After 20 years of producing videos, mainly of the travel documentary genre, I felt a need for change. Being a pioneer of the youtube era, I became tired of the treadmill one finds themselves on, of having to produce regular content in order to feed the machine. I also saw a change whereby videos became more about the creators and less about the content, and I think as one gets older, one becomes less willing to film some idealised version of their life. I wanted to sink my creative teeth into more meaty topics and fulfil a long held dream to write a book.
When I walked the Camino del Norte in 2019, partly with no money, it was an challenging experience, but I felt not a complete story. For an experience to be complete, I think it must change one in a permanent way. I now feel my Camino experience is producing it’s first fruit. A year of living on a small yacht, has continued the theme of living with less and I feel a circle is reaching completion.
Writing is quite different from filmmaking, but at it’s essence, it is the same. Can one craft a story that keeps the audience enthralled? With writing I now enjoy no longer having to speak in the first person. As Oscar Wilde best summed up, ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’ I also enjoy the creativity of fiction, no longer do I have to stick to an idea of the truth, as one tries to do with documentary filmmaking.
Below is a short story (and spoken word video version) I prepared for a local 2,500 word writing competition. It is a mix of fact and fiction, set on a make believe nautical holiday park called Mullet Waters. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. It is the first story I’ve done using voice to text technology, whereby I used my smartphone to dictate the story from a brief outline. I hope you enjoy it.
He returned to Australia, after many years overseas. He had no job and no place to call his home. He planned to travel up the east coast in his ute camper in the hope of finding some cheap coastal acreage to build a house on. But he found, even on the sparsely populated southern New South Wales coast, there was no cheap land to be found.
He journeyed north unsure of his next move, visiting an old friend on the Sunshine Coast. He checked the rental prices and felt they were overpriced, so started looking at other options, including possibly purchasing a house boat. While doing this search he saw an ad for a wooden sailing boat in Yamba. The price was very reasonable and the boat had a lovely old world quality about it, the interior decked out with a warm mix of Mahogany, Cedar and Oregon. A ten square meter tiny home on the water, handmade by an amateur in Sydney over 11 years in his backyard.
When he translated the yacht’s name online, he was informed that Siquando meant ‘Failure’ in Latin. Who would call a boat failure he thought! He decided the Italian translation for Si Quando ‘Yes, when’ was more likely the meaning of boat’s name.
He contacted the owner of the boat, a Andulusian Spaniard, and without knowing anything about boats drove down to Yamba to have a look. He rang the local yacht club and asked them if they knew of anyone who could do a survey. The retired gent who answered, who didnt own his own yacht, said he could take a look. His idea of a survey was to lift the floorboards and check for water in the bilge.
On paper the boat sounded good, the Andulusian claimed to have spent $10,000 on deck repairs and the motor had only done 130 hours. So he paid the full price, something he was told later, no one ever does for a 2nd hand boat, and thought, even if it ends up being a lemon, he could flog the motor and at least make some return on his money.
The boat was moored at Mullet Waters Nautical Park, paradise on the water. The inhabitants of the Marina were an odd bunch, Millionaire’s rubbing shoulders with trailer trash liveaboards. He was on a cheaper swing mooring that he had to row to. The swing mooring crew were considered bottom of the food chain on the Marina, a colorful mix of drunks and misfits. They were known as pond scum, and his neighbour Nigel Binchook best represented the odd assortment of characters. Despite owning 3 boats, an airbnb unit, a car and a small truck, the only time he seemed to be truly happy was when he was knee deep in bin jus, bin chooking through a skip bin finding morsels of discarded goods that he collected and stored in two of his three boats, that sunk lower and lower along their waterlines as time progressed. He was a thin man, with a protruding belly. He was stooped in his posture and would walk with a strange waddle. Many on Mullet Waters claimed this was because he clenched the first penny he ever owned between his tiny wasted buttcheeks. He had a large Khazarian hook nose, with a long tuft of nasal hair, only growing out of the right nostril for some strange reason. He would sometimes move his head around as though smelling the air with his nasal antenna, probably sniffing out a new load of debris dumped in a nearby bin. He had a pathetic pony tail held in place by a rubber band, the remaining grey strands sometimes catching the breeze in unison with his nasal foliage.
