“Reflections in a Sailor’s Eyes is a book of snapshots taking the reader into a world difficult to access, with experiences impossible to recreate.”
– Phillip Ross, Editor Cruising Helmsman Magazine
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Reflections in a Sailor’s Eyes follows our exploration of life through sixteen short stories starting with our 1969 African Honeymoon, becoming Jack and Jude on an overland journey from England to South Africa in a derelict VW van.
A few of these short stories took place before our adventurous, dangerous times sailing the world while our sons grew from infants to young men. Plus, there are anecdotes adding a different perspective now that we are older and still exploring Earth aboard the same craft we homebuilt in 1973.
Confronting and Do-able with courage and love.
Every sailor and adventurer new or old or just dreaming ought to read Reflections in a Sailor’s Eyes. Great stories and human insights.
– Mark, Sydney, NSW
A Terrific Read! After reading about Africa I now worry that we’ve been in a car with you guys, beginning to question your sanity. What a blast!
– Terry, Western Australia.
True Stories included in Reflections in a Sailor’s Eyes
When we were just kids and about to be married, we bought a rust-ridden VW van that had languished in a field for nearly forever. Our first sight of it was a pair of sad eyes, its divided windscreen peeking over tall grass. So, we bought that cute little box. Not out of pity, but thinking we could use its new tyres on our honeymoon trip to Southern Africa.
The year is 1968. The Sahara is a vast unmarked area without fuel or water. Nigeria is still in the grips of the Biafran War. Central Africa is a chaotic mess struggling to overcome colonialism, many still hate whites. The Congo is filled with illiterate warring factions, still believing in voodoo. Only East Africa offers a ray of hope. But that too was snatched from us by Rhodesia’s quest for freedom.
Desperate people do desperate things…
Failure is a word that can strike despair in many young minds. And yet, now that I am older I’m proud to admit that I’ve failed several times. My first failure was a boat I built which simply would not float. It was supposed to be fast, so I thought it had to be sleek and narrow. But, while sketching its design, I realized I’d never built anything. Never used fibreglass, never made a mold nor knew anything about sailing. But building that boat changed my life forever.
Now our boat ain’t worth a lot of money, but she’s been ‘round the world. Bless her. And she’s sailed across the North Pacific as well, with snow falling on her decks. Buried her masts underwater on that trip. Poor baby. She took that better than us, just as she did crossing the Great Australian Bight one frosty winter when mile-high swells swept us off our feet and took cargo ships from our sight. She’s a strong little lady, all 38 feet and 12 tonnes of her.
Born in a Sydney backyard that looked upon the Opera House when it was being constructed, she’s homebuilt and became our family’s first home immediately after touching the sea at Berry’s Bay in 1973. Our mate named her Banyandah from a book of nice-sounding Northern Territory Aboriginal words. It means ‘Home on the water,’ and that’s what she became; our home on the water for fifteen years as our two sons grew into men while we travelled this good Earth seeking adventure and wisdom.
Banyandah didn’t cost much to build. We didn’t have much after buying nappies and the usual baby stuff. But that was okay because when we took our babies to see pretty corals and fishes on the Great Barrier Reef, we already knew how to survive on next to nothing. And that’s all we had; a good boat, some fishing gear and a big bag of rice. Funny thing is…
Running Scared at Spratly
Back in 1979, the world had no satellites guiding our every movement day and night. Instead, all ships used the heavens to navigate and our charts at times were inaccurate – some reefs charted by aerial surveillance in WWII with soundings dating back to the earliest explorers.
From the log of the Banyandah – South China Sea, March 31, 1979,
Only steel nerves and luck stood between the 1979 Amateur Radio expedition and disaster…
The Dead Don’t Cry
Young family chance their luck, sail to a forbidden island and find themselves fighting for their lives. Written 1983 aboard Banyandah in the Indian Ocean.
Madagascar! Jude loved the sound and wanted it to roll off her tongue as easily as it had off the stranger’s and she repeated, “Madagascar.” The sound igniting visions of green mountains and primitive people.
