I have always loved ships. Ever since the days of getting the St David or the Galloway Princess from Larne to Stranraer or from going out boating with my mate Peter Bell and his step -Dad Ken Taylor on the Impala yacht in Ringhaddy. Then in 2008 I worked on the Isle of Wight ferries and in 2009 I worked on the Condor ferries ships from England to France (and the Channel Islands). When I was backpacking in Australia, I was aware of the “Spirit of Tasmania” boat, and somehow the way things worked out we ended up on it, in February 2010.
The ferries “Spirit of Tasmania” travel from Melbourne, Victoria to Devonport, Tasmania. It was suggested by Daniel while we were living in Parramatta that we should go to Tasmania and look for fruit picking or harvest work. These types of jobs are popular in Australia – and in Tasmania there are a lot of farms, and seemingly not enough people to work on them, when season comes up for a certain type of fruit or vegetable. So slightly prematurely, and without really wanting to it was time to leave PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Parramatta and head traveling before finally arriving in Devonport, for the new adventure.
So me and Daniel booked our ferry boat tickets for the Spirit of Tasmania. About a week later, Neil also booked onto it and was taking 2 weeks off work to travel with us. Then, while in Melbourne and we met Paul Demciuch, from York, he was up for the trip as well and so booked on the phone the day before! There were four of us heading to Tasmania – Paul and Neil on holiday and Daniel and me to work (at least that’s the way it was at the time, before things changed). It started at 6 am with the wake up alarm in the Urban Central in Melbourne. Our ferry boat was due to leave the Australian mainland at 9 am, and we had no idea where the ferry terminal was. I assumed it would be far away…
But when asking in the hostel it transpired that it was close enough – could be walked in 45 minutes, or as Neil found out, get a 109 tram there. We had our free hostel breakfast, gathered our bags, grabbed our bonus $10 deposit each and left the hostel into the pouring rain. Yes it was bucketing on the streets of Melbourne. We contemplated walking to the ferry – but had no idea what way to go and it was wet. We briefly considered a taxi – but they are too dear and I always refuse to get them. Then we decided on a tram.
We were on a tight deadline though – we had to be at the ferry check-in terminal by 8.15 pm. We finally found the correct tram station stop for our 109 tram, and as we got there a 109 tram passed, the driver clearly seeing us but refusing to stop. It was now 7.45 pm and we had just 30 minutes. The next four trams to come by were all the wrong ones. We were getting drenched (but I liked the rain) and were running short of time. Finally came the tram 109 – the first time I’d been on a tram in Australia. I haven’t seen them anywhere else down under but Melbourne. We hopped on – bags and all onto a packed rush hour tram full of work commuters. We didn’t buy a ticket – probably because we had no time and also we didn’t know how to – there was no ticket terminal or ticket point.
Within 15 minutes we were in luck – we had reached the end of the line and were at the right terminal. On exiting the tram I could clearly see the large red and white Spirit of Tasmania ferry ahead of us. We were lucky they didn’t check for tram tickets either and we had to rush to the terminal. It was now 8.14 am and we got into the check in office 1 minute early! Only to find that the boat was half an hour late anyway! That meant we could sit there and chill out and relax for a bit. I took the time to sort out my bags (I simply had too much stuff in 4 bags!) and also to walk out and see the boat. It looked amazing.
We went through ticket check and baggage control where we all handed in our big bags. We were the only caucasians in the queue – the rest of the customers were Indian!! Which is strange as since arriving and living in Tasmania, I haven’t seen any Indians since! Then we were boarding the excellent Spirit of Tasmania! We boarded though the rear/aft/stern of the ship and were welcomed at each staircase by a member of staff. That was a job I once did as “Gangway Man” on board the Condor Vitesse! Up a few escalators and staircases and we were on deck 7 – which is where all the main things were. We had paid the basic day ticket price – which didn’t include cabins, beds or recliner seats. As travelers we didn’t want the extra comfort or expense and would gladly sleep anywhere. First stop though was breakfast and I was hungry, and wanted a cup of tea.
On the Condor Ferries, I often worked in the Cafe, where there was quite a lot of comedy going on between myself and my colleague Chris Bilsland. We laughed and joked with the passengers, convinced them to buy “meal deals” and “specials” just so we could get a better bonus, we changed the names of products and we made up fake celebrities that “were on board yesterday.” Would you believe we had Barrack Obama and Anthea Turner on board in the same week? Neither would I. It was now time to check out the cafe on board the Spirit of Tasmania. I wanted a cup of tea – on the Condor Ferries we had a “refill cup”, where you pay £1.30 and drink as much as you want. I’d have liked that. But they didn’t have that option.
