The book is finished!
The truck paused at the edge of a high bluff overlooking the sea. We had seen the sea before, in Iran, Turkey and then in Greece, but never from so high up. It was more than a bluff, it was the foot of an amazing fjord, just like the ones in the movies about Norway. But we weren't in Norway, we were in Kotor, Jugoslavia, as it was in May 1978, on our way to London from Kathmandu. 14 of us, crammed into the back of a 10-foot high Leyland truck, with tents and cooking equipment stowed below. Most of the others were Aussies, who seemed remarkably unprepared for Asian food, preferring their own bland concotions. If there was one word that could describe the cuisine of that overland trip, it was "bland". I decided Australia must be a pretty boring place.
But my fellow passengers were not boring, quite a cheery group. However, on that day, at that moment, they didn't have my attention, for coming up this amazing fjord was an even more amazing sight - a square-rigger, just like the ones in the movies.
By the time we had driven down to the dockside, the ship was just coming alongside, with a bunch of people hanging over the rail looking at the people on the dock looking at them, kind of like what happens in pavement cafes in Paris. As the hawsers were being laid, i chatted with one of the rail-leaners. This led to that, and i found myself asking:
"Got any berths?"
My overlander companions smiled to themselves in bemusement as I got off the truck and onto the ship in 5 minutes flat.
For a moment or two, i turned from a dock-watcher to a rail-watcher as they motored off for Austria, Italy and wherever else it was planned for them and had been planned for me. But that plan was out of the window; I had a new adventure ahead.
Little did I know that the next three weeks (for that is all the time i had before starting a new job in England) were going to completely ruin my entire life from then on.
My father was a landlubber and his father before him, so where the saltwater in my veins came from is anyone's guess. But it was there all right, even though my only previous experience on the water had been one afternoon in a friend's Enterprise dinghy, during which we had managed to break the mast, fall in and get completely soaked. It had been fun, though, espcially as it wasn't my mast! Only years later was i to discover the truth about boats, that they are sirens created for making holes in the water into which you throw money.
I guess that over the years, Tiger has been a guru to many newbies, and probably a few oldbies as well. The first thing he taught me, by demonstration rather than lecture, is that no-one is too high up to muck in. He did this by going straight to the washing-up sink after dinner, without asking anyone to help him. And no-one did! Except Lesley, who had already spent hours doing all the cooking beforehand, for all the ship's company, who numbered over a dozen. So i grabbed a teatowel, and followed his example. I have been trying to follow his example ever since.
Over the last 60 years, i have met all kinds of people. Beautiful people, ugly people, kind people, complete bastards, you name it. But nowhere have i been where a small bunch of very disparate characters came together in such harmony, except for the poor girl caught in a love triangle, who got off not long after i had joined. What a pity - she was really cute and i was more than available. But she only had eyes for the other fellow, forget his name now.
Some names are more memorable than others. Tiger you may already have heard of, more for his quietness than anything else. He tried once to show me how to make a Turk's Head. Tiger doesn't often fail, but this time he did. He could make one, but i couldn't!
I miss Lesley. Haven't been in touch with her for years, so one reason for writing this is the hope of re-establishing that contact. She was my ship-mother.
Dwight Long, from California, was my room-mate. He told me i was very lucky, just jumping on the Eye like that; he had been planning his own trip on her for years and years.
Fourex was a class act. His greasemonkey talents were inspirational, but sadly i never managed to learn much from him and never got the hang of diesel maintenance. I did get plenty of skinned knuckles trying, though. As Tiger mentioned to me, "engineers are a breed apart!".
Miff made a huge impression on me. She and Jean were sisters i think, but two peas were never more unalike! Each a quality person in their own right, but chalk and cheese as characters. I was disappointed one morning when they told me that during the night there had been a big blow and they had had to bring the upper topsail in - they hadn't asked me to do it. Miff, twice my age and half my height, had done it with Tiger. I wished i were older, so i could have married Miff.
Miranda was something else. About eight, or thereabouts, and bright as a button. I decided that if ever i had a kid, i would bring it up on a boat, Miranda seemed so together, so joyful. I still have my one souvenir from the trip, a print of a photo of the Eye, on which i had everyone write their names. Miranda's is the brightest, a shining sun in the top right corner.
Spider was The Man. Well, everyone is second to Tiger, but of the rest, Spider was number 1. It seems all the girls agreed with me! Spider became my tutor, shepherding me up my first mast climb, giving me great confidence. When i heard a few years later later that he and a few others were going to try to follow in Tiger and Lesley et al's footsteps, and build a topsail schooner (at 90 feet, it wasn't quite as big as the Eye), i begged to be allowed to join. Spider had found a demasted sailing hull turned inter-island cargo vessel in Fiji called "Tui na Savusavu" which means "Lord of the Savu-Savu islands" - many craft in Fiji are Lord of this or that.
I think there were 5 of us, each putting in a sum, i forget how much. About $10k i think. A lot to me in those days, all i had and a bit more, but only the price of a cup of coffee today. I was in London, sitting in an office, dreaming of a topsail schooner on the South Seas. But first one, then another of the group dropped out and we were short of cash. We didn't know it at the time, but we were short of cash by a factor of 10, even if we had all stayed in!
Dreams and reality - they are quite far apart.. but Spider was determined, and i was intent. He came up with idea of seeking a sponsor, turning it into a sail-training vessel, a concept that was starting to become popular. He went to see Kerry Packer and got an appointment for an audience. I wrote to Prince Charles, and received a personal reply. Very surprising, but also very disappointing. Charlie said he would like to be associated with our endeavour, but could only get involved after we had built the boat.
Now, there are idiots, and there are big idiots. I am of the latter cloth. Charlie's reply came shortly after a letter from Spider telling me that Kerry Packer had had the cheek to have a heart attack the week before their scheduled meeting, so it was off and no way was Packer ever going to think about sailing ships. So all i saw was doom and gloom and chucked Charlie's letter away. It wasn't until years after that it dawned on me that Charlie had given me an "in" with potential corporate sponsors. What a big idiot i was!! Still am...
So someone else bought Tui Nasavusavu, and paid an enormous sum to completely replate the hull, which turned out to be in worse condition than Spider had realised. So i guess we got off lightly. I met the fellow making new masts for her in Sydney, and realised we wouldn't have had a hope of doing it for the money we had. Which makes Tiger et al's accomplishment all the more impressive.
Last i heard (15 years ago), the reborn Tui was renamed (forget what), painted green (isn't that suposed to be unlucky?) and doing day trips in Sydney Harbour. What a waste! Fun for the trippers, i guess, and a sensible way for a businesman to get back a return on a sizeable investment, i suppose.
As for me, my own company is called Tuina (= Lord of Nothing!). It hasn't traded - yet.. anyone got a spare 2 mil to make a topsail schooner?