Border Island to Airlie Beach via Zombie Brain

Ah – M had wondrous plans to explore the islands further, until I told him it was Friday (not Thursday), and that the market at Airlie Beach was on the following day – the only place to buy B-A-S-I-L for $2 a bunch. His plans switched, and we left Border Island for Airlie Beach.

It did not help matters that I’d awoken feeling like a zombie. M didn’t know I was a zombie – but it made his current endearing nautical habit a little harder to take. He has been sitting up at night and (in the absence of Facebook) has been reading weighty tomes by Respected Sailors all about Heavy Weather and Rescues. It has become obvious to me that his brain cogitates upon this stuff while he slumbers, and in the morning he arises energised and inspired, ready to equip me with all he has learned. Even without a zombie brain it’s a little difficult.

Although he did not say, “HOIST THE MAINSAIL, HORNBLOWER!” – he kind of may as well have. I could intuit that he’d been reading dastardly, sphincter tightening sea-rescue scenarios, where the writer (in clipped, military tones) has stated that you’re only as strong as the weakest crew member – everyone has to PULL THEIR WEIGHT.

I mean, I can hoist the mainsail – it just takes me longer because my muscles are, it has to be said, punier. And everything in sailing seems to have such urgency attached to it – and the more wind, the more urgent it becomes. So there I was, M having unhitched us from the mooring, steering us out of Cateran Bay, having been instructed to go between the rocky point and a nearby boat.

“Keep an eye on the rocks,” instructed M, visibly restraining himself from getting closer to the wheel. “You might want to steer…”

“I can’t steer,” I interrupted him, “The wheel is around as far as it will go…”

There was a sort of strangled sound as we coasted past the end of the point and out into the welcoming wind. I presumed that now I would able to begin on my second cup of tea and return to my book. M loves to sail, and I felt like a ZOMBIE. It seemed perfectly clear to me.

However…an hour later I was still steering, tweaking the jib, arguing with the autopilot – M reclined in the cabin behind a magazine, although I could hear his body quivering like a finely tuned violin string, ready for me to scream, “OH FUCK, I’VE HIT A REEF!”

Reefs. I can’t even start writing about all the goddamn sailing terminology that is ingrained in M, and all the other people of his sailing calibre (hi Grant, hi Craig, hi Kay Cottee) and how irritating it is in high pressure situations to have people stridently saying things like, “the reef” – which reef? The one in the sail, or the one we’re about to get stuck on? Or – “If you steer any further that way, you’ll put us in irons.” Irons?

But then there is, “Pull in the black rope…” – and there are TWO black ropes – one that hangs off the boom (BOOM!) and one that controls the traveller (the track that a rope connects the boom to via pulleys)… I can’t go on, putting down in writing makes it even dumber…

Back to the sailing. (I have just consulted the chart for historical accuracy…). I was steering us toward Deloraine Island in order to tack down toward Whitehaven Beach. “We’re fine,” I said to M, smearing through my zombie brain, briefly putting on the autopilot in order to check the chart for reefs. “There’s something called ‘Jester Rock’ but it’s a fair way ahead.”

I could tell he wasn’t really listening to me. “Yes, yes,” he said, looking nautically out toward the horizon. “We’ll be tacking before we get to that.”

I sailed staunchly onward. We did our tack. “Wind the jib in,” said M, as the wind whacked the sail around. He has always, as long as I’ve known him, refused to yell while sailing. Although gratifying, it means I can sometimes not hear him over the sound of the wind, motors, winches, sail flapping, Smalls fighting… it reminds me of the episode of 30Rock where Liz Lemon is reapplying for her job and using power-soft-talking to make Jack lean closer to her…


“WIND. IT. IN.” He didn’t yell, but spoke more forcibly than before.

I was already winding, but redoubled my efforts. But my efforts were fairly pathetic – he bounded toward me, gazellelike, and with four manly clockwise hefts, had the jib-sheet under control. I put my overcooked tagliatelle arms back on the wheel…

He shaded his eyes and looked over the water. “Any reefs…” (I looked involuntarily at the mainsail) “…on the chart?”

I hurriedly checked our prospective path. “None that I can see.”

“How deep are we?”

I looked at the depth sounder reading. “Thirty metres.”

“Wow. The water’s so clear, it looks like about three!”

I steered happily onward, with the middle of Deloraine Island to my left (PORT!). All was, momentarily, well. I felt my zombie brain flop back down, on cruise control.

“Look at THAT!” M had resumed his ‘heavy weather’ voice and was pointing to my right (STARBOARD). I looked where he was pointing – straight at Border Island. Was I supposed to admire it’s beauty? I murmured something appropriately agreeable, but he continued to point – the expression on his face increasingly horrified.

In an I’m-restraining-myself-from-being-a-shouty-captain voice, he said. “Move. Let me take the wheel.” I slithered from the seat. What had I not seen?

“The rock,” M hissed.

“The wha..?” A large, black shiny thing emerged from the sea under his horrified gaze, and I relaxed. It was not my fault. It was not a rock. It was something that was not on the chart. It was a whale – with a tiny, briny eye.

