Now, where were we? Ah yes, Tails and her maiden voyage. At first it seemed unlikely we’d be able to get our girl on the water over the Christmas/New Year break – we were clearly not the only ones with this idea, and all the boat workshops that do things like fit engines and rig up steering were pretty much booked solid. Not to mention that Tails hadn’t been registered since 2007. But we were both enthusiastic, persistent and in luck: there was a second-hand engine that caught our eye and a shop with an opening to fit it, so we once again flipped a coin (you’d think we were mad gamblers, but on the contrary, these two tosses represent the sum total of our wagers for 2009) to determine whether or not we should proceed or cut our losses and put Tails back on Ebay. Tails clearly got wind (arf arf) of this gamble and apparently decided she wanted to stay put, because when the coin came down, it was in her favour. Secretly, we were just as pleased.
Llew comes from a sailing people. He, his father and brother are all mad sailors, his mother, sister and sister-in-law quietly accomplished ones. Real sailors, the type who get about on a yacht without turning the engine on. They speak the language and walk the rubber-soled walk. I’m the odd one out, being someone who loves going sailing, but can neither actually sail nor convincingly conjure any desire to learn. No, I just like being on the boat, theirs and anyone else’s, and I earn my keep by preparing lunch and refreshing drinks. Just please don’t throw me a rope and order me to urgently winch something because we’re tacking or coming about. And under no circumstances ever suggest I take the wheel. That’s a bad idea for everyone involved, and Llew’s dad has finally, albeit very reluctantly accepted the limitations of my interest, perhaps because I never get seasick, I stay out of everyone’s way, and I do really, really love being out there. Anyway, the point is, Tails is a modest little speedboat, which I didn’t think would even count as a boat to staunch sailors. And yet what I thought was going to be Llew’s New Project became a Jenkins Family Project the second my father- and brother-in-law sniffed the salty air and realised there was a new addition to the family. They didn’t care she wasn’t a sailboat. They just wanted in. Stat.
To say they responded well to the news would be like saying SWAT teams politely come to the door and knock, in that getting Tails in the water immediately became the core Jenkins Men mission, and they were taking no prisoners. I wisely stood aside and let the ambush begin. So many things are simply much bigger than me, and father-son-brotherly bonding over boats is clearly one of them. As to the maiden voyage, sorry fellas, but there was no way I was missing that, so I basically let them do all the work and then turned up just in time for the feature presentation: an attempted crossing of Sydney Heads. No one could accuse us of lacking ambition.
After Llew, his father, brother, and the Panamaniac got Tails off the trailer and into the water at Little Man Town beach (there’s a ramp there for the express purpose), they tooled around for a little while to make sure it wasn’t about to sink like a stone, then said goodbye to Llew’s dad and came around the cove to Man Town wharf to collect me. I was standing there with my IVF chill pack filled with beer – who knew that thing would make such an excellent little portable esky?! – which caused Llew no end of confusion when they first turned up. And I must say, my first glimpse of Tails racing toward me is not something I’ll forget in a hurry, especially because at first I refused to believe it could possibly be her. She looked so fine! Like a real boat! But then she drew nearer and there was no longer any doubt: there she was.
The boys expertly pulled alongside the wharf where the water taxis come in, and I passed them the beer before neatly dropping off the side and onto the boat. They’d furnished her with milk crates and lifejackets, and as I took my seat beside the Cheshire Puss skipper, I was taken by surprise a second time by the comfort this combination afforded. Though over time we plan to spruce up Tails as finances permit, really, one doesn’t need more. And just like that, we were off.
It was a good day to test the old girl, because it was choppy, there was quite a messy swell, and there was a lot of traffic on the water. I quickly congratulated myself on my choice of attire (swimmers and a sarong) because there was much ritual drenching in the crossing; the poor Panamaniac was saturated in the back. And once Llew figured out how to avoid smacking headfirst into the wake of other, much larger craft, we mainly sought out bumps for fun.
We knew our maiden destination before we even bought her: Sydney Fish Markets, about 9 or 10 nautical miles from Man Town and one of our favourite foodie spots in Sydney. For years we’ve driven to the markets, fought for a park and then dangled our feet off the wharf, eating our lunch and sorely envying all those who just cruised in instead. Boats even get free berthing, like a message from the universe that this is the only way to travel. En route to the markets, we passed close to the nudist beach at Watson’s Bay (very popular among older homosexuals), Shark Island, Fort Denison, Kirribilli House, the Opera House, went directly underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge (in our own boat! Nothing beats it!), cruised past the Sydney Theatre Company and the gorgeous, historic precinct of the Rocks area around Millers Pt (for me practically a spiritual place which of course developers are determined to destroy), alongside Balmain and then finally under the Anzac Bridge, a very fine specimen, around and into the markets, where we snared the perfect berth at the wharf.
As you can imagine, we were feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves by this stage, not to mention madly in love with Tails, and there was a long photographic session that’ll eventually attest to that (a film camera, so bear with me). Then we hit the markets for supplies for the freezer back home and of course a late lunch for the crew, compliments of the skipper and his first mate: oysters, prawns and beer, no longer enviously dangling our feet, but sitting aboard our very own little boat. Happy days indeed.