But the swing mooring crew at least had some tie to society. Those who lived ‘on the pick’, on the other hand were totally wild, sailing up and down the eastern seaboard, living off the ocean’s bounty, growing sprouts and harvesting rainwater. Solar and wind powered sea gypsies living their own sailor’s code. Not all were good though, many would do nightly marauding raids, stealing every thing from crabpots to clothes on washing lines. But worst still, were the youtube vloggers, narcistically recording every aspect of an idealised ‘boatlife’, cyber begging for bigger boats and even stooping so low as to feature their malnourished, developmentally challenged children, barking at the camera like some retarded clapping seal.
At night, as the mermaids gently rocked his new home, the air filled with the far off howls of the drunken wives of the swing moorers, He dreamed that he too, would one day ‘live on the pick’ sailing up and down the coastline, learning to live with less, his time being his own.
At first he found owning a boat very overwhelming. There was so many things he had to learn – how to repair woodwork, how to work on a diesel motor, how to diagnose electrical faults. And that was before he even started the sailing part, which involved further knowledge of wind, tide and mapping.
He started drawing up an extensive list of all the things he needed to do to get the boat shipshape, but it seemed Siquando always had other ideas and there’d be some emergency that had to be fixed immediately; a burnt out wire that smoked out the whole cabin, the kerosene stove leaking kero into the bilge and endless leaks, including one time when a drip kept wetting his face as he slept.
He found boatlife to be a very primitive way to live with no refrigeration, no shower, no mains power, an ancient kerosene stove to cook on and the need to cart drinking water in containers from shore. At night in the summer, swarms of mozzies and midges would enter his boat and leave him itching for hours, the roof of his cabin splattered red from the vampires he managed to swat when they rested with a full belly.
He met a Kiwi who had just bought a local boat, with the hope of sailing it back to New Zealand. He seemd to know a lot about sailing, cornering people on the marina and talking excitably about his many sailing endeavors. He had one yellow can opener tooth near the middle of his top gum. It would froth with saliva like sea foam when he’d gathered a crowd to listen to his stories. He was a short solid man who never wore shoes. His feet appeared oversized for his body, tufts of hair grew on the surface and the soles were cracked and blackened. His toe nails grew long and yellow, each one curling in a different direction. When first sighted one could imagine him scaling a coconut tree, using his toenails to grasp on as he scuttled up for a feed. He always wore a beaten up leather hat, indoors and outdoors. He had an impressive shoulder length mullet and thick bushy auburn eyebrows that stuck out so far, his hat seemed to rest on them. One night in his boat the Kiwi removed his hat and it was revealed why he always wore it. He had the finest ‘egg in a nest’ one could wish to see. A cylindrical ring of wavy hair grew from only half way down his head. The top was completely bald, a translucent pale white with prominent blue veins that obviously did something other than grow hair!
The Kiwi offered to take him out for his first sail, it was a disaster from the get go. The big talking Kiwi had never been out on the Clarence and on a high tide, ran Siquando over the submerged breakwall. Then on the way back, he got the poor girl stuck in sand. She had to be towed off by Marine Rescue. It was a major disappointment for him, his first sail and he’d already had to get the boat out on the slip to check the hull for damage. Big talking Kiwi man went a bit quiet when he was made aware of the expense for that day. But it was an important lesson. He learnt he must be the Captain of his own boat!
The boatyard crew were the only true locals he’d ever met, descendents of early fisherman, they depised all newcomers. He couldn’t really blame them. They were trapped in an ever increasing spiral; the more house prices went up, the more the idyllic lifestyle of their ancestors became a faded memory. They had seen how the town had changed; more rules, more people, more kooks in the surf, less fish and that one road into town a constant throng. They found themselves pushed further and further from their beloved coastline, driving great distances from the mosquito infested mangroves and brackish mudflats of the upper reaches of the Clarence, to service the retired class and their opulent boats, for cash in hand minimum wage.
