Wednesday, 15 September 2004 00:00

The Wild Geese of Thirsty Sound - Part 2

By Trevor Jackson - Esperance Star

"This is Thirsty Sound" big tides, big currents, big bloody everything and just getting you're swept away arse back to shore is not going to help you "because the whole bloody place is an army bombing practice range and no one is going to be around to find you, to rescue you, to help you, to bring you home'

Dawn rolled in along with the considerable seas. I tried to sleep on the lounge room floor but my years spent on fishing boats had me uneasy in the head. Trawlers were vulnerable to rolling over and the mind had trained the body to bounce up out of bed if there was an unusual angle on the boat. I was very restless, but as the morning wore on and we rounded more and more rocky-faced cliffs the rolling abated and I snatched an hour or two of sleep before my stint on the wheel recommenced. Finally at around 8am our destination became a straight line run, no turns or headlands to round. I looked out the starboard door of the bridge and sighed at the state of the water.

It was muck, true muck. The massive tidal swings in the area had dragged every piece of grimy unsolidified mud out into the open seas, it was river water. Not to be put off too much, I rallied the troops up out of bed and one by one they too looked at the waters surface with more than a share of tentativeness. Unbridled optimism was in short supply as I eased back the throttle and took another look at the marks we had to search with. Our primary target was the square-rigged iron ship "Waverly". There was a mark of a wreck on the chart near our search area but they [the chart marks] are notoriously incorrect in the extreme. In fact it has often been a cause of great concern to me that wrecks marked on charts are almost NEVER where they are in fact marked. It makes approaching a new area of reefs or sandbanks a nervy prospect at the best of times, and this was no exception. Unfortunately, the old phrase, 'Fortune favours the brave', is not a great motto of a sea captain, so prudence is often on my shoulder.

Hour after hour we searched. Nothing bobbed. It was going to be a very long day. Every mark got hammered north, south, east, west, up and down. Not so much as bump in the scenery showed up. Time to re-assess.

We steamed into the coast and very cautiously made our way into a tiny inlet. Perched on a rocky barren hill overlooking the anchorage were a few tin houses and what looked like the inklings of a small town. Perhaps some answers lay ashore.

I had to think laterally. I sat on the roof and mused over our predicament. We had come a long way and nothing seemed to be panning out. Even if we found the wreck, the viz was so bad and the current so strong that diving was more or less out. Despite my warnings to the crew of how bad conditions might have been, the reality was even worse than I had anticipated. Forever the optimist, I climbed down and announced that we were going to use a wreck finding technique that hitherto had more than likely never been considered, sex appeal.

Weve all seen those ads for cars and bikes and nuts and bolts that use scantily clad bikini girls to get their point across. Well that was plan B. In Gladstone we had picked up a few crew that I haven't previously mentioned, one of whom might just have the 'right stuff' to turn a few heads in the aforementioned cliff top township and perhaps jolt the memory of some old timer fisherman as to where we might find ourselves an even older wreck. I called divemaster Alyssa Lang to the bridge to explain the finer points of what I had in mind.

"Ok Alyssa I want you to go ashore and start batting your eyelids about the place and see what you can find out about this wreck, and more importantly see if you can dig someone up who knows where the bloody hell it is". Despite being a thoroughly modern woman, fully versed in the idiosyncrasies and connotations of sexual harassment, Alyssa knew exactly where I was coming from and had no qualms about it. She fully understood that her doe-eyed innocent feminine approach to what was sure to be a collection of late to very late elderly retired fishermen would have far more effect than were I to send, for example, my heftily weighted, very male deckhands in to secure that same information. She was gone in the dinghy without the slightest protestation, and for all intents and purposes, was back in a flash with some promising news.

