The good ship Wathara
Ferdinand Magellan and Me
Let’s get one thing clear right from the start. Ferdinand Magellan was not the first person to sail around the world. One of his ships was the first ship but Magellan never made it. He did well to get as far as he did, battling evil kings and wicked bishops, putting down the odd mutiny and chopping off a few heads, but in the end he was his own worst enemy.
Nearly 500 years later, sailing in Magellan’s wake out of some kind of fascination with the man, I probably had to admit to the same fault, but Magellan only had murderous mutineers to deal with and my problem was women. Wisely, Magellan never allowed women aboard his ships.
I mean, it started out all right, as these things do. She said, “Oh, I love sailing. I’ve been sailing 18 footers on Sydney Harbour for a couple of years. We won the cup this year in our boat called Boobs. You might have heard of it.”
“No,” I said, “I haven’t heard of a boat called Boobs,” but I actually had. It had been a scandal in my yacht club a few weeks before. The trophy had been won by an all- female crew sailing a boat with a risqué name. Bar flies in their cups predicted the death of sailing as we know it. Centuries of nautical tradition when females aboard ship were known to bring bad luck were under threat.
“We beat all the men. You shoulda seen the looks on their faces.”
“But you’re planning to sail around the world, aren’t you?”
“That’s right. I’m going to follow Ferdinand Magellan’s trip.”
“What’s with Ferdinand Magellan?”
“He’s only the greatest sailor in history, that’s all.”
“How long is it going to take?”
“I dunno. Magellan’s ship took about three years.”
“And you’re going to the places he went?”
I kid you not, she said gee whiz. What do you do with a woman who says gee whiz? First step is to get her into bed, of course. That led to various unforeseen circumstances, such as marriage, which I had always regarded as a headwind upon the good ship romance. I forgave her for being the harbinger of the sailing fraternity’s doom and later learned she was also prone to come out with expressions like golly gosh and oaky doaky. Besides, she was a looker.
The wedding took place on the balcony of my yacht club overlooking Sydney Harbour with a good fleet of one-tonners racing around the buoys. Many of the club’s shellbacks turned out for it, unperturbed by the fact that she wore the colours of a rival club. Only one misogynist bothered to mention that Ferdinand Magellan never allowed women aboard his ship. That’s true but Robin was now my first mate.
Wathara was the perfect boat for this trip. She was designed by Joe Adams, who also designed Helsal, the ferro-cement yacht called the flying footpath that won the Sydney-Hobart race one year. Wathara was a 37 foot cutter made of almost indestructible 3-millimetre steel, a feature that was to come in handy on this voyage. She was divided into two separate sleeping areas, forward and aft cabins, which also come in handy when you are on not-so-friendly terms with your crew.
I spare the reader tedious details of provisioning the ship and dealing with bureaucracy. We left Sydney on a glorious day, with a brisk sou-easter flicking mare’s tales off the deep blue sea. I gave the wheel to Robin and watched her with a grin on her face, surfing down the waves, riding the crests, laughing with the sheer joy of this freedom. Gone was the city, gone was the train time-table, gone the imperatives of a different life. All we had to do now was sail around the world.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Golly gosh,” she said. “Yes.”