up with Ben and Petra (the Dutch couple I met at Devil’s Marbles), Kim, (German backpacker I met in Lorne), and the Sariks family at Mindil Beach to catch the best fireworks display from the many options presented around Darwin.

photo 5As advertised, at 19:30 on the dot, lights on the beach went out, the waters, littered with boats, illuminated under the green, red, blue, orange, yellow, white and other rainbow colours from the exploding rockets launched skywards. Mindil Beach and the beaches all around Darwin became a miniature homage to Sydney Harbour’s New Year’s eve show.

It was an impressive 20-minute display. When it was over, the public was allocated target ranges on the beach to set off their own displays. These guys weren’t fucking around either.

Riding home from the beach I found myself dodging fireworks and grass fires. Over the next couple of days, people were still setting off what reserves they had left.

The other night I thought that ‘Jaz’ was the target of militant groups as the bow cabin lit up with two huge, too-close-for-comfort explosions.

THURSDAY

Stressing about not finding a boat to Indonesia for the past five weeks, I made a new sign to post and stopped by a T-shirt stand at the Mindil Beach night markets. I got a deal to get a red T-shirt printed with ‘Seeking Crew Work’ in large yellow letters on both the front and back. With that, I headed to the Darwin Sailing Club. Although my shirt caught some eyes, it didn’t help my chances. I headed back to Dinah Beach where I met Julian Roe (www.liveaboardsailing.com).

After the general pleasantries we discussed business.

“Where are ya headed?” I asked.

“Indonesia and then Thailand in the Sail to Indonesia rally,” he answered with a Norfolk accent.

“Don’t suppose you have room for crew?” I said without any real hope.

“No, sorry, mate. I’ve already got 8 crew.”

“No worries,” I said glumly.

FRIDAY

The Sariks were coming with friends to celebrate Xavier’s sixth year of birth with dinner, drinks and an open mic night at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association. Before they arrived, I caught up with Julian who had with him two of his crew-mates: Jan, a French backpacker (and a great cook according to Julian) and Jim, a 72-year-old American.

“I’ve been thinking about your situation,” Julian began. “I think I might be able to squeeze you in on the boat.”

“I’ve got passage?” I asked carefully.

“Yup. We’ll talk more tomorrow about the details.”

“Thanks so much, Captain!” I almost yelped out just as Xavier and Cheyenne drowned me with hugs as they arrived for dinner.

And although my mood was elevated and my guitar playing rocked the house, my singing was flatter than usual (not that it’s ever been up there). I kicked off with Pearl Jam’s ‘Just Breath’, Otis Redding’s, ‘Sittin’ at the Dock of the Bay’ and finished off with Michael Jackson’s, ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’.

That’s right, MJ. In blues.

SATURDAY

Julian and I headed out to ‘Tropic Bird’, a 50-foot wooden boat kept immaculately ship-shape with beautiful wood work in the cabins and galley. She houses two toilets and eight bunks taken by a mixture of crew. I opted to take the bench-slash-bunk in the cockpit on the deck. Nothing beats sleeping under the stars.

“As long as there’s room for me surfboard, I’d be happy to be part of your crew,” I said.

It was while munching on egg sandwiches that I received a phone call from an international number.

“Hello, we saw your notice at the marina,” said a Spanish-accented female voice. “My skipper is looking for someone to sail to England or at least as far as Africa.”

When it rains it pours.

“Appreciate the call but I wanna stick around south-east Asia for awhile,” I politely declined.

Back at the bar, I met other crew-mates who arrived. Baz, an Englishman traveling the world by land and sea without spending any money and Jill, a retired American business woman.

In the evening I was invited by Amy, who works as a cook on one of the prawn trawlers, for her dinner and drinks send off. She was heading out to Bali for two weeks the next day. She’s staying on Merc’s boat, ‘Dion’, named for his niece who died tragically in a car accident in 2006.

When I arrived she was cooking up mud crabs that she had caught. The wine-based, lip-burning, fire-in-the-hole chili sauce was delicious as we cracked shells and sucked out the tender meat (it still doesn’t beat coconut crab meat which I think is the best crab meat on the planet).

After the dinner, a guitar mysteriously appeared in my hands along with four other friends that had arrived and before I knew it, it was midnight and I had played and sung (a lot better than the previous night) about 20 songs.

I wandered back to Jaz and fell asleep watching ‘Back to the Future’.

SUNDAY – THE BEER CAN REGATTA

photo 8One thing Aussies take pride in is their ability to drink copious amounts of beer. Some people will go through a whole slab (24 bottles or cans) in a single sitting. I guess it’s what makes Aussie humour so unique.

And also why someone came up with the idea of using the empty cans to make boats and have a race once a year.

It all started on June 16, 1974. The idea was conjured up by Lutz Frankenfeld and Paul Rice-Chapman, members of the Darwin Regional Tourism Promotion Association.

At the time, Paul (working at local newspaper, The NT News) had a deal with Swan Breweries to stage a water festival of some sort, and was developing the idea of building rafts out of empty beer cans. 40 years later, you get all sorts of boats, some shaped like crocodiles, a tennis court raft and some that look like the builders had just finished drinking the last can of beer for their creation.

photo 1Held at Mindil Beach, it’s an entertaining family day providing events such as men’s and women’s Tug-O-War, the Channel 9 Ironperson competition (which is 10 guys just trying to make it through the low tide), kids events, promotional giveaways by sponsors and all broadcast live on the radio.

While all the action is happening on the beach, the Mindil Beach night market kicks off during the day providing many foodstall options, juice stands and other market stalls. There’s also streetart performers to entertain the throng of people that come to spend a lazy Sunday with friends.

Finishing off the week with live music at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association it hit me that five weeks of 30 degree days will come to an end in 20 days

The ultimate cost of travels are the ‘Goodbyes’.

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Northern Territory | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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