Meredith Stephens writes of her sailing adventures in South Australia
The international borders are finally opening, but we still hesitate to embark on overseas or even interstate travel. The travel ban has afforded us the opportunity to explore our home state of South Australia, which until now we have largely ignored. After so long remaining here in this drawn-out pandemic, and the constant uncertainty about changing travel requirements, we lack the courage to venture abroad again.
Just as well, because after our local hiking adventures to Eyre Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, Alex announces that next we will be sailing to Kangaroo Island. We will stay at Brian and Rochelle’s shack on Emu Bay. Alex drives Verity and me down the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, until we reach Carrickalinga Beach. Alex has taught me how to hike, and now he wants to share his excitement about sailing. He spends time on the long drive to Carrickalinga testing me on my sailing vocabulary. I have learnt words such as ‘headsail’, ‘mainsail’ and ‘jennika’. (Well, I thought it was ‘jennika’, but Alex tells me it is ‘jenniker’.) Meanwhile we pass through the sleepy towns of Myponga and Yankalilla, each boasting country bakeries with an array of doughnuts, buns and pasties which I try to put out of my mind. We successfully navigate these towns without stopping and I make do by simply remembering the array of treats at a sumptuous cafe in Moonta from our last trip.
“Just wait a little longer,” Alex entreats me. Brian and Rochelle will have some really healthy food for us at their shack.
Brian and Rochelle are waiting for us at Carrickalinga with sparkling smiles and generous hugs. We maneuver ourselves and our luggage into the dinghy and head out to the boat. It’s moored in deeper water, and I have to scramble out of the dingy and onto the boat all the while making sure my laptop does not drop into the ocean depths. I clamber in and place the laptop inside the boat where it can’t get wet. Then I move outside to position myself at the bow where I sit with Brian and Rochelle. Alex is at the helm.
The others had busied themselves unfurling the sails but Alex tells me that my job is simply to look for dolphins. Before long five of them are approaching the front of the boat. They proudly swim in between the two hulls, gracefully easing themselves in perfect arcs in and out of the water to catch a breath. One turns her head around, her body at an angle, so we can make eye contact.
Once away from the shore and leaving the buffer of the hills, the wind picks up and Alex proudly announces that we are sailing at 16 knots. Carrickalinga has receded.
I sit at the bow for hours, trying to hide from the punishing Australian sun, wrapping my hair around my neck. It’s too choppy to risk walking along the side of the boat to retrieve my cotton scarf. Water splashes on my legs but I dare not move.
As the hours pass Emu Bay looms into view. We spot the bright yellow ball on the ocean surface which signals the mooring below. Alex directs the boat toward the ball while Brian extends a long pole towards it and hooks it up. He then drags it on the boat and tethers it to a cleat.
When alighting the boat onto the dinghy I will have to make sure once again my laptop does not drop into the ocean. Alex detaches the dinghy and loads our provisions onto the front end. Then he pulls the motor cord repeatedly but it does not start. Brian and Alex confer but the motor refuses to be coaxed back to life. The sun is retreating. I can see Brian and Rochelle’s shack on the coast tantalizingly close.
“Shall we paddle in?” I suggest.
“It’s a bit choppy,” explains Alex. “We could wait until the waters are calmer tomorrow morning. We could sleep on the boat.”
I yearn for a bed on dry land, but there are five of us and I have to consider what the others might want. We all seem to be concerned about imposing on the others. Verity comes up with a solution.
“Let’s have a secret ballot,” she suggests.
Verity tears up some paper into five pieces. We each write down our preference, “boat” or “shore”. I write “shore”. Rochelle seems to be taking a long time writing down her preference. Verity collects the pieces of paper and spreads them on the table. Two say “shore” and two say “boat”. The remaining one says “I don’t mind sleeping on either the boat or going to shore.” It’s evenly split. Meanwhile sunset continues to approach, the wind is picking up and the water starts to look foreboding. Could we safely put four adults and their luggage into a dinghy? Verity seems to have read my mind.
“I think Meredith wants to go ashore,” she announces.
“That’s our decision then,” confirms Alex. “We will paddle to shore in the dinghy.”
Alex asks Rochelle and me to hop into the dinghy. He places our laptops and phones in a waterproof bag. Brian enters next and Alex detaches the dinghy from the boat. Then we maneuver the dinghy close enough for Alex to slide in. Meanwhile, Verity kayaks to shore.
We each have a paddle, Rochelle and I on the left of the dinghy and Alex and Brian on the right. Alex identifies the safest place on the cove to reach land.
“Girls paddle harder,” he urges. “Meredith, you’ve got the paddle the wrong way around.”
I look down. Typically visually unobservant, I look down at my paddle and turn it around.
We labour, pulling the paddles more firmly and deeply, until we reach the rocks. We disembark and pick up our luggage. I gingerly tread over the craggy rocks in my sandals.
“Where’s the shack?” I ask Brian.
Brian points ever upwards. I follow the direction in which he is pointing and drag myself up in my wet sandals while carrying as many bags as I can. Finally we see the house on top of the hill, and gratefully allow Brian to usher us in. Brian immediately pours us some tonic water decorated with a slice of dried orange.
After nibbling on some nuts, cheese, hummus and crackers, Brian appears with home-made lentil burgers that he has revived from the freezer, topped with smashed avocado and haloumi. We devour these greedily as reward for our long sail and trek up the hill with luggage.
I find myself enjoying a spacious bed with clean sheets. Sleep is as delicious and pleasurable as a drink when I am thirsty, or a longed-for meal when I am hungry. I savour these moments of the comfort of the bed and suddenly it appears to be morning.
The sunshine forces its way into my bedroom. The silence of the corner of this remote island is punctuated by the lively tones of Alex, Verity, Brian and Rochelle’s voices. How could they have recovered so quickly? Despite the sunshine penetrating my closed lids, I persist in a somnolence which is just as delicious as the evening before.
Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.
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