“Oh my god,” breathed M, awed. “I had to restrain myself from screaming at you about going so close to that rock, because you were talking about the rock earlier, but…but you were right…”

There are few more thrilling phrases in the world than, “you were right”. Of course “you won $3million” is also good – slightly more unrealistic, but good.

The whale did not surface again. All was again momentarily well until we neared Solway Passage – just past Whitehaven Beach. M had gone to put down the starboard (RIGHT) centreboard and gave a groan. I looked for rocks, whales and reefs. There were none.

“The chock,” he moaned. “The chock has fallen down the centreboard shaft and now the centreboard’s wedged – I can’t move it. You’re a lateral thinker – I’ll steer, you fix it.”

Finally, something I could do without instruction. I got a long knitting needle, some wire, dallied briefly with the idea of using the tape-measure… “Maybe a fish hook on the wire?” M chimed, from the cockpit.

I ground my teeth. I didn’t welcome the instruction but it was a reasonable suggestion. I spent the rest of our journey through Solway Passage jiggling a fishhook on the end of some wire, trying to dislodge the chock that was impeding the centreboard. From it being a major travesty, every ten minutes or so M would downgrade the urgency of the repair, as if he could feel my fury building.

“It’s OK, just do it when we get into calmer water….. It’s OK, just have a go at it when we get to Airlie Beach… Don’t worry about it, we’ll have a go at it tomorrow….”

“I…” I hissed at him, jiggling the hook like I was trying to break in to a car, “…am DOING. THIS. NOW.”

It was actually quite pleasant. My zombie brain appreciated being able to concentrate on one solitary thing. No checking for reefs or whales while keeping the wind in the sails and the boat on course. Just me, the fishhook and the chock.

But M couldn’t help it. He had to mansplain. “When you get it next, make sure you jiggle the centreboard so that…”



We sailed onward.

“OK. I’ve got the goddamn wedge on the fucking fishhook. Come and pull the stupid centreboard up.” My zombie brain had started smudging and I was losing my speakthinky.

“UP? Up? Are you sure you want it up? Don’t you need it…”

“Down. DOWN. D-O-W-N. I meant down.”

His self preservation kicked in at last and he said nothing. He shoved the centreboard down. I pulled the hook up – and the chock came up with it.

= Beth 1 – ZBPHWSID 0

I took over steering again and was feeling rather excellent in view of my chock-victory and the fact that I was cruising along at about six knots through some very beautiful water. The sails were set. I thought I was pretty awesome…until…

Off in the distance I could see two headlands. M and I had a brief savage disagreement about which one I was aiming for, leaving me fuming and inwardly resolving to tack the boat on my own. If the wind had been coming from a reasonable angle, I’m sure it would have been fine…but…

Usually before such a manoeuvre I figure out the angles in my head – is this called visuospatial manipulation? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I visualise turning the boat, and how the angle of the wind is going to work with that.

But on this occasion, the zombie brain kept trying to imagine the hypothetical position of the wind after my imaginary tack, and stalling – it was unable to compute. All I could surmise was that the wind was going to be behind us and… And then… And then I would let Bella Luna figure it out – and I WOULD NOT ask M for assistance. [Note that the latter point was by far the most important. Yes. An unfortunate miscalculation.]

I focussed on where we were going and where I wanted us to go, and tacked the boat with a steely hand. I turned on the autopilot as I scrambled to pull the jib in on the other side. Of course, the tagliatelle arms took longer than they should, the boat began to overpower the autopilot, which began beeping a shrill warning. M strolled out of the cabin, turned it off, and strolled back in. [He later told me that he was fully aware of my dilemma, and wanted me to work it out myself…]

I, sweating, continued to crank the jib in as the boat continued around in a graceful 360 degree circle. In addition to this complete faux pas, I had neglected to remember that we had two trolling lines out the back, one from each hull, and my idiocy had created a sort of plait…

I couldn’t help it. “M,” I bleated. “M. Can I have some… help…out here?”

M, to his credit, did not snark at me. He looked at the lines coming off the back of the boat, breathed deeply, and said, “The lines are probably wrapped around the propellors and the rudders. That is a Bad Thing.”

My zombie brain and I blanched. I grappled for a divine solution, but settled for; “Couldn’t we just spin the boat back the other way to magically detangle them…?”

“Maybe…” mused M, scarily calm. “Maybe…”

We tried. And, thank goodness, within ten minutes both lines were free and back onboard – catastrophe averted by dumb luck. Then I had to help figure out how to get the boat on track… M tried to comfort me by telling me how he had gybed and capsized his little sailing dinghies and beach-cats a zillion times back in the day… It didn’t really help.

= Beth 1 – ZBPHWSID 1

Once we finally got back on our way, I left M at the helm and sat in the corner of the cockpit. I fell asleep there three minutes later and didn’t wake up until we were in sight of Airlie Beach. The zombie brain had gone. Things got better.

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