“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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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
One 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.
Held 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’.