I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
Sea Fever by John Masefield -1902
This was as true for Jillian much more recently than when it was written.
She had ventured on a voyage from Melbourne to Hobart (Tasmania) on a tall ship, 'The Enterprize' a wonderful replica of the ship on which the first settlers to Melbourne travelled.
Wikipedia tells us a little about Mr Masefield - Born in 1878, died in 1967. He left boarding school in 1892 to train for a life at sea, and to break his addiction to reading, of which his aunt thought little. He found, though, that he could spend much of his time reading and writing Later as his love for story-telling grew, and as he listened to the yarns told about sea lore, he continued to read, and felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself. Sorry Aunty.
While the poem was not quite the Ancient Mariner it truly resonated with our Jillian on that voyage. You see all the passengers were expected to perform shipboard tasks as much as the crew.
And one lovely night Jillian found herself at the tiller (this ship did not even have a wheel - a bit early in maritime history for that - but who's quibbling - the tiller still had a kick), steering on a compass heading as instructed by the 1st mate. She was joined at her lonely task - the only other person on watch was a lookout on the front of the ship (bow) - by the Captain.
"Of course" I muttered. "Once a Siren always a Siren."
"Anyway," she said, giving me the evil eye, "He told me to check that I had the correct compass heading and then look up and forward. For a star. Find one that lines up with a part of the ship and keep them lined up as best you can. For at least a few hours that will be as good as anything and much less to-ing and fro-ing will occur. A compass heading, he told her, will require constant vigilance and many, many corrective actions making you very tired and not in the end being all that effective, or comfortable for the rest of the crew and passengers. Hmmmm, perhaps that was what brought him out of his bed and up on deck in his PJ's", Jillian mused.
“It was good advice, but made me recite that stanza of the poem over and over. I couldn't remember any more," she said.
“There were many other memorable events and sights on that cruise if you can call it a cruise.” She said. And she went on to mention some of them. Not in any particular order. But she was not the most logical in her memory, our Jillian.
- Fishing from the back of the boat and eating the catch for dinner that night. Awesome.
- A bay where we anchored which was so still that I couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began.
- Container ships passing in the night looking like cities speeding over the horizon.
- Crew members (and a few intrepid passengers - not me) swimming with dolphins as we sedately sailed along in the sunshine.
- The stars. Oh the stars. How can there be so many?
- Being rocked to sleep every night. Well every 6 hours as we all had to be on watch - 6 hours on 6 hours off.
- Being woken up after 2 hours sleep when it is raining so hard you couldn’t see; and blowing so hard the bow of the ship was dipping under the water; and being expected to go out on deck to help pull sails down, and tie them up. NOT.
- Being so seasick the first 10 – 15 hours of the voyage you wanted to die.
- Gliding majestically under full sail down the Derwent River in the sunshine towards Hobart in company with a large number of other tall ships and boats of all kinds. (Going to the Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart.)
- Using very sharp meat cleavers in the galley while the ship was rolling sideways such that the rails on the deck were almost touching the sea. AGAIN NOT.
- Being on deck working the sails when the wind, rolling and pitching were such that we had to be shackled to lines (ropes) running along the side of the ship from front to back. VERY FRIGHTENING.
- Working the tiller (steering without a wheel) when it was so rough the tiller had to be secured with many ropes and a block and tackle was required to move it in any direction – and even then it required more than two of the real crew members to move it.
- The sun. Inside or outside, arms covered or not. But always the hat, which had to be tethered to your head like those old lady librarians glasses.
- The tranquillity. Oh the tranquillity. When the sea, the weather and the captain all agreed we needed a break and it was calm and beautiful. Wondrous.
“Yep. It was hard work. And I paid more than $1,000 for the privilege,” Jillian mumbled.
“But, did you enjoy it?” I asked.