Maybe the World is Growing Smaller
I’m guessing, but I’d say more than a million separate incidents had to fall just right for this chance encounter to happen as it did. Sure, the Four J’s travel a lot and our chances of bumping into one particular person are probably better than many. But surely, such an unusual encounter just has to be classed an event.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly a million incidents. Maybe it was more, maybe less. But one thing’s certain. Our flash decision to board a bus and cross all of Turkey in one night was definitely a factor….
The day began like many others aboard the good ship Banyandah. At first light our anchorage was found to be encased in a wispy mist that softened the morning’s warmth and light, making sounds far-away whispers. Suspended in time and stillness our floating home lay so quietly at rest she felt afloat in space instead of on the calm waters off Colon at the entrance to the busy Panama Canal.
Banyandah’s aft cabin is a lovely place to dream of far away places. Like a mother’s womb filled with tranquil peace, on such a quiet day it was perfect for meditation. With eyes partly closed and my ship smooth and quiet under me, my fingers traced routes while the passage miles slid past in my mind.
“Hey Kids! Guess what!” I blurted out breaking into their school work, “There’s an enormous rock jutting out the ocean on our route to South America.”
Here’s a bit of gossip that I know to be true and a perfect example of what I mean when I say cruising yachtsmen have to be clever with their hands as well as their minds. It’s an example of what can happen if you hang on to your city thinking out in Nature’s world.
Enter one gentleman named Henry, not his real name, but it’ll do to save the poor fellow any further embarrassment, and his dear wife, Sweetie Pie, plus one kitty-cat named, for want of another, Sassy. Keen sailors, one and all, having sailed around their hometown waters on weekend jaunts, and loving it. The sailor’s life is really living both think. So they toss normal life, sell the house and board an aircraft that takes them halfway around the world to France where they purchase their dream-come-true sailing machine, taking delivery of it just like Mr. Smith down the street would slip into a factory fresh cherry red Mustang.
After that, for Henry and wife, kitty-cat too, it’s what comes naturally. They put to sea. And soon letters back home begin to smack of little adventures …
To the Naval of the World
“You’re on your way where? To Easter Island! Wow, that’ll be great!” My friend’s voice, sounding awed and impressed, came clearly over the Ham radio in Banyandah’s aft cabin. “But isn’t this the wrong time of year?” Scepticism had crept into his voice. “You do know it’s winter down there.”
Of course, I knew – hadn’t I sat for hours with those dog-eared weather charts before me? Hadn’t I tracked over and over July’s wind patterns for the deep South Pacific? My friend had voiced his worry over storms, but it wasn’t storms that were shown in the ocean before Easter Island, it was frustrating calms and contrary winds from around the clock.
The One That Got Away
Hooked a monster fish yesterday, and gosh, do I hurt. On my right hand, the fishing line burnt a grey-white path through layers of skin, while on the soft underside of my arm an angry welt rises like a crimson snake. They are painful injuries, but I’ll not complain because they remind me of a battle between man and beast, and keep alive the vision of a beautiful creature.
As with many of our adventures in Nature’s world, this episode came upon us quite suddenly. One moment we were pleasantly sailing through an empty blue world of sunshine and sea. The next, the whole ship erupted with running kids and parents, each yelling, gesticulating, colliding with the other, while the cause of this slapstick madness rushed after us like a dark sinister torpedo connected to our ship by what looked an overly-stretched wire …
Rhumb Lines Around Australia
Scudding clouds clip The Hazards of Wineglass Bay, the same pink granite mountains that French explorer Freycinet sailed from in 1802. Cold wetness is falling and the sea ahead foams white to an open horizon that calls to our spirits to run free and close the last link to complete the circle around Earth’s largest inhabited island. Every link has needed strength and courage, each has been as different as the colours in a rainbow.
To not lose the weather edge, we must commit to the south wind’s fury and sail north, knowing we’ll be alone at sea, not for hours, but days exceeding a week. Why is it we gamble our lives trekking the wild places? Why do we sally forth without thought of assistance, with few comforts, and fewer companions?
