In the wake of Banyandah: The people you meet

By Jack Binder

Hello seafarers and settee sailors.

I thought I'd offer two glimpses from our life that happened while preparing Banyandah for her Southern Ocean crossing

When guests of the Fremantle Sailing Club, I awoke feeling a bit old this particular morning. Too much booze or one too many stories the night before had me feeling every one of my sixty-four years and I was crawling rather lethargically round the cabin when I heard a rap on our railing. Coming up my eyes clasped onto a man my age inspecting my boat.

“Bonny wee sailing ship you have laddie,” were his first words, and I smiled. I love people who like my boat. And replied, “She's stout and looks after you in a storm and that's what matters, plus she's a treat to live aboard.”

“Aye, I can see that”, this fellow went on, his bushy eyebrows going up and down as he ran his eye over our craft.

“You're a Scots, I can tell. My wife's a Geordie.” And with that disclosure, he ambled closer.

“Aye, a bonny lad from the old country.” He said when we were eyeball to eyeball.

“Been back lately?” I asked, thinking of our own trip home to England in 1999.

“Aye, went back in 2005.”

“Good flight?”

“Did nay fly, I sailed.”

“You sailed back to Scotland!” I exclaimed suddenly reassess this man. I had been more concerned with my own problems that morning as we'd been meeting so many dockside, full of dreams and claims.

Curious I asked, “Did you do the Red Sea and canal.” Thinking what a silly question, but having twice traversed the Red Sea, thought I'd hear the latest.

But what I next heard wiped away every remaining concern for my aging.

“No, didn't do the canal. We rounded the Horn.”

“What! You went round the Horn! How big a boat?

“33 feet.”

“And how many souls on board?”

“Just me.”

“Oh you've got to be kidding, you sailed solo round the horn, and… and you must be my age.” I hesitated over the last not wanting to ruffle his feathers.

“Aye and maybe I've a few years on you. I first rounded the Horn when I was seventy. Rounded it again when I turned seventy five, and if my bonnie lassie will let me out again, I'll round it again in two years when I'm eighty”

Somehow I knew this man was genuine, so I said nothing but slid my hand across the rail to encompass his. Looking into those warm gentle eyes, I felt the man's lust for life pour through me and suddenly I was not the least concerned that I was 4,000 miles from my home and about to turn a mere sixty-five.

Later that same morning, when the club's bosun bid me good day and I called him to the rail to disclose what I'd heard. He smirked and commented, “Oh so you've met George. Last time he rounded the Horn, he had to go aloft to fix a parted halyard, and slipped and fell, his foot getting caught in a step loop. Ripped some tendons, but George just got himself down from the mast, wrapped the leg then carried on round the Horn non stop to Scotland.”

Well, since meeting George, I have never once felt the advancing years blues. And when alone on a dark watch, I feel the man beside me, and together we puff out our chests, happy to still sail the sea, and with pride look out over inky blackness to the stars.

The other incident wasn't quite so yummy as meeting George Farquer.

While alongside at Emu Point Slipway in Albany, I heard my dear lady shouting in the night. “Put that down. Get out of it.”

Groggy, coming out a deep sleep, I thought she was dreaming, and was about to comfort her back to sleep, when I felt her crawl over me. That got me wide awake. I sleep next to the companionway.

Rising in the dim light, I heard Jude shout that someone had been on our boat and had just gotten off. So, without a thought, I was away like a shot, over the rail, onto the dock and off towards the empty parking lot. In the dim single lamp, a large figure was walking off with something in his arms. I ran after, shouting, “Put that stuff down! Walk away and nothing more will happen!”

Reaching alongside the figure, he was bigger than me, shirtless and carrying our two green shopping bags in one hand, and in the other, swishing round n'round something like a long Kungfu stick, which I carefully kept out of its range.

“Now look buddy, you don't want any trouble. Just put that stuff down, and get out of here and there'll be no trouble.” Not a word in reply, just the swishing of that long stick. I looked about the dark marina, not a soul in sight. Look back to the young man, the stick caught the arc light and became our homemade boat hook whose sharpen stainless end doubles as a gaff.

