Read further for my adventures in the Australian Outback at The Good Men Project.
Read further for my adventures in the Australian Outback at The Good Men Project.
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This one’s about my time being almost carried away by mosquitoes while camping in Kakadu National Park. Enjoy
You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.
Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.
My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).
I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.
My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.
Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.
*But I did.
Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,
“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”
As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.
Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.
I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.
Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.
“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”
Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,
“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.
Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.
“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”
“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.
“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”
Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.
Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.
A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.
As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.
The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.
Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.
Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.
An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.
Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.
After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.
You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.
I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.
Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).
“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.
I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.
Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.
*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.
We hustled ‘n’ bustled to fuel up, water up and, watching the tide go out, scraped the bottom of Cullen Bay, just making the open waters of the Timor Sea.
“Next stop, Indonesia!” I announced as Tropicbird headed out, leaving Darwin behind.
We headed due west, straight into a spectacular sunset. Our dolphin escort of the last hour of daylight had let us be as we motored until my midnight-02:00 night-watch shift when the wind picked up and Skipper decided to hoist the sails.
“Now for the magic,” he grinned as he killed the engine.
Silence engulfed us like a vacuum seal.
Nothing but the wind and the breaking waves on the bow.
We were sailing.
I looked over the rails and saw the luminous plankton, also known as phosphorous. A light green twinkled every now and again, like glo-worms by a waterfall.
“Alright,” I grinned, giggty-gigging to myself as I headed below deck to spend my first night at sea in my berth, falling asleep to the rolling motion of the boat.
In the morning, after a breakfast of porridge with raisins and cinnamon, a pod of about a hundred dolphins appeared all around us, surrounding our port, starboard, stern and bow, surfing on our keel.
We all rushed about, watching and pointing.
My watch duty was 4-6 AM on the second day. As the sun came up, I trolled the fishing line out with a squid lure. Jill had come up and sat at the stern, chatting with me, looking out for dolphins while Skipper was sound asleep in the cockpit.
Then the line snapped.
“We’re on,” I jumped on the rod. There was no fight coming from whatever had hooked itself and I assumed that I was going to reel in a limp line. It took all but 30 seconds to bring in a Tarpon fish the size of a baseball bat, my biggest catch to date (although I’d only been fishing once before – the previous week).
“Lunch is served,” I grinned just as Skipper awoke and Baz came up to see what the commotion was about. He helped me fillet the fish and for lunch I steamed and served it on a bed of onion-sweetcorn rice. Olivia made a garlic-soy-ginger sauce which almost had her heaving overboard due to the roll of the boat (which is felt a lot stronger below deck).
Skipper had set up two head sails that were pushing us along at a steady 1.5 knots. We were barely moving so the suggestion of jumping in for a swim was welcomed by everyone. As we changed into bathers, Alison gave a cry from the starboard side.
“I just saw a whale!” she exclaimed. We searched the waters but all I could see was a sea turtle.
“You know you’re going slow when a turtle overtakes you,” I said.
“Oh look,” one of the girls pointed. “Jellyfish.”
Jellyfish stings hurt.
They hurt like a motherfucking sting from a jellyfish. They floated by as it appeared that we had parked right in the middle of their school zone.
On a boat, all your bowel movements are flushed out the back through a pumping system with the water in the bowl coming from the sea. The census is not to take a dump while you’re parked cause then shit just floats around.
Before I go for a swim, I always go for a number 2. So when Orla and Alison, who had already jumped off the stern, started to yelp out and Baz began to inquire who was responsible for the floaters, I realised my mistake.
“Oh, shit –” literally “– Sorry, ladies.” I somersaulted with the grace of a flying kosher pig off the bow.
The depth reader read 250 feet. It’s the deepest body of water I’ve ever swam in and to say that I wasn’t slightly overwhelmed would be like saying, ‘Hey, your slightly overwhelmed.’
I love swimming and I love being in water but put me in water where I can’t see the bottom and you’ll understand why I take a dump before I swim. And it didn’t settle my nerves when the dorsal fin of a shark was spotted as we were toweling off on deck with the addition of 2 sea snakes sighted not long after.
