January 2001: In Hobart the docks are awash with drunken sailors, vessels crowd the harbour -- the last yacht crosses the finish line, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has run its course for another year. The city swarms with tourists, revellers and scurvy misadventurers leaving a trail of trash lined streets. Yet in the tiny southern town of Franklin the scene is very different.
The river vista lazes soundlessly in the sun. The village dozes, still; the School of Wooden Boats has been abandoned for holidays. Only two boats are berthed at the marina: Captain Pugwash's lime striped cruiser and Admiral Hornblower's miniature yacht.
Pugwash pauses for a pensive peer at the photographer
Hornblower, leaning slightly to his left, looking a lot like Lenin
It is peak summer: A hot bright sky burns the morning. The coolest place to be is on the water. At 9 am it's already 26°C and Captain Pugwash is doing his best not to burn the bacon. He's hosting breakfast for the local glitterati aboard the stylish gentleman's cruiser. The vessels colour scheme is a refreshing relief against the heat.
"Ahoy me hearties!" calls Peter Pugwash, giving his approaching guests a wave. Despite the becalmed setting, he senses a cosmopolitan air in the occasion. Bubbles, (the town socialite and gossip columnist) is with her designer Icelandic husband, known locally as the Viking. Today a Hungarian visitor joins them.
The three make their way towards the launch. Treading the bleached timber boards of the marina, clearly looking their age. It has been a heavy festive season. The Hungarian deports himself well, his dark eyes disguised by sunglasses. He is smuggling a cologne de vodka fragrance from the night before.
The Viking, without his national costume, looks decidedly uncomfortable in shorts and t-shirt. His white legs radiate a colour akin to the winter landscape of his homeland. Bubbles however, looks resplendent, though somewhat dated in her revealing dark floral nylon wrap frock (circa 1974).
Pugwash surveys the trio, striding three abreast and is momentarily reminded of a scene from The Mod Squad TV series. "Mustn't show my age," he mutters to himself. He shakes his head, dismissing the mind drift. Already Bubbles has popped aboard. "One too many daiquiris at that Samba Night Ball?" she asks cheekily, as if reading his mind. Peter's polite English manner leaps to the fore.
"Coffee?" he volleys, welcoming the others.
"Step aboard the MV Lady Jane. Mind your step gentlemen." He ushers the Europeans inside and prepares them a thick cup of caffeine.
Bubbles decides to escape the heat of the boys' club and slides out the seaward door into the inflatable rubber craft that bobs alongside. In the coolness of the zodiac she contemplates her astrology magazine.
Meanwhile Pugwash is serving up dishes with the flourish of a short-order chef. The waft of bacon and eggs soon tempts her back in inside.
"I used to run a bed and breakfast you know," he informs the impressed visitors.
"Now, how do you like your coffee -- with crème floating or stirred?"
'This attention to detail is clearly a sign of good breeding," Bubbles remarks.
"Would you like one egg or two?" he asks her.
"Make sure hers are fertilized." The rasp of foghorn shatters the ambience.
Admiral Hornblower leans his wizened face into the cabin. He sounds more rustic than ever, and looks clearly jaded from his Sydney to Hobart race experience. Bubbles inspects his beard, which seems to have turned a lighter shade of grey. "Perhaps it's just salt encrusted from sea spray," she thinks and decides against recommending a tint.
"Aarrhhh mate! -- I'm wrecked," Hornblower croaks. "And I've picked up a cold."
"You made it then?" Bubbles enthuses, hopeful for a race adventure scoop.
"How was it aboard Mirabooka?" The Admiral is greeted with handshakes all round.
Aarhhh never again," ee rasps. "Ay -- watch out fur me bloody Pierre Cardin briefcase willya?" He points to the plastic bag under the Hungarian's foot.
The Admiral needs to have his paperwork in order -- he's just been appointed the new manager to the School of Wooden Boat Building. Yet the Hungarian can't quite savvy the accent, (which is a bit too loud for that hour of the morning). Besides, he was busy soaking his stomach juices in Pugwash's grill. He uses his body language to indicate he doesn't know what the fuck the old barnacle is on about.
While locally renown for sympathizing with his Eastern Bloc Comrades, on this day Admiral Hornblower was insistent on recovering his bag of files.
"Move your foot," he urged.
"Yah -- good food!" nods the Hungarian, completely missing the point.
Hornblower reefs at the plastic bag angrily -- muttering something about ethnic tourists and important meetings with politicians.
The others watch in bemusement as the Hornblower's whiskers bristle with irritation. Bubbles whispers delightedly. "Doesn't he remind you of Rumpelstilskin?" (She is often accused of living in a dream world.)
"Looks like someone got out of the wrong side of his wooden sleeping bag," nudged the Viking, motioning towards the Admiral's toy-sized yacht.
"Aarhhh mate --" Hornblower retorts. "That's my last Sydney to Hobart. Never again." He reiterates, shaking his head, "The whole crew got sick -- I had to work the deck."
"Nothing to do with your cooking I suppose," ventured Pugwash smugly.
Hornblower ignored the comment and continued harping dramatically.
"I tell you, I've had a spinnaker full." Then suddenly, his eyes narrowed, his words triggering a memory. The Admiral stopped mid sentence and gazed into a faraway place:
"You know that reminds me…" his voice calmed to a slow drawl.
"Speaking of spinnakers -- did I ever tell you about the time I was out sailing off the coast of Bruny Island?"
"Probably!" said Pugwash, returning to the galley.
"What happened?" asked Bubbles, hoping he'd spin the moment into a yarn.
"The wind turned suddenly and we had to drop sail. We let the spinnaker drop into the water..."
The Admiral lit his cigarette and contemplated his audience.
"The sail was only down for ten minutes while we readjusted our bearings. But when we went to pull it in again we really had to struggle."
"How so?" asked Bubbles.
"We must have been sailing through a school of fish." He explained. "Because when we pulled the spinnaker in, it was completely full of fish!"
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© Jonathan Sturm 2001