We had 4 seats by Star Club and the Tourist Centre on the boat. The cafe and restaurant was serving breakfast just around the corner. I had a crescent, a dead pig and hen period tart and a single tea bag in a cup of hot water. I added butter and jam to the former, salt and pepper to the middleman and sugar and milk to the latter. That came to a total of $10, equivalent in British Pounds would be around £5.50 which I felt was very reasonable and made up for not having an “unstoppable” tea.
I smashed the breakfast into me like a Nazi prisoner seeing a steak for the first time in years. Just after this our ship finally left Port of Melbourne. In the end we were an hour and thirty minutes late – boarding took ages and the boat looked particularly full. Indeed there were no spare seats on Deck 7. I bought some postcards and souvenirs in the onboard shop and had a walk all the way round the available decks to passengers. There was a cinema, a few bars, many cabins and a kids play area amongst other things. I stood out on deck though and said my farewells to Melbourne and Australia after about 3 and a half months. It was the first time I’d left the mainland island of Australia since arriving in October 2009. It was now February 2010.
The view of Melbourne was misty wet and cloudy. But still immense. I enjoyed looking at it and the cool sea air. The 3 guys wanted to go to the cinema, to watch the film and if it was boring to fall asleep. I had heard there was live music on Deck 10 though and was up for that, so up I went. I took a prime position in Bar Due South in front of the band – an acoustic duo. I didn’t catch their band name or even their individual names sadly. I savoured the moment up there, caught up on my notes and opened a bottle of VB which I had kept in my bag. A magician walked past holding his balls, while the duo began their set with a slow, mellow “Father and Son” cover version. We are told over the public address system that “Lisa is painting faces on Deck 7, the film is beginning on Deck 7 and Andy the magician is walking round with his balls out.”
I was relaxed on Deck 10, it has massive windows and you can see the sea from almost every seat. I was in the middle and could see out both sides. We were still in the “wineglass” shape of Melbourne Bay. The band quickly breezed through Walking in Memphis, It’s Only Natural, Chasing Cars and Maggie May. The rest of the guys came up just after this. The bans took a break. The boat was making good progress and was as calm as anything. I certainly didn’t feel any signs of sea sickness – something which had happened maybe 5 or 6 times on board the Condor boats the summer before. At 1.20 pm we could still see the Australian mainland. We left the south tip and went through a gap between an end point and a lighthouse just around 2 pm.
The band were back on, playing yet more Crowded House and asking for requests. This time they played Weather With You, in the second part of the set which also included Cats In The Cradle, Free Fallin and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After this point I lay down on the soft benches on Deck 10 and grabbed about 20 minutes of sleep. I also visited the tourist office on board and sussed out some brochures and information about Tasmania. It was an unknown world to me…
When the band came back on for their third set, I ran up and gave the guy a few requests. Before playing these they did a version of Wild World by Cat Stevens and Bryan Adams Run To You. Then they launched into Losing My Religion, my first request.
None of the other guys put any requests in, or wanted to. The guys seemed particularly quiet actually on board the ferry. They later admitted they didn’t like it that much!! Well if they dont like traveling on a boat for 10 hours – there’s no way they could have worked on one! I spent many glorious days working on boats on shifts ranging from 6 hours to 14 hours. I loved working at sea, and now on a day off I was loving the experience on board. I asked for a Crowded House song from the band – and I listed 4.
It was a real surprise when they did the version of Private Universe. It’s one of my favourite Crowded House songs and I knew they would play some Crowded House because they are a NZ/Australian band and they had already played two of their songs earlier.
The chorus of that one was ringing loudly through Deck 10 as the other passengers looked bemused or unimpressed. The singer dedicated the song to me breezing through the lines “I will run for shelter, endless summer lift the curse, it feels like nothing matters in our private universe…” Great song and even better spontaneously on board a busy ferry boat headed south towards the Antarctic.
We noticed the chill straight away. Australia had been hot – and now we were headed south it was getting colder. It wasn’t just the sea air – Tasmania is a bit colder than mainland Australia, but still much warmer than the UK. Finally the band played Wonderwall for me. I had asked for any Oasis song. But somehow I didn’t really expect them to bang out “I Can See A Liar”, “The Girl In The Dirty Shirt”, “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday” or “Pass Me Down The Wine”. But it didn’t matter. Wonderwall was enough. Maybe you’re going to be the one that saves me. Just maybe.
After a proper sleep – 40 minutes or so and the band had another break, I bought a chocolate mousse for $3. Everything else was too dear so we would wait till Devonport for dinner. The band played Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison this time.
Then we could see Tasmania approaching. I had my final walk round the ship and filmed the boat sailing into Devonport. Then it was a case of waiting for the call, heading down stairs off Deck 7, through quarantine control, baggage claim and into the wilderness of Tasmania. There was no sign saying “Welcome to Tasmania”, there was no grand entrance. But we were here, in my fourth state out of the eight Australian states. Hello, Tasmania.