Dinner was an amazing spaghetti bolognese with dehydrated soy (which looks like dog food but is a pretty good meat substitute).
“Do you mind closing your legs?” asked Orla as I scrubbed the plates after dinner at the stern using a bucket of seawater.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s just that I can see your left testicle,” she said.
I looked down and sure enough my legs were wide open and a curious left nut peaked from its holding in my bathers.
I grinned. “Then don’t look,” and resumed scrubbing.
“So,” Orla listed the day’s events as the sun dropped over the horizon, a red-pink-orange glow splayed across the sky like a water painting, “today we saw dolphins, a sea turtle, jellyfish, swam in Simon’s shit, saw a shark, sea snakes and Simon’s left nut.”
“Star of the day,” I collapsed into the hammock as another dolphin escort joined us.
Venus, the Evening Star (slash planet) and the first one out, appeared like clockwork as the sun set. The red orange ball dropped fast over the horizon and within 15 minutes we were under a night sky, littered with stars, the Milky Way cutting across like a bridge over an endless bay.
“I can’t believe that a planet is lighting up the water out here,” I said, staring in awe at Venus laying a path of light on the water, imitating the moon. We saw the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and Jill, using her star navigation software on her iPad, showed us where all the astrology signs were.
“What drug were these astrologers on when they claimed they can see all these animals up there?” I wondered aloud, looking up.
On day 3 I finished a great book that Baz had received at the Life Support Center in Darwin titled, ‘101 Adventures that got me Absolutely Nowhere’ by Phil O’Brien. It was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, telling the tales of Phil roaming around the Outback from job to job over the last 25 years of his life.
After lunch we stopped for another swim. Skipper dropped the yellow floater that was our safety line but forgot to attach it to an actual line.
“I need a swimmer,” he called out as the floater floated away. I just happened to be standing next to him and without thinking I jumped into 300 feet of blue water.
I popped up and grabbed the floater, treading water as I watched Tropicbird sail away.
Oh fuck, I thought. I started to swim after the boat when two thoughts entered my mind:
There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing your vessel of transport sail away (albeit at 1.5 knots) when you’re surrounded by open water and nothing else. Thankfully the line Skipper threw out just reached me and I pulled myself to the boat.
That night, Baz grabbed the boat-hook and trailed it in the water to activate the bio-luminous plankton. We all hung over the rail, watching in awe and delight as the water lit up in night-vision green.
On day 4 we stopped for another swim. This time, as I swan-dived off the bow, determined to overcome my fear of the very deep blue water. I opened my eyes and saw the bluest blue I had ever seen. Looking to my right, I saw the shadow of Tropicbird’s keel.
Skipper had brought out a mask and was cleaning one side of the propeller, scraping off the barnacles that were slowing us down. I was about to dive down and do the other side when I saw something far beneath me.
Is that… is that a whale? I looked up and in my peripheral I saw something swim by me. I turned and was face-to-jelly with a jellyfish.
I shot to the top and announced our uninvited guests. Still, we kept swimming and I even shimmied out on the spinnaker pole and dropped head down to the water below but somehow, Alison and Olivia got stung.
“I’d offer to pee on you but I already peed in the water,” I said as they thanked me, dousing their stings with vinegar.
Day 5 brought on some violent rolling of the boat. Tropicbird listed to 45°, rolling from side-to-side, really testing our balance (and Irish Riverdancing skills). We listed so violently that it knocked over three mugs of tea, one after the other.
Later that night, while sleeping soundly in the hammock on the deck, I awoke and looked down at the dark waters of the Timor Sea before swaying back over the deck, slamming into the mizzen mast. Taking it as a sign, I retired below deck and resumed sleep in my berth, almost flying onto Baz sleeping in the opposite berth.
As the sun rose up on the morning of day 6, Skipper called out, “Land ho!” and West Timor was in sight. It was a breath of fresh sea air to see land after 6 days on the blue. The wind picked up and we raised the genoa and main sail.
“What’s our speed?” Skipper asked from the forward deck.
“8 knots!” we called back.
We were flying, escorted by dolphins.
As we rounded the headland I spotted a wave, breaking left and going forever.
