It’s Sunday, 30 September. The day of the IMA Social Club’s sailing event.
The Keeper and I are up by 7:00am on the Sunday and on the road by 7:30am. We arrive at Docklands by 8:45am. Walking to the boat dulls the anticipation that has surprisingly been growing within me. It’s a blustery and chilly wind and I imagine a challenging 4 hours ahead.
Arriving at the boat, I see a few hardy souls, including the ever-effervescent Andrew Mishura. He is looking resplendent and every bit the sailor, though his black ‘leggings’ under his white shorts and white socks brings a smile to our faces.
I see Ben Valdez, Gayan Wij, Martin Kotvas, Don Lin, Venkat Kalyan and his wife Sundari, Alex Knipping, and Andrew See with wife Amelia. David BC is there also, as are NRidge and his partner Rachel.
In the background, I can hear Andrew explaining that this person has pulled out, and that person has pulled out. “Oh well,” he says. “At least with less people, it means we get more sailing time.” I smile. Andrew is a master ‘lemonade’ maker.
BRidge and partner Michelle swan in; he is wearing a T-shirt!! He assures me he has additional clothing in his backpack but I’m impressed nonetheless until I remember he recently camped out in the snow. He’s obviously impervious to cold.
There’s more excited chit-chat with the odd bit of sailing jargon thrown in for effect until around 9:00am when the hostess addresses us. She introduces the crew and assures us that despite the conditions, the boat – or catamaran to be more exact – will be very stable so there is no chance of becoming sea sick or getting wet. I give the Keeper a knowing nod. Phew!
We are all invited on to the boat and instructed to store our bags in the cabin. As we board in single file I notice a platter of cheese, olives and twiggy sticks which takes me aback slightly. That’s more the fair for a pleasure cruise than a hard morning’s sailing!
The cabin is a small space so I wait my turn and once within I notice two sets of stairs, with those on the port side leading down to the toilet and the starboard side stairs leading down to the galley. On a table is a tub of ice in which are bottles of water and soft drink. And beer! Really?! At 9am on a freezing Sunday morning when we’re supposed to be sailing? Please, who here is going to be drinking beer?
As the Skipper backs us away from the dock and heads slowly westward under motor, most of us make our way to the front and find a place to sit. The wind gusts are still frigid, but the opportunity to see Docklands from the best vantage point is too good to ignore.
As I’m taking in the sights, Koen walks past, beer in hand.
We glide under the Bolte Bridge, and I start wondering when and where our sailing lessons will begin. I assume it will be in open water; somewhere with a little more space where the risks of running aground or ramming another boat are minimised. The two deckhands make their way to the front of the boat armed with the cheese, olive and twiggy stick platters.
We continue to make our way west, heading slowly towards Williamstown. On land, life goes on: looking north, there is a hive of activity as dock workers load containers onto a ship.
The deckhands make their rounds again, this time with plates of lamb chops.
And so it goes for the next hour; we continue to travel slowly towards the bay and the deckhands continue to bring around food. From time to time, most of us make our way to the cabin and sit within to warm up a bit before venturing outside again. David BC however, remains seated at the bow of the boat, making for a fine figurehead.
Much conversation is had in that time, and many thoughts come and go. Cruising under the Westgate Bridge, I am surprised that it is not as high from beneath as it seems when on it.
Koen walks past with another beer.
We finally get to Williamstown and the bay ahead looks choppy. The skipper steers the catamaran 90o to the starboard side and heads towards the marina. As he wends his way in and around the boats and jetties, we get a close up view of the Steve Irwin, one of the Sea Shepherd fleet.
As we leave the marina behind, I’m fully expecting that the skipper is about to anchor and give us the lessons we’ll need to start our sailing ‘Olympics’, but he instead hoists the mainsail followed by the jib, both with the press of a button.
“That’s cheating,” I call to him.
“Do you want to steer,” he replies smiling.
As I take the wheel, he gives me a crash course on how sail and wind interact; on how we have to avoid sailing too ‘close’ to the wind; on lifts and knocks.
Before we get to the open water of the bay, the skipper tells me to turn hard – a full 180o. We have to get the boat around and moving again before it ‘stalls’. I take the boat back to where I first took the wheel and I turn hard again. It’s good fun!
I hand over to Ben and he follows the same path I took.
Next Gayan does the same, and then Andrew takes over.
I realise now that we will not be “sailing” in the context I was expecting and I am both disappointed and relieved. At about 11:50am, the skipper drops the sails, and under motor again, Andrew points the boat towards ‘home’ and we commence the slow journey back.
There is less chat on the return trip, but the food keeps coming. Chilly gusts of wind, now hitting my back, continue to bite my ears and lick my face but I feel a sense of exultation.
I feel alive.
We cruise past a replica sailing ship and there is an exchange of waves. It’s interesting how strangers interact in given situations. The sailing ship itself moves at a crawl and several of us express wonderment at how people travelled from England to Australia on these things.
As we approach the dock, the skipper relieves Andrew and resumes control of the catamaran. He docks with surgical precision and we slowly disembark. Back on shore, we all thank the crew for the experience and start saying our “goodbyes”.
We’d love to but have other plans already in play so the Keeper and I take our leave.
The event was not as expected; in fact it was the opposite in that I ate much and exercised little. And if I was to be honest, I’d say that I would not have attended if what we actually experienced was what was advertised.
Having experienced it however, I’m glad I came. If nothing else, I got to know some of my peers more intimately, which, I guess, is what these events are all about.
Thanks to Andrew and the social club for the opportunity.