Jude now suddenly rushed up and damn near tackled the fellow, and I had to yell at her to keep away. “He's got our boat hook!”

In a shrill voice she yelled out, “That's my dirty laundry in those bags! Just put it down and get out of here.”

What was this character doing? Dead of night, stealing dirty laundry and an ancient boathook. I didn't want trouble, not for us nor this young fellow. But he wouldn't stop walking towards the exit, so I began screaming out “Help! Robber! Help!” I was so loud; someone would either come running or call the police. But the lad just kept slopping along the payment and no one came to our aid.

Emu Point Slipway is an industrial area. There's a marina, but few are there at night. “Look lad, my lady and I built that boat, we built every scrap, sailed her around the world, raised our kids on her too, so she's precious to us. Won't you just put the stuff down and walk away. I promise there'll be no further trouble.”

And just about when I'd given up all hope, he stopped, and then slowly put the bags and hook down, and then shuddered and began to cry.

I have weakness for all mankind. The world's a tough place. And having pulled myself out from a rather horrible start, I find time for lost souls where ever I encounter them.

Reaching up, putting my arm round his bare shoulder, I comforted him and ask what was the matter?

In a torrent, out poured, “They mistreat me. Won't let me out. Don't understand.”

Jude picked up her laundry and moved the boathook away from the two of us while I asked, “You talking about your family?”

“No, I've been in hospital, but the nurse abuses me, so I ran away tonight. I didn't mean any trouble. Just thought I could get some money to get to my dad.”

I was still just in my nightshirt and suddenly feeling the cold, I said, “Look, why don't we go back to the boat. Are you hungry?”

Well, of course we didn't get on the Banyandah, but sat on the dock alongside her, and while Jude made us cups of tea and slices of bread with marmalade, I listened to this young lads outpouring.

In a nutshell, he wasn't crazy. Just knew his rights, as we all do with the tellie informing us all the time that we have the right to this or that. And he'd found an easy way through life as a ward of our great nation. At the present moment, he was checked into a mental ward claiming he had self-harm problems, and oh yeah, he'd abused.

I grew up in LA. The world's most fierce city. Walk into a payphone and the sharp edge of a knife might find your throat. Park your car on a dark street and a pistol may greet your exit. Abused? Crikey, I got touched up at thirteen and was drugged by two old farts at eighteen. So I told this young man there's no profit in looking back. Life is the future, not the past. It's tough enough without carrying extra baggage. Then thinking of our welfare system, I asked, “What's the matter, you don't like hard work?”

“No, I don't mind working. My dad and I once picked fruit and I enjoyed lugging round the bins.”

“Well then, Life is an opportunity. Get off your butt and go somewhere in life. The system will make you a captive. They pay you enough to survive, but not to progress. And unless you make a break, you'll be no more than you are now for the rest of your life. Look at us; seen the world, love all critters and still going strong because we have had dreams.”

Yes, I know, won't erase a lifetime of problems in a couple of hours, so we asked if he had family then listen to a string of woe about broken marriages and his mom's new man not wanting him around. It didn't surpass my own history.

“What about your dad?”

“Yeah, he's great. In Queensland but.”

“Well, that seems the best course to me. Change of venue gives you a new start, and if your dad will help, you'll find some support while you get yourself moving forward again. Just find a dream.”

Considering it was three in the morning, Jude then asked the most important question, “What are you going to do now?”


Always practical she suggested, “Why not go back to the hospital and tell them what you've done and ask them to place a telephone call to your father.”

Surprising us both, he agreed, so we gave him a shirt and old jumper, exchanged my Ugg boots he'd nicked for a pair of sunny Qld flip-flops, and he walked out of our lives.

Jude called the hospital around ten, and the staff nurse exclaimed, “Oh, you're the couple.” Then reported he'd told her the whole story and that they were attempting to put him in touch with his father. Do hope his life has a happy ending. A few days after that we sail off across the Bight.

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