“Waves!!” I called out excitedly and rushed up to the bow. The choppy water made the bow pitch up to 10 feet before crashing back down onto the water only to be pushed up again.
The bow became my 50-foot surf board.
I was grinning and whooping at every pitch, timing the rise and fall of the motions. I waved at the passing fishing boats as the city of Kupang, on the West Timor Island, came into view, surfing the bow all the way to the anchorage. We passed by floating rubbish, passing plastic debris, cups, Styrofoam boxes, some shoes and what looked like a broken buoy. How the hell does one even bring oneself to dump rubbish in this beautiful environment?
“You’re burnt to a crisp, mate,” Bazza said when I returned to the cockpit.
“I feel it,” I agreed.
Since my sunglasses had taken a dive off the stern the day before, I had also managed to sunburn my eyes. At least the T-shirt tan I had obtained in Darwin was now gone.
Anchoring in Kupang, we had to wait until Quarantine and Immigration came to our boat. Being it Indonesia and being it an island meant we were on island time. After almost two hours eight officials finally arrived.
All boarded but only two were actually doing anything. We had to hide all the tools, and laptops. We made them laugh and had our photos taken with them.
“Where can I surf?” I asked one of the officials.
“Rote Island,” he said.
“Yeah but where can I surf here in Kupang?”
“Oh,” his face dropped. “No surf here. Only Rote Island.”
You gotta be kiddin’ me.
We readied the dinghy to lower it off the forward deck. Skipper checked its little outboard motor and, announcing its comatose state shortly after, meant we had to hitch a ride on a dinghy from a neighbouring boat to begin our first day in South East Asia. The landing area was packed with smiling faces and people waving. It seemed that the whole town had come to see all the sailing boats.
And of course, westerners = money.
On the streets we saw impossible traffic, a mixture of scooters, souped up taxi-buses (like something out of ‘Pimp My Ride’), conductors hanging out of the doors calling out, “Mister! Mister! Where you going?” and “Money, money!”
To them, it appeared, we were walking banks.
We walked on in the dark, paveless streets, trying not to get runover by passing scooters and the souped-up buses, passing fish markets and wood workshops filled with coffins. All along saying ‘Hello’ and waving at the locals who smiled and waved back.
We booked 3 rooms at the Ima Hotel. Jill insisted on paying for all the rooms.
After showering we headed out to a restaurant called ‘The Lion’ at the staff’s recommendation. There was karaoke and two full tables of locals breaking the Ramadan fast. We walked in and all eyes were on us.
Realising that I had sat on a seat that was too low against the table, I pushed back to change chairs when I felt something colliding then flying and landing with a thud, scraping along the concrete floor right behind me. I looked down to see that I had just wiped a kid out that had been running between the tables with his buddies.
“Oh, shit,” I said and was about to approach the little bugger to see if he was alright. But he just got up and continued to run to the table with the other kids and sat with them, as though nothing happened.
This kid had taken a chair like a WWE wrestler and he didn’t even peep.
I looked around nervously, readying myself for an angry, machete-wielding parent to come after me but no one appeared. All of a sudden the music changed and before we knew it, the locals had dragged us to the dance floor to partake in a traditional dance.
By the end of dinner, all the waiters wanted a photo with us.
We hitched a ride back to the hotel with random strangers. I don’t know how they didn’t throw us out of their car as we were blind drunk (well, I was). They pumped the music all the way and took photos of us.
From there I don’t remember what happened.
The next morning, after the all-included breakfast buffet, we were asked to pose with the staff for a photo. We were the celebrities and the locals, the paparazzi’s. We walked back to the landing area from where you could see all the boats anchored in the bay. And then I saw something that was so far over the top you couldn’t even see the top.
Or the sun.
Yachts come in different shapes and classes. The cruising yachts that the majority of the rally participants were sailing on might cost just over a hundred grand. Then you have the motorised vessels associated with millionaires – yachts.
Multi-millionaires have what’s known as ‘Super Yachts’.
Billionaires have ‘Mega Yachts’.
