‘So… what do you think, honey?’ I asked Ben as we hurried across toward where we could see Matt and Luke standing on the deck of the old boat.
Ben just looked at me, without saying anything, but I kind of got the feeling that he was a little disappointed in what he saw.
I think it would be safe to say that the old fishing boat had seen better days. The white paint on its hull was flaking off in places, and the pale blue trimming all over the boat, which would have made it look quite neat when it had been fresh, now just looked tired and faded. Even the name, ‘Wanderer’, painted on the boat’s front and across the front of the wheelhouse, was now barely discernible, giving the impression that the boat had definitely seen more days than it was yet to see.
All in all, I don’t think the sight of the boat tied to the wharf did very much to instil confidence in either of us and when, moments later, the engines turned over and a huge cloud of thick, dark smoke billowed from the exhaust and drifted our way, our confidence levels slipped just that little bit lower.
‘We had better hurry if we don’t want to miss the boat,’ Ben said to me, grabbing my hand and almost dragging me along. Even as we ran across the car park, though, I knew that his spirit of adventure was starting to wane. I just didn’t think that the excitement I had earlier sensed in him at the prospect of going out on the water was there any more. I hoped to God that I was wrong, because I think Ben desperately needed something like this possible job to give him some purpose in life.
When we finally stepped onto the boat, where we found Justin and Scott and Matt and Luke, the first thing that we felt was the deck alive under our feet, while around us the thick smoke continued to swirl, filling our nostrils with the acrid smell of diesel, which I hated so much.
‘Hey guys. Nice of you to show up!’ Justin said to us as we joined them. ‘Where are the others? Aren’t they coming down too?’
‘Sorry, it was my fault,’ I said to him. ‘We had to get some petrol and then the car wouldn’t start! Tim and Guy are still back at the house.’
‘That’s okay, although old Cye was starting to get a bit tetchy,’ Justin replied. ‘I was just going to show Matt and Luke around the old tub, so come on, I’ll take you to meet him, then you can all get the guided tour.’
As we started toward the wheelhouse Ben whispered, ‘At least he got the ‘old tub’ bit right!’
‘Ssshhhh!’ I quickly said.
With Justin leading the way and Scott bringing up the rear, we headed in single file for the wheelhouse, walking along the narrow space between the railing and what I assumed were the hatches into the holds where the fish would go. This was all new to me also, with the only boat I had ever been on being a Sydney Harbour ferry when I was younger, and I quickly found myself becoming fascinated by everything about it, unable to resist running my hands over various fittings and pieces of equipment.
As we reached an open doorway a crusty old character who looked to be in his sixties stepped out to meet us. He was wearing a blue and white checked flannelette shirt, which somehow seemed to match the fading and peeling paintwork on his boat, and had a short grey beard and grey hair, upon which was perched a tattered dark blue knitted beanie.
‘So, these are the stragglers, eh?’ the old man said, obviously referring to Ben and myself.
‘Yeah Cye, this is them,’ Justin replied. ‘Meet Ben and Samantha. They had car trouble.’
‘Hmmppff!’ came the gruff reply as he looked us up and down, before adding, ‘Well, I’m pleased to meet ya, all the same.’
‘Thanks,’ Ben said to him, holding out his hand, which Cye then shook. ‘We’re pleased to meet you too. I’m really looking forward to this.’
‘That’s good lad, but I dare say you may think otherwise after a few trips beyond this gentle little harbour of ours,’ Cye replied with a chuckle, before then turning his attention to me and giving me a smile which revealed several missing teeth.
The old fisherman reached out his hand toward me, which I politely shook. His grip was firm, yet his hands felt surprisingly soft, then holding my hand with the palm facing down he quickly leant over and kissed the back of my hand and said, ‘Enchanted, madam.’
‘Knock it off, Cye!’ Justin scolded. ‘Don’t go leading her on… it’ll only break her heart when we tell her what you’re really like!’
‘Cheeky bloody spunk rat!’ Cye spat back at him, which brought gasps of surprise from a few of us.
Behind me Scott was chuckling to himself, but judging by the looks on the faces of Matt and Luke and Ben, I knew that they were just as startled as I suddenly found myself being.
‘You can relax folks,’ Scott said to us. ‘Don’t take too much notice of them, they’re like this all the bloody time. Sometimes I have to think about which one of them is actually supposed to be the grown-up.’