We go where there are no rules, except nature’s — survive. No marked lanes. No stoplights. Earth and her creatures will provide wonder and knowledge, adventure and entertainment. As if wandering through the Garden of Eden, they reveal mysteries beyond wisdom and bring knowledge by simply observing life …
Fishing for Monsters
Aboard Banyandah, off North West Cape WA
Walking aft I saw our Ocky strap bowstring tight and the trolling line singing. Quite shocked I jumped back shouting, “Hey Jude! Come look. Something huge is hooked up.”
The People You Meet
When we were guests of the Fremantle Sailing Club, I awoke feeling a bit old this particular morning. Too much booze or one too many stories the night before had me feeling every one of my sixty-four years and I was crawling rather lethargically around the cabin when I heard a rap on our railing. Coming up my eyes clasped onto a man my age inspecting my boat.
“Bonny wee sailing ship you have laddie,” were his first words, and I smiled. I love people who like my boat. And replied, “She’s stout and looks after you in a storm and that’s what matters, plus she’s a treat to live aboard.”
“Aye, I can see that”, this fellow went on, his bushy eyebrows going up and down as he ran his eye over our craft.
“You’re a Scots, I can tell. My wife’s a Geordie.” And with that disclosure, he ambled closer.
“Aye, a bonny lad from the old country.” He said when we were eyeball to eyeball.
“Been back lately?” I asked, thinking of our trip to England in 1999.
“Aye, went back in 2005.”
“Did nay fly, I sailed.”
Late Night Visitor
While alongside at Emu Point Slipway in Albany, in the night I heard my dear lady shouting, “Put that down. Get out of it.”
Groggy, coming out a deep sleep, I thought she was dreaming, and was about to comfort her when I felt her crawl over me. That got me wide awake. I sleep next to the companionway.
Moonlight across the Southern Ocean
By the time the Roaring Forties pass under Australia, they have gathered energy from halfway around Earth and are either driving the sea wild or are ready to pounce when next provoked by a depression from Antarctica.
Now imagine two aging flower powers, their petals shrivelling, yet with bright strong hearts, aboard a homemade sailboat cross the most feared stretch of water. Alone, they must look after themselves and God forbid either be injured or suffer a body malfunction.
The Fall of Nan Jude
During our first visit to the Kimberley, we discovered a love for those ancient rock paintings known as Bradshaws that are thought to be the world’s oldest art. Our fondest memories are treks inland searching for more lost art. Therefore when planning a new journey across Australia’s Top End, we pencilled in a week-long search centred on the King George River where we had previously found a great cache.
It was important to find freshwater at our turnaround point at Gallery Bay, but when pushing through the thorny scrub under the caves filled with rock art, Jude staggered, and then sat down. “Gee, I feel giddy,” she laughed. “Guess I haven’t found my land legs yet.”
The very next day, hardly an hour after anchoring in front of the King George River’s twin falls, we were climbing a steep rocky slope to gain a magnificent view over the red rock gorge with Banyandah looking minuscule amongst three multihull water beetles.
Although oppressively hot, we spent the day in training, walking several kilometres inland on the plateau above the falls, trying to adjust to the climate and terrain for the much longer walk we planned for a few days hence.
Hot, sticky, our spirits sky-high our stamina low, we found a delicious freshwater pool and swam naked without fear of salty crocs mauling us. On our way home through the cooling landscape of red flowering eucalypts and yellow kapoks, we dallied till the top of the falls where the lengthening shadows painted the canyons with the flames of a great fire. Every crack, dark and sinister, ran down to a steel blue hearth upon which Banyandah lay surrounded by awesome beauty.
When stepping closer to the eroded edge for one last photo, the silence of far away space was suddenly shattered. First by a dull thud then by a cry as if an old mamma bear had caught a paw in a steel trap. After that one cry, the eerie stillness returned, punctuated by the barely perceptible whimpering of Jude calling my name …
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