But Ibramovitch, the Russian oligrad who owns oil rigs around the world (and the Chelsea football club) has a Super-Mega-Jumbo-Mammoth yacht. It was bigger than the island we were on and it was blocking the sun. And if this extravagance wasn’t enough, it came complete with its own helicopter.
Its own helicopter!
Who needs a dinghy when you have a heli-fuckin’-copter on the back of your boat? I thought, watching the bird land on the mini-Titanic.
“He has 10 of them around the world,” said Arnour, a French backpacker I had befriended back in Darwin who was sailing on a different boat. “All the same.”
Jesus, talk about your small penis syndrome.
We changed hotels and booked into Hotel Maya. We had an easy night at a special ceremony for the participants of the Sail Indonesia rally. We were greeted by dancing dragons (like those on Chinese New Year’s), Minsters of Indonesia were there to show us how much we meant to them (and their economy). There was cultural dancing from every island and even a fashion parade, free food and gift bags with shirts, hats and scarves.
“Had I known we’d be piled with clothes and hats I wouldn’t have bothered packing,” I said as I tried on the T-shirt, almost drowning in the size XXXL.
“Do they think all Westerners are fat?” asked Orla, holding her shirt marked XXL.
With an early rise for the 7 AM farewell ceremony, we retired back to the hotel by 20:30.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
At 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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’.
“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.
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.
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?”
Mel 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.
“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 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.
I’m standing on the beach, an endless run of surfers running for the water like newly hatched sea turtles, leaving me to watch as I have no board. I stand, jaw-gaped in awe at the huge 30-foot waves coming in.
They flow like an endless waterfall, glassy, holding their shape. The conditions are perfect. They crash on the hidden sandbar when on the horizon a rogue wave – had to be 60-foot – rises like Poseidon from the depths.
It lingers patiently as every boardrider in the water paddles for it. It’s big enough to accommodate all the surfers, many more still running in.
And me, still standing without a paddle.
As the wave momentum peaks and the lip closes over, the white stream of wakes from all the boardriders heading left (goofy) and right (natural) look like a Blue Angels maneuver.
And then I wake up, wide-eyed, a light buzz and whir coming from the overhead ceiling fan reminding me that I was still in Darwin.
Still unable to find a boat to take me to Indonesia.
Still in a seaside town where entrance into the water is as safe as lighting a cigarette at a petrol station.
The lack of surf has now taken on the form of an IV drip bag, slowly dripping insanity into my well-being. The waters here in Darwin are of a green, brackish shade. Its got me looking at the sky for a daily dose of blue.
I need a new strategy. I made up new signs to post at the yacht clubs. I’ve headed down to the Darwin Sailing Club on their busiest night of the week. I mingled with sailors and skippers, got email contacts, tips on when to come and ask for basic sailing experience (Sundays, when they have local races), when to find the boat owners (morning, when they head in for their morning routine or the better option, afternoon when they sit around with a drink and surf the web) and when my best chances of finding crew would be – in a few weeks when most of the boats taking part in the Sail to Indonesia rally will arrive.
I’ll be starting my fourth week in Darwin next week where I’ll be moving to the boat where I’ve been doing some volunteer work as I’ve stayed longer than I should have at the Sariks, a wonderful and accommodating family that took me in without question, fed me, provided a shower, a bed and some good times.
“You’ve earned a week’s accommodation,” said Jackie, owner of ‘Jaz’.
I figure if I do some more volunteer work I could stay longer.
My guess is that I’ll only be hitting the water in about three weeks on one of the yachts taking part in the Indo rally. If I’m really lucky (and generally I’m not) I might be able to go earlier, in mid-July to Dilly, East Timor, cross the border to Indonesia by land and ferry it across to Bali.
I looked up volunteering positions in Borneo, Malaysia to help with the conservation of the majestic, and very much endangered, Orang utangs and Pygmy elephants.
I emailed an organisation and received a prompt response. They were very excited in my interest and even took it upon themselves to place me on tentative booking. All I need to do to confirm my place was pay the £195 deposit. “The remainder payment should be made as soon as possible.”
I was confused. I’m pretty sure that offering to volunteer hands-on meant that by giving my personal time and effort was reward enough and self-satisfaction once the objective was complete.
