It is me again but you can breathe a sigh of relief as this will be my last blog and I will soon leave you to get back to the tranquility of your normal life. Thanks for not pressing the Escape Key during the past 5 weeks even though it might, from time to time, have been very tempting – knowing that you were able to follow our adventure, and were doing so, has meant an awful lot to us and we are very grateful for the time you have devoted to it. It brought you nearer in spirit and there were times when that was very important to each of us.
Whatever you have heard about Australia is true: the Aussies themselves are wonderfully laid back and welcoming and have shown great interest in our trip from Cape Town; the weather is fabulous with hot sunshine and blue skies and temperatures well into the 30s; and the flies are a bloody nuisance. Mind you, the locals disown the flies and are keen to point out that they neither originate nor belong here and merely drift in when the wind blows from the interior – the afternoon sea breeze tends to support their view because the flies all disappear in the early afternoon when the wind picks up. Finally, being an Englishman, I struggle with the incongruity of mid-30s temperatures and the Christmas decorations which now discretely festoon the Fremantle Sailing Club.
Going back to where I left you (leave the Escape Key alone for just a little longer…please). We enjoyed a simply terrific final morning as we ran down the closing 70 or so miles to our destination. Disco was flying, so much so that Red needed to reef the mainsail to keep us within the limits of the rig. The Skipper was commanding from the main hatch, Buzz was helming and Sally and Mike were on the foredeck and getting exceptionally wet. They had taken over the watch at 0400 when the wind was mild-mannered enough not to need a reef and because it was already feeling warmer in the cockpit neither were wearing their oilies. Thus they looked a sorry state when I peered out, but in truth they were anything but sorry and were simply awaiting the opportunity to get their own back on Buzz, which Sally did a little while later when the headsail needed changing. As the morning wore on the wind continued to build but held in a direction that enabled Disco to hurtle forward beneath a fabulously clear blue sky.
Rottnest Island eventually hove into view and we began to see the distant skyline of Perth and the reef that guards the entrance to Fremantle – the excitement aboard was electric. Buzz came up to the cockpit and, with Neil on the helm having as much fun as he could whilst keeping his clothes on, directed our path towards the marina and our final destination. We crossed the finish line to the south of Rottnest a few minutes after midday and the Skipper brought Disco to a perfect stop for the first time 32 days alongside the Customs berth in Success Marina at 1430. As expected, Adventure was there ahead of us and Challenger arrived about an hour later. We were met almost immediately by the local Customs, Immigration and Environment inspectors, as well as the people from the Fremantle Sailing Club, who were the first people (beyond our crew) we had spoken to for over a month. Once the inspection formalities were complete there was a spontaneous outbreak of group hugs and handshakes with the crews of the other boats simply because it was so good to see them safe and well. It was a truly magic moment and I suspect it will be a long time, if ever, before I experience it again. The rest of Monday disappeared in a haze of securing Disco, rigging her for a couple of weeks alongside, a quiet beer in the cockpit, a real shower where nobody cared a jot how much water was used, flushing toilets and that ‘soft, strong and absorbent’ moment, and of course those all-important phone calls home many of which caught you at a busy time of day, the others having arrived while you were still sleeping. In the evening we met with the crews of the other boats for another beer before setting off to Fremantle for a bite to eat. We were all swaying, and not just from the boats’ motion, and all were tired so it was not a particularly late night. Having said that, some of us struggled to get back into the sailing club because they lock the gates and turn off the lights at a very early hour here. A few of us found people with electronic keys who were able to let us in whereas others did not and were forced to resort to other, less conventional, methods of entry.
Tuesday was dhobi day in every sense of the word. We all packed off our exceptionally smelly clothing to the local laundrette for a service wash and set about cleaning Disco with a vengeance. When we first looked around a Challenge 67 in Gosport on 1 October it seemed to be an awfully big boat, but by week 2 or 3 of the trip Disco had shrunk to quite normal and manageable proportions, or so we thought. Now however, she assumed the size of a supertanker as we went through every nook and cranny to clean, disinfect, bleach and dry her. And the accumulation of human detritus from 14 people over nearly 5 weeks is simply staggering – if you bothered to collect all the hair alone you could knit yourself a new pair of very fluffy socks. All the sails needed to come out, be unpacked, inspected and re-packed in the time-honoured sailor’s fashion of flaking, and every pot and pan in the galley needed to gleam as never before.
By 1700 we were done, all bar a few minor matters that could be dealt with before we set off to the airport on Saturday. The Skipper assembled the crew on deck for tea and cakes and then disappeared below because a VIP was due to visit in the next few minutes. Vice-Air Marshal (I know, but it is how he likes to be known) Algernon Biggles-Smythe (with an E) appeared in the hatchway looking remarkably similar to our Skipper and awarded purple hearts (cut from our plastic eating bowls) to Paddy and Adam in recognition of their injuries sustained en route from Cape Town to Fremantle. He then awarded medals to all members of Disco’s crew stating that the RAF always conclude an event with tea and medals (the Skipper is ex-Army). Biggles-Smythe – or BS for short, but there has been rather a lot of it over recent weeks – was dressed with a stick-on ‘Future Pilot’ badge on his Tilley hat wearing an extraordinary handlebar moustache fashioned from mousing wire and spinnaker wool. We enjoyed the moment and if I am permitted to add just one serious comment, the Skipper had obviously been thinking of the stunt for a while and it meant a lot to us all.
We are now into furious wind-down. Sally has gone to Brisbane to spend a couple of days with rellies (as they say in these parts), and Tim, Buzz and Hayley have gone ashore for a couple of days to enjoy the relative comfort of the Australian barracks a few miles from here. The rest of us are either helping the Skipper with the outstanding jobs (I was up the mast this afternoon replacing the radar reflector – it was too sporty to try it at sea) or are sight-seeing and shopping. Many of the beards have now either been trimmed or have gone completely, and many of the shaggy heads are now shaven again (no, not mine silly).
Nearly there then you can put the kettle on. I have thanked you once but will do so again to emphasise just how important your support has been. It is a great pity that we have not been able to read the comments you have added to the website but we all look forward to doing so in the days ahead. Thanks for reading this and thanks for your comments (which I hope are not too critical).
I must add my personal thanks to the other 13 members of Disco’s fabulous crew for putting up with the grouchy old guy who simply drove the chart table, messed up the sail trim, typed nonsense or quoted Milligan poetry across the wastes of the mighty Southern Ocean. If I can ever be of service to you, you only need to let me know.
A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Neil Cottrell and the Transglobe staff for their diligent work setting up the exercise and ironing out the problems before they occur, as well as the Royal Cape Yacht Club and the Fremantle Sailing Club who have welcomed and hosted us with exceptional generosity.
Finally, Andy Fernie, the Skipper. I have taken the mickey without mercy, some contrived and some true, for several weeks but I do not apologise because I know (I hope) you have enjoyed it. I have learned a lot from you (that is, in addition to the endless list of jokes), for which I am extremely grateful, but most importantly thank you for your sage guidance and for giving the Mates their head and being ready to step in when things got a bit sporty, which they did from time to time. If you ever need anyone to pull ropes for you, please gimme a shout.
And Christine, thanks for letting Andy come out to play.
The final word: does anyone out there need a new pair of freshly-knitted very fluffy socks, potentially an ideal Christmas present for a loved one?
Stay safe and we will see you soon.
•• A note from your Editor: I send humungous thanks to Dusty Miller because he has done the world of blogging proud throughout this leg and I can’t thank him enough for keeping us all so well and amusingly informed.