Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Notes from Investigator Island

Investigator Island, it's a hard sail west from Boxer Island. We see it as the sun goes down. All day the land is a flat strip to the north with a line of clouds along the top. Southern Ocean a deep, deep blue. By the time we see the island, the strip of land has disappeared.

Searching for an overnight anchorage. "Is that the island? It's too far north."
Investigator Island lies like a seal against a red horizon as the wind still rises.

She's just flying, the Tearaway. Five knots, six knots, eight knots, nine! The wind turbine squeals and the autopilot starts stressing, trying to maintain a course with a wayward boat. At nine knots, we catch the tuna.
(What commercial fishing license?)

Three hours after sighting the island on the horizon, "it's a double peak!"
Beware the reefs to the east, sail by them, see the bombies breaking over reefs in the middle of a wild sea. Big swell crashes into the island. The sun's gone but the wind hasn't stopped. Tack around the head of the seal, close to the nose so the main don't swing on its boom and collect the wrong wind.

The roar of water hitting stone.

Then we are around the corner into a little atoll, a horseshoe capped with two dark mountains. It's quite night now. Wind coming sou westerly over the saddle. "Start the motor, so we go into the wind. I'll take down the mainsail,' says K, and I gallop obediently down the stairs to where the engine sits in a shiny pool of black diesel. I attach battery clamps to the ignition and turn a lever wrapped in red electrical tape to the right until I hear her crank. There's no clutch, there's no astern, she just goes straight ahead. I run back up the stairs to see K wrestling whipping swathes of canvas and tying them down. He heads to the bow. "Keep going ahead."

I can't see the shore, it's so dark. I can hear it. I think, I'm going to run onto the rocks but he shouted we were right, get as close as you can. Motor closer.
All I can see is the dark loom of the mountain and white spray on the rocks.
"I'll do the anchor. Get as close as you can, then cut the motor. The wind will blow us off and help the anchor grab."
Race back downstairs on his word. Unclip the battery clamp, turn another lever towards me until the motor shudders to a halt.

(I'll bypass the bit where, when I'd come upstairs, the wind had swirled into the circular atoll and was blowing us ashore, the anchor chain hurtling out under the boat and I had to grab the back of his jacket in the dark to save him going over with the chain.)

At night, the boat sounds different. Ropes creak. There is a twinkling sound like a gentle waterfall, or a leaking valve. "Are we losing water somewehere?" I ask. "What is that noise?"
It's in both hulls of the catamaran. "Magic. It's some kind of electromagnetic static ... against the hull," said K. "I've only heard it once or twice before in my life."

I go to bed with the sound of fairies thrumming the hulls. Creatures clatter on the deck above me. The chain thuds against its bridle. I listen to the shrieks and calls of penguins and baby seals. I dream strange lucid dreams. My flesh rocks against my bones.
"The wind's turned. We'll have to put another anchor out."
On deck, he shines the torch to the waves beside the boat. The rocky shore is just metres away as the boat swung on her anchor. I could see the waves, white with the moon.
"Happens a lot here," he says. "Fishing boats anchor up for the night in a sou easter, then the wind goes around to the north in the night. Everyone's had a few drinks, goes to bed. 'Ahh she'll be right' they say. Heaps of wrecks here."

I go back to bed after anchoring again, a cup of tea. Stormboy rings me at two thirty.
"I'm really crook Mum," he says. "I've just spewed all over my bedroom," he says. "What should I do?"
"Chuck some newspaper over it," I say