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Essay

Discovering Books and Places: The Voyage from Eden

Meredith Stephens sails the Australian coastline, recording her experiences with words and her camera.

Maybe because I am an applied linguist, one of the pleasures of travel is the novelty of learning unfamiliar place names. Sailing north from Eden in southern New South Wales towards Wollongong, south of Sydney, provided ample opportunity to indulge this pastime.

We were relieved to arrive at the township of Eden after the long crossing of Bass Strait from Tasmania to the mainland. Too tired to disembark, we spent the evening recovering on the boat after availing ourselves of a public mooring. The next morning, we rose afresh and resolved to explore Eden. We made our way to the wharf but found that it was formidably higher than our vessel. As much as I was looking forward to Eden, I suddenly realised that climbing onto the wharf looked impossible.

“I can’t do it!” I complained, as I often did, to my sailing companions Alex, Katie and Verity. They were all taller than me and leapt up to the wharf.

“I don’t mind staying here and reading a book. You all go off and enjoy the town,” I urged, as I looked down at the green water in between the boat and the wharf. It wasn’t the first time. Whether climbing a mountain, or hiking, I just couldn’t keep up with the others. Rather than holding everyone up I would prefer to stay back and read.

“No, you have to come with us,” Alex insisted, as always.

I lifted my left foot onto the tyre and my right onto the beam, grabbed hold of the side of the wharf and somehow made it to safety, as the others encouraged me on.

We climbed up the hill and walked along the coastal road to the centre of Eden, taking in shops and the Eden Killer Whale Museum. Then we wound our way downhill back to the boat, ready to sail across the bay to the Sea Horse Inn, where we planned to dine later.

After anchoring Alex decided to attend to boat maintenance before heading across the water to the inn. Alex always attended to business before pleasure, but I was hungry and couldn’t wait for the inn to open at 6 pm. I had to be patient because Alex wanted to fix his anchor light. He climbed into his bosun’s chair. Katie and I winched him up the mast with the electronic winch. Katie released the rope steadily. We had to watch carefully because he would give a hand signal when he wanted to pause. As he moved higher and higher up the mast it became harder to crank our necks backwards to keep him in view. The only way we could keep our eyes on him without bending over backwards was to lie on the deck facing upwards. It might appear that we were lounging around but in fact we were doing our best to keep him in sight. Alex repaired the anchor light and then Katie and I slowly and carefully winched him back to the deck.

Having performed the essential maintenance, we were ready to hop into the dinghy and motor to shore.

After disembarking we dragged the dinghy as far onto the sand as we could and secured it to a branch with a rope. We walked up to the restaurant and wiped the sand off our bare feet before putting on our shoes. We were greeted by a smiling Maitre d’. His expressions changed to concern when he saw Verity.

“I need to see your ID. You can only come into the bar if you are over 18.”

We tried to suppress our giggles. Verity was 28.

“Don’t worry, She’s an adult,” I reassured him.

“We have to check. Until we don’t. Some people get upset when we stop asking them,” he quipped.

After presenting her ID we sat outside and basked in the sunset sitting on the outdoor furniture facing the bay. Then we made our way into the dining room. Although our first choice on the menu had been sold out, my second choice of smoked salmon proved to be the most delicious of the trip. Alex was just as impressed by his serving of sole.

Our destination was Shellharbour, near Wollongong and we were due to sail north along the New South Wales Coast. After having sailed through the fierce Southern Ocean to circumnavigate Tasmania, and the notorious Bass Strait, I was relieved that land would be in sight for the rest of the voyage.

The most memorable stop was South Durras, because as soon as we arrived on the shore we were greeted by a kangaroo grazing and scratching her belly with her forearm.  We walked through the caravan park to a rainforest lined with ferns underfoot which led to the shore. We circled back to the shore, treading over rock pools on our way to the beach leading back to the boat.

The next stop had an enchanting name – Ulladulla. If somewhere was named Ulladulla, I simply had to stop there. I kept practising the pronunciation as we sailed into the bay. We anchored, and as usual, took the dinghy to a wharf. As we approached the wharf, we noticed barnacles. The sharp barnacles could easily cause a puncture and it was too late to turn it around.

“Push back as hard as you can!” urged Alex.

We pushed the dinghy away from the barnacles. Then we motored to the wharf on the other side of the bay and disembarked. We walked up the hill into Ulladulla, and unexpectedly Alex announced, “Let’s visit the secondhand bookstore. There’s a sign over there.”

We followed a narrow arcade to the end and spotted the bookstore. My attention was immediately drawn to a signed copy by Heather Morris, a bestselling author.

Sailing often entails many hours of crossing vast distances at the slow rate of 6 knots. When the seas are rough there is nothing for me to do but take an anti-seasickness pill and sleep in the cabin while Alex, who doesn’t suffer from seasickness, takes the helm.

But when the seas are calm there is ample time for reading, if you have enough crew to take turns at the helm. Thankfully Alex’s boat library takes pride of place. Even so, the addition of Heather Morris’ book was welcome and the long hours at sea passed quickly as I read this.

The seas were calm as we headed to Shellharbour, a new marina south of Wollongong, another city with a mellifluous name. We sailed through the many empty berths to the heart of the marina and located our assigned berth. Katie put out the fenders, and then we leapt onto the dock to tie the boat to the cleats. Relieved to have made this long sail to Wollongong, Alex cracked open some of our sparkling Tasmanian wine, with which we celebrate the completion of each leg.

Next, we had to clean up the boat before our flight back to Adelaide. We still had plenty of unopened food in the fridge, so Alex went to offer it to our friendly French Canadian boat neighbours, Gerard and Heloise. They happily received it. Then we asked them the easiest way to get to Sydney airport, after which they offered to drive us to Wollongong station. It was our first time to see Wollongong, and we were astounded to see the lush vegetation so unlike our home state of South Australia. We caught the train from Wollongong to the airport, passing all too quickly through the temperate rainforest. We then flew back to Adelaide to unlimited hot water and clean sheets, as we slowly discarded our sea legs. Not least, I was proud to have learnt beautiful place names such as Ulladulla and Shellharbour, although I still couldn’t manage to spell Wollongong without a spellchecker.

* All the photographs are courtesy Meredith Stephens.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, 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.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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