Has it come to this? That in order to volunteer my services in saving the planet I need to pay money? To help save animals whose habitats are being destroyed for money I needed to put in some greens?
This was to be one of the main objectives of my world-wide expedition – helping animals in need of help. Protect the endangered from the greed-hungry corporations destroying what they can to earn a buck.
Isn’t that why they have fundraisers and pledges? Telethons and vast amount of flyers and brochures pleading for you, the good citizen to donate a buck or two for the cause? “All donations are tax deductible” being the collective catchphrase to entice you to give the loose change hiding in your couch to a good cause.
Is nothing sacred anymore?
I was disappointed.
My new plan of action will have to be to show up on their doorstep and say, “G’day, I was in the neighbourhood and wondered if you needed a hand.”
I’ll be saving costs and paperwork for the organisation and being a persistent bastard, they’ll have no choice but to let me help.
Of course, I need to get to Indonesia and its surroundings first.
“I’m looking for work on boats, trying to gain experience,” I said as I stopped my bike beside the owner of a grey-hulled catalyst-sloop at the Dinah Cruising Yacht Association.
“Aw yea’,” replied the bearded skipper. “I gotta couple of hours tomorrow morning if you wanna swing by. Pay ya $20 an hour.”
Sweet! “Yeah, sounds good,” I replied, keeping down the excitement rising inside of me like a Darwin tide (7 meters!).
“I’m Rowan,” he stuck his hand out.
I shook it back, giving him my name when I noticed John, who runs the bar (and I reckon he manages the Dinah Cruising Yacht Association), next to his Harley Davidson
“I’m not giving up,” I grinned as I rode up to him.
“On life or something more specific?” he toked from his rolled up cigarette.
“On looking for work for passage,” I couldn’t stop smiling from scoring with Rowan.
“Come back in a couple of hours. I’ve got some work for ya. Need to sand out some rust and repaint the hull on my boat (hull = bottom of the boat visible above the water). Pay ya $15 an hour.”
Finally, after almost two weeks in Darwin getting no where with the boats, I scored two jobs in one day.
“See ya in a couple of hours,” I grinned, noticing the number plate on his motorbike – ‘Nomad’. Meant to be, I thought as I rode into the city for breakfast with a smile.
From where I ‘m staying with friends, it’s a 10-K ride to the Dinah Cruising Yacht Association. To the Darwin Sailing Club it’s 16 K’s. From Dinah to the sailing club it’s 3 K’s. From Dinah to Bayview Marina it’s 2 K’s and from Dinah to Tipperay Waters Marina it’s just up the road.
For the last two weeks, besides gaining calf muscles the size of crocodiles (and losing my weight in sweat), I had been riding twice a day to the marinas in search of work – morning and afternoon. I figured it’d be easier – and more respectful to the boat owners – that I come with some skill rather than none and to show that I’m willing to work hard and do my share.
I returned to Dinah after breakfast and moseyed on down to the poles where John’s boat was tied. The tide was out so the entire boat was on land.
“Bought her in Bali,” John reflected. “Sailed her down here. Now just fixing her up before I head out on me own adventures.”
“Reckon she’ll be ready for the Dilly race?” I fished around to see where and when he might be sailing.
“Nah, she’ll never be ready by then.”
And with that he gave me a pair of ear plugs, a dust mask and wrap-around shades that had seen better days. He taught me how to take the rust off the hull without taking the off hull.
“Just use the lead on the wire brush.” He explained why I was sanding her down after, “Gotta create what’s known as a ‘key’ for the paint to bond to.” He looked at my legs. “Want some bug spray?” he asked.
“Nah,” I replied firing up the wire brush. “That shit doesn’t work.”
John neglected to mention that there was indeed, an abundance of mosquitoes hanging around. Last time I was feasted on this much was when I camped by Jim Jim billabong in Kakadu National Park. Three hours later, with the clock ticking past three, John paid me for a good day’s work.
“You play bass guitar?” I had overheard him mention it last week when I came in looking for work.
“Yeah, you play anything?”
“You any good?”