One day while sanding the hull, one of the workers told him, the Andulusian Spaniard had worked a few weeks at the boat yard, but was fired because of the low standard of his work. The worker asked him if I knew of the the suicide of the previous owner on the boat. The worker said, ‘You haven’t noticed the new paneling in the saloon on the starboard side?’ ‘Apparently the old owner blew his brains out one night, that is why the Spaniard got the boat so cheap!’
He quickly climbed the ladder to inspect the paneling, sure enough a new panel was overlaid on the starboard side, He pulled at it and it gave way quite easily. It was held in place with bluetack! Sure enough behind the new paneling there was various buckshot holes ingrained into the original panel with what looked like various remnants of skull and hair. He didnt know what shocked him more, the fact he’d spent weeks sitting in a dead man’s chair, or that the tight ass Andulusian had done such a shit job repairing the damage!
He fell into a deep depression, he felt he had bought a cursed boat. He started hiding out in the boat, only leaving at night, drinking Rum all day and cursing anyone who dared come within five fathoms. Repairs went undone and he blocked out the light with a makeshift tarp over the mast. In the darkest hour he’d wake with night horrors, feeling a dark presence on the boat. ‘Go on do it’, said the demons of self-destruction, ‘End it now.’ At sunrise every morning, the sailor’s friend, a swallow, would come and sing to him the most angelic song, as though to check he’d made it through the night and to encourage him to face another day.
One dusk while wandering around Yamba, lost and lonely, on a hunt for more cheap Rum, he came across a woman with much luggage at a bus stop. She was crying hysterically. He approached her and asked her if she was ok. In broken English she said, ‘I off at wrong stop, I lost. Me live Coffs Harbour’ Her eyes were red and bloodshot and she was visually shaking. He told her he would walk her to the backpackers where she could book a room till the morning. She was very thankful, they got talking, he promised to give her a tour of Yamba the following day and she gave him her number. Next morning, he asked her if she wanted to see the beaches. She told him she had never learnt to swim. He asked her if she would like to learn. She said yes, so they went to whiting beach, where he taught her to dog paddle and lie on her back, and look up to the sky and relax, with her arms and legs out, like a starfish. It lifted his heart to see the childlike joy on her face as she learnt a new skill.
For the first time in a long time, he felt happy. A friendship developed between them and she returned to Yamba and stayed with him on his cursed boat. One night, she woke with a fright, speaking loudly in a foreign language, sounding very stressed and scared. She told him a ghost visited her in her sleep. She recited a muslim prayer and made it dissolve. He then told her the story of the suicide, the dead man that had haunted him in his own sleep. She said, ‘Bad spirit gone, boat now yours’.
She opened up to him and told him she was married very young, an arranged marriage. She gave her husband 20 years and two daughters, but never felt love. She had ran away to Australia with the hope of starting a new life. She said she had found it very hard and that he was the first person to show her any kindness.
There lives were both on low ebbs, but together they rode a rising tide. Having someone who enjoyed being on his boat with him, improved his own feeling about owning old Siquando. They would catch fish and mud crabs and she would prepare succulent Malaysian dishes on their little one burner stovetop. She added some order and tidiness to their little home, which encouraged him to start doing repairs again.
They started venturing out onto the river and dropping the anchor overnight. Eventually they reached the stage where they were ready to lift the sails. She was on the till steering, while he prepared the ropes. With full sails tight in the breeze, he turned off the motor, the only sound remaining was the water lapping on the hull. Siquando then caught a breeze, and leaned into it, powering along at 6 knots. They found it exhilarating to feel Siquando accelerate so quickly and heel to one side as she cut a line through the water. They ended staying out there for 6 hours, criss crossing the river, back and forth, taking turns on the helm.
That night in the Captain’s Stateroom, He was in a lyrical mood, telling her of tales of great sailing trips he’d read about. ‘A sailor always looks up’, he said, ‘towards the Gods. Let’s keep our sights on the stars.’ They both knew that they had passed an important milestone that afternoon of sailing, they had taken that first big step that would eventually lead to them to escaping the pond scum of Mullet Waters. She looked into his eyes and with reverence asked, ‘Can we change her name to Adesso? It means ‘Now’ in Italian. They both laughed, knowing the ‘Yes When’ meaning of Siquando had floated out on the last tide.