‘Hey, watch it there young fella, or do you want me to go and tell ‘em all about the time I found young Justin and you…’
‘Hey, give it a rest old man!’ Justin said, cutting in quickly.
Glancing quickly at his face I could have sworn that his cheeks were suddenly looking rosier than they had been just a few moments ago, and I suddenly found myself wondering about what it was that had brought on such a reaction.
Cye chuckled to himself for a moment, obviously amused at whatever it was that he held over Justin, then slapping his young companion on the shoulder he said, ‘Anyways, lad, hows about you take ‘em and give them all the grand tour of the old tub while I get ‘er ready. Then we’ll push off and see how these young land-lubbers manage a trip out on the big blue yonder, eh?’
‘All right,’ Justin replied as the ancient mariner turned and disappeared into the wheelhouse, with Scott following him.
* * *
All up, I suppose the ‘Wanderer’ was about forty-five or fifty feet long. Not overly big for a fishing boat, but then again, being a girl and having never even set foot on one before this I really didn’t have any idea how big a fishing boat should be.
Justin showed us around as if he were an old hand, which I suppose he almost was really, despite his tender age. We were shown above decks and below decks, with our tour guide nimbly skipping from one part of the boat to another without any hesitation, while most of the rest of us were having trouble just staying on our feet in some places as the vessel rocked around beneath us.
When we had arrived a short time ago the day had been clear and bright and the waters of the little harbour were quite calm. By the time we started back toward the wheelhouse, however, the wind was starting to pick up and the waters were now quite choppy.
As some of us held tight to the railing, Justin calmly pointed out various pieces of equipment or parts of the boat and explained what this was for, and what that did. I had this feeling that Ben and Matt were having trouble keeping up with everything they were being shown, but I had no doubts that once they got the hang of things they would both be just as adept at this as Justin obviously was.
When we eventually made it back to the wheelhouse we found Cye leaning against the door frame with his arms folded across his chest in front of him, studying us carefully, while Scott was leaning against the railing at the side of the boat.
‘All right then, who’s staying and who’s going, eh?’ he asked. ‘Sorry, but we don’t got room for all of yer.’
‘Just Ben and Matt,’ Justin answered. ‘We’ll see if we can’t make fishermen out of them, eh Cye?’
‘Well lad, I reckon if I can turn you into one, I won’t have any trouble with either of this pair!’ Cye declared, which only earned him a swift clip up the back of his head from his young apprentice.
‘See what I mean?’ Scott said. ‘They’re like a couple of school kids.’
Agreeing with him I said, ‘I think the school kids might be less trouble!’
‘Hey there lassie,’ Cye responded. ‘I’ve made land-lubbers walk the plank for less than that!’
‘Yeah, but none of them were as pretty as her, were they Cye?’ Justin added.
‘Aye, lad, I think ye be right there.’
I wasn’t sure what to make of all this banter, and judging by the looks of confusion on Ben and Matt’s faces, neither did they. If nothing else, though, at least it showed that there was some sort of camaraderie between the skipper and his one man crew, and I was so hoping that at least some of that would rub off on my man.
‘All right then, Cye,’ Scott said, while placing one hand on my shoulder and another on Luke’s, ‘how about I get this other pair out of your hair and we let you guys get out of the harbour for a bit?’
‘Scott, I reckon that’d be a grand idea,’ Cye replied.
* * *
With the three of us watching from the wharf, after having said our good byes on-board, Ben and Matt performed their first official sea-faring duty and pulled up the short gang-plank, placing a void between us that I have to say left me feeling a little uneasy. I don’t know why that was, but I suddenly had this ominous feeling of dread.
At the front of the boat (which is the bow, isn’t it?) we saw Justin nimbly leap from the boat to the wharf and untie the forward line, before jumping back on-board and giving the all clear to Cye, who was standing at the wheel in the wheel house. At Justin’s signal Cye nodded and pushed a lever forward on the board in front of him (I suppose you would call it a dash-board, but who knows?) and the engine suddenly came to life. In an instant it changed its tone from the quiet purring sound that it had been making while idling patiently, to a sound that made my ears ring, telling all and sundry of the great power it possessed. Accompanying this change was another burst of acrid smelling dark smoke, which had us all coughing and spluttering.