"There is this guy called Bev who knows where it is and will meet us at the pub tonight to discuss the matter". By the time the crew made it to the pub that night, "Big Bev", as he was known about the tiny town, had gone home to bed. Luckily however, the whole town was now privy to our quest and there was no end of self-proclaimed experts happy to extol their knowledge upon us. "You can still see the sails flappin' from the surface on a clear day", was one geniuses version of the wreck site. I pondered momentarily on the remarkable ability of the sailmakers from the mid 19th century to build a sail of such quality that it would withstand the ravages of Thirsty Sound for over 150 years, underwater. That's some canvass!!!! And let's not forget the strength and durability of those timber masts holding that canvass aloft. Now that's what I call craftsmanship. I looked around the room and started to imagine the occupants growing second heads and calling each other "Cletis".

Dave Harasti was across the bar picking a fight. Well perhaps that's a bit strong, what he was actually doing was vigorously arguing a scientific point with a chap who would have looked pretty much at home on the Star Wars set, and the more he drank the more vigorous he got. It was time to bail before I lost one or two crew in a hail of fisticuffs. Harasti was literally dragged by the ears outside and halfway down the street by the lot of us and collectively we made haste for the boat ramp and thence the relative sanctity of the Esperance Star. We had however procured an assurance that Big Bev would meet us at the boat ramp at 7am and take us out and show us "exactly where that darn wreck is".

I've been kicking myself ever since because I should have known better. I should have known that Big Bev was potentially, no make that definitely possibly as full of shit as the rest of "cletisville". The first thing he said to me when Allysa and Nat picked him up that morning was, "too bad ole Jonno aint here, he knows exactly where 'tis." I rolled my eyes. I knew that even getting the anchor up and steam 300 metres was a waste of time, but the guy was full of promise and generosity so what could I say. We steamed out towards the search area and Big Bev was out on the front deck gesturing like a traffic cop,' this way a bit, now this way a bit, head towards that hill" I felt like a complete tosser. I knew deep down Big Bev didn't have the faintest idea about where to even START looking for the 'Waverly', my main concern now was to end this charade as politely and painlessly as possible. After an hour or so I made up some cock and bull story about tidal changes or some such and we dropped Big Bev off in the dinghy. As we floated a mile or so offshore waiting for the boys in the dinghy to return, I considered our options. We could take pot luck and keep looking for the Waverly or we could put our tail between our legs and head south having wasted a couple of grand in fuel for nothing. There were still wrecks to look for just down the track a little, and some beautiful bays and islands to explore, and after all, exploring was what we were here for.

I pointed the Esperance Star towards the first of many headlands we would have to pass over the next few days and set the autopilot. As we neared the first set of cliffs Nat looked up at the towering rock faces and asked, "What's this place called?" Someone with an acid wit replied," Cape C**ting Waste of Time".

It wasn't long however before our spirits began to rekindle and flare. The coast in this area is as beautiful and remote as anywhere on the Australian coast. Deep water surrounds spectacular cliff faced islands. We could drive the boat right up to the cliff faces and touch the nose on the rock and still be floating in 25 metres of water. Giant Norfolk Pines shoot skyward from every piece of solid ground, hundreds of years old, the water got gradually greener then bluer. In a few hours we had seen a complete transformation in terrain, from barren towering mainland cliffs to rainforest covered islands. From muddy grimy tidal flows to pristine blue ocean water. All well and good, but no wrecks. I stopped by one of the islands for a quick dive and a spearfish. A couple of huge painted crays were on the menu that night along with a bar cheeked coral trout, perfect island fodder. We anchored in a beautiful bay rarely visited and with a very full moon rising all our cares and stresses from the previous few days simply dissolved. I knew that tomorrow would prove more fruitful, it had to, but even if it didn't, you could tell, we were all still having a great time.

Peaked Island, a few hours south in the morning, was as spectacular a place as you might ever see. Sheer 200ft cliffs rose straight out of the water, giant cuttings into the rock face created caves you could swim through halfway into the centre of the island. A Minke whale circled the boat at close range as the divers dropped down the cliff face. Our stop at this island was quite spontaneous, but within a few moments, divers Dave Harasti and Elaine Doherty would begin to enter a debris zone. Miles from anywhere at the base of a sheer dramatic cliff, was the grave yard of something unknown, and we had quite undeliberately stumbled upon it........

To be continued