Sailing on Moreton Bay

I startle from my dream, afraid I’ve overslept my alarm and struggle through tangled sheets in a half daze. With my body hanging over the foot of the bed, I grope for my charging phone. The screen, shockingly bright, reveals the time: 5:30 AM. My body is early, eager by fifteen minutes. Sailing today!

As I arrive at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron boat launch, the brilliant white sun rises and deep azure of pre-dawn shifts to a hazy blue. Autumn sneaks in on crisp morning air. A friend from the ultimate team, Rockley is already there with his twenty-eight foot trimaran, its outer hulls folded in, waiting on its trailer. Joined by his daughters, Frances and Lottie, he is in the early stages of rigging. Joel, Casey, and Bhala, all fellow Tsunami members, arrive, put on sunscreen, and add hands to the task. We attach the stays, raise the mast using the trailer’s boat winch, pull the boom from inside the cabin and mount it to the mast, and throw our bags onboard. Forty-five minutes later, we launch the rigged boat and tie it loosely to the pier. With Rockley pulling the forward beam and Lottie on the rear beam, the massive outrigger pivots outward.

The crew: from left to right, Frances, Lottie, Rockley, Casey, Bhala.

Alright, who wants to take the helm while I prep the sails? Rockley asks. I volunteer. We dodge the paddling dragon boats as we motor out of the harbor, a forest of masts protected by a large seawall. Rockley directs others. Joel, grab the main halyard, the line coming through the J1 cleat. He points. Lottie, could you get the jib sheets from underneath? Frances, show Joel how to use the winch. Casey, can you help Lottie set up the foresail? As we pass the third set of channel markers beyond the mouth of the harbor, Joel pulls the main halyard as Rockley guides the mainsail into its track on the mast. But as we unfurl the foresail, chaos ensues. Someone forgot to run the sheets, the lines controlling the sail, back to the cockpit. Rockley grabs a giant repurposed coffee tub from under my seat, pulls out two blocks, and a few moments later the thunderous flapping resolves with one final Thwump! as wind fills the sail.

Joel, enjoying the peacefulness.

Suddenly, I’m eighteen, back in Lewis Bay on a Cape Cod Knockabout, three youngsters on board with me. The kinesthetic memory is deeply embedded, rarely called upon in recent years. I don’t think of myself as a sailor. I didn’t even think of myself as a sailor when I was an instructor for four summers, sailing six hours a day, five days per week. But the scent of salt in the air, the quiet slap of waves against the hull, the occasional flutter of the sail, the tiller tugging against my hand, all evoke pleasure beyond the blue sky, light breeze and camaraderie. There’s something that just feels right.

We’re on our way to Dunwich (‘dun-itch’), across Moreton Bay, passing Peel Island on the way. A south wind blows steady and mild. As Rockley messaged to the group the night before, Sailing and eating are a natural combo, so everyone breaks out their snack contribution. I offer Bundaberg Ginger beer I picked up at Woolies following Rockley’s specific request. Lottie claims one and Frances offers to share with her. You know, Frances, you can have entire one for yourself. I bought a ten-pack, I say. Sweet as! she exclaims. Hey! Aussie-speak! I tease. Rockley chimes in after a sip of his ginger beer. Actually, it’s Kiwi. We borrowed it because we like them. Nonetheless, I say, it’s a distinctly local expression.

Our captain, Rockley, inspecting the bay.

Rockley is in his late-fifties or early sixties, originally from the UK, and he moved to Brisbane in 1971. He’s a doctor with a specialization in General Practice (we get a chuckle out of this). A few weeks ago, he and Janine, his wife, hosted the Tsunami potluck at their home in Corinda, a suburb of Brisbane. Within this wildly angular two-story bungalow, we discover a Dewy decimal indexed personal library, a climbing wall extending from the large lower deck to smaller upper deck, a trampoline located on the first floor (accessible from the second story bathroom window if you’re feeling adventurous), quirky wooden cages housing rainbow larakeets and cockatiels, a plethora of musical instruments, and a wood-fired pizza oven– a key feature at the potluck. Rockley distinctly reminds me of my father– maybe it’s his bald head, open-mouthed smile, and athleticism. He is one a few adults of my parents’ generation where I’ve glimpsed their lives and thought, Yes, that looks like a success true to my values. As I left that evening, I admired the folded up trimaran in the driveway. Little did I know I’d be out on Moreton Bay three weeks later.

The trimaran is a Corsair named Lookfar, the ship of young wizard Ged from Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, a favorite of Rockley’s. Why a trimaran? I ask Rockley. It’s the largest boat that I could fit in my driveway, he responds. More seriously, he continues to explain its virtues: it fits on the back of a trailer and with some ingenuity and extra care can be rigged and sailed solo. The three hulls keep the boat level, minimizing the potential drama of heeling. Combined with the spaciousness offered by the trampolines between each hull, that stability provides a comfortable ride for the whole family– or in our case, a large group of friends. And, Rockley admits, it really rips when the wind picks up.

Quicker than anticipated, we make it across the bay by 10:30 AM and dock at the Little Ship Club, a small yacht club next to the Dunwich ferry terminal. Apparently Rockley and family used to have membership here. I secure the bow of the boat and Rockley comes over to inspect. Oh! You know how to tie a cleat! he says. Not many people know how to do that properly. I respond. Well, I hope I know how, I’ve only done it thousands of times. (At the end of the day, he’ll inform me that this act qualifies me for all future sailing trips. Still early, we decide to head over to a nearby field and throw a frisbee. Rockley’s daughters stay behind and enjoy an early cocktail. After an hour of tossing, we cool off in the water, then head back and order lunch. My favorite moment of the day comes as we’re eating. There’s a horseshoe-like ring toss game out in the picnic area. I’ve made a number of tosses, much to Rockley’s consternation. He’s been stymied thus far. Sitting at the picnic table, with the ring toss over his right shoulder, he kids I bet I’d do better trying to throw it blindly. Of course, everyone then challenges him to try it. Sure enough, his second toss falls cleanly over the pin, perfectly centered. Shouts erupt and he turns beet red, grinning. There’s no way anyone is topping that throw.

Enjoying myself on the return to Manly.

Our way back to Manly is smooth and quick. The wind has picked up a couple knots and shifted slightly east. Paralleling the trouble with the foresail, we have another moment of chaos on our return. Noting stiff control, Rockley asks me to trim the line to pivot the rudder deeper into the water. After pulling the line, I let go thinking I’ve secured it, but the teeth of the jam cleat don’t catch. The rudder immediately pops to the surface. The bow leaps around into the wind, sails luff thunderously, waves splash up through the trampoline between the hulls. But with the boat stopped, there’s no force on the rudder and a light tug swings it firmly into place. Underway again, Rockley comments that the steering is much improved.

In the last quarter mile, we maneuver our way through a multitude of races, sails breaking the horizon like birds on a power line. A hydrofoil boat comes up on plane as we enter the harbor.  We pull down the mainsail and furl the foresail, motoring back into the boat dock, and arrive at 4:30 PM. With more hands familiar with the rigging, it only takes thirty minutes to reverse the work done this morning. As we say our goodbyes, Casey offers to drive Joel and me back to the train station. Rolling out of the parking lot, I look back across the bay beyond the masts. Two words come to mind: Sweet as!

A view of the Lookfar from the stern.



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