“I’m not a shredder but I can play a tune.”
“We’ve got open mic night on Friday’s here. You should come down and play.”
Another strategy point to meet potential Indo-going skippers. If my music doesn’t scare them off first.
I enjoyed a beer at the bar and then Skye came by for a few drinks before we headed our separate ways. I hopped on the bike that Isabel had kindly let me use and pushed off tiredly along the road.
I enjoy biking around Darwin. For one thing, it’s flat. There are bike paths everywhere which are safely off the road. You only have to watch out for pedestrians who seem to possess the ability to actually move when a bike appears before them.
Unlike the ‘freeze mid-stride in the middle of the path’ city dwellers who are kind enough to let you, the rider, be the decider of how many curses to use (in as many languages as you know) as you fly off the path to avoid hitting them.
And there’s hardly any traffic in Darwin.
The only downside to riding a bike in Darwin is the extreme heat at 09:00 in the morning. And the humidity. And the scorching sun. There’s also the mozzies that presume you’re the free delivery dinner when riding at dusk.
And if you’re paranoid like me, then the parts of the path that have dense tropical plants growing beside (and over) them seem to be most fitting if I were a deadly snake-spider-dragon-sized lizard waiting to surprise a cyclist – even if it’s just for shits ‘n’ giggles.
The next day I rode back out to Dinah to work on Rowen’s boat.
“We need to buff her up with this,” he brought out a bottle of Q-Cut, a product that takes off everything that isn’t paint on the hull of a boat. “Then we’ll wax her with this,” Rowen brought out a bottle of wax – that was identical to the bottle of Q-Cut.
Seeing what would probably happen if I wasn’t paying attention, I separated the two and began work with the Q-Cut, starting from the stern and doing the whole port-side (port = left) while Rowan began the starboard-side (starboard = right).
Within an hour of work my upper body felt heavier, as though my shirt were stuck to my body. I looked down and noticed that it was completely drenched from my sweat. I guess holding a buffer weighing roughly 5-8 kilos over your head for a prolonged period of time will make you evaporate in 30 degree heat.
As the sun hit it’s peak just past noon (and Rowan had gone for his pre-appointed massage), I had waxed and polished the entire port-side.
By the time Rowan was back (at around 13:00) I had already begun the wax-on-wax-off process on the starboard side. My arms felt like rubber but by 15:00 I had finished the entire hull of what would soon be christened, ‘Thunderchild’.
“From the H.G. Wells novel, ‘War of the Worlds’,” explained Rowan, a 5-week-on-5-week-off commercial ship worker. “‘Thunderchild’ was the planet’s last hope in the story,” he grinned as he stared up at his pride and joy.
He’d been working on the boat for 7 years, yet to be put in the water.
“Where’s her maiden voyage too?” I asked, hoping he’d reply with Indonesia rather than,
“Me Mrs is pregnant so I’m gonna sail her down to Victoria where we’ll have the baby. After that hit the Pacific.”
Damn it. Still, I was working in the sun (which I haven’t done since 2004 – agriculture), gaining new skills on boats. And mingling with the right people.
“Help yourself to a cider, mate,” Rowan gestured to the ice box. “Done good work today.”
I grinned as I sipped from the Tasmanian-brewed ‘Mercury’ cider. Finishing up, I thanked Rowan and rode over to Skye’s place (she lives just behind the club). I had a shower at hers in preparation for that night’s trivia night at her workplace. But as soon as I sat down after the change of clothes, my body signalled to me that trivia night wasn’t going to happen.
“You alright?” Skye asked as I limped forward across the table.
“I thi I’m z-oh-ssed,” I mumbled.
“What?” she asked.
“Ex-haus-ted,” I managed to articulate with the same amount of energy it takes the sun to release a solar flare. “Don’t think trivia will happen for me tonight.”
She suggested I go home and get some rest and although she was kind enough to offer me a ride home, I insisted (for reasons unexplained) to ride the 10 K’s in my worn-down state.
I reached home at about 20:00 and was knocked-out in bed by 20:33.
I’m glad crocodiles don’t ride bikes, I thought as my eyes closed.