I managed to look across at Scott and Luke, although I wasn’t sure of what I expected to see from either of them. Scott was looking like a proud father as he watched Justin work, which made me smile, while Luke was just as nervous as I was by the look of him. He glanced at me while I was looking at him and managed a nervous kind of smile. I reached out and took his hand and gave it a squeeze. He squeezed my hand in return and as we watched the old boat slowly edge away from the wharf I think we both realised that even though things were about to change, it was for the best.
We watched as the boat arced out into the middle of the harbour and then headed for the end of the break wall, its bow slicing through the choppy water and the whole boat rocking up and down as it powered forward, scattering seagulls as it went.
We could easily see all three of our boys; they were standing at the bow, young and handsome and carefree, waving back at us, their faces covered with smiles and with their already damp hair plastered to their foreheads. Every now and then we could also catch brief snippets of their laughter carried back to us on the wind.
‘It looks like they’re enjoying it so far!’ Scott said to us both, then he noticed Luke and me holding hands, clutching onto each other, and smiled. ‘They’ll be all right,’ he said, trying to reassure us both. ‘Cye is as safe as houses, he’s been on the sea all his life, and he reckons that Justin is a natural. Your boys are in pretty safe hands.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I’m sure they’ll be okay.’
‘Why don’t you two head down to the end of the break wall?’ he said, pointing toward where the rock wall jutted way out into the harbour. ‘They’ll go right past you there.’
‘Have we got time?’ Luke asked.
‘Sure, if you hurry. It’ll take ‘em a little while to get there yet.’
Not needing to be told twice I started dragging Luke by the hand. ‘Come on!’ I urged. ‘What are we waiting for?’
With Scott’s laughter ringing in our ears we set off for break wall, running along the wharf until we reached the point where the rock wall started to jut out into the harbour. It was about two hundred metres to the end of the break wall and we could see the ‘Wanderer’ starting to power through the water now, as it started to pick up speed, while we ran along the flat concrete surface, with curious locals who were fishing from the wall all looking up at us as we ran past them.
‘Are we going to make it?’ I called to Luke, almost breathlessly.
‘Yeah,’ he answered. ‘Just keep going.’
Glancing back over my shoulder I saw that Scott was coming as well, although at nowhere near the pace that we were running. I’m not sure what he was making of the pair of us, a couple of lovelorn teenagers already pining for our mates, but I had a fair idea that he found the whole deal at least somewhat amusing.
As we neared the end of the break wall we found ourselves almost in front of the boat and could see the three of them all standing up the front waving to us, under the ever watchful eye of Cye, who was visible at the wheel.
Ben was standing in the middle of the three of them and as they drew closer I saw him put his hand on Justin’s shoulder and climb up onto something, which I couldn’t see because of the shape of the bow. He looked down at Justin and said something to him. I could see Justin and Matt both laughing at whatever it was, then as Justin held onto Ben’s shirt in the middle of his back, Ben held his arms out wide and leant forward into the wind, while also shouting something out.
At first I had no idea what it was he was saying, then as they drew closer and I caught a few words, I started laughing too. Just as Luke was doing beside me.
‘We’re kings of the world!’ was what he was saying.
‘You idiot!’ I yelled back at him, while laughing and being sprayed by sea mist, and being looked at by the local fishermen as if we were both total nut cases.
By this time Scott had joined us, and the ‘Wanderer’ was almost level with the three of us as it navigated the passage between the harbour and the open sea. From here they had to veer between the wall on which we stood and another wall that jutted out from the far shore, the two of which protected the entrance to the small harbour, then after that they would have nothing but clear water in front of them.
‘So far so good, then?’ Scott said to me.
‘Well, at least he hasn’t fallen in, yet!’ I replied, but just at that moment Cye leant on the ships horn and gave an almighty blast, which startled us, not to mention almost shattered my ear drums.
And we weren’t the only ones to be startled either, as I saw Ben suddenly slip from where he was standing.
I think I screamed.
It was almost like we were watching in slow motion, as I saw his foot slip and his body lurch forward, almost falling out over the front of the boat. It was only Justin’s quick reflexes that saved him from going in I think, as he still held onto Ben’s shirt with one hand and also managed to reach around his waist with the other arm, then haul him backwards.
It all happened so quickly; too quickly even for Matt to be able to lend a hand, and as I stood there trembling, looking at Ben and Justin on the boat still clutching each other, I could feel my heart beating furiously
Scott quickly placed his arms around me, reassuring me that everything was all right, but as we both stood there, both looking at our lovers clutching onto each other, I had this strange feeling that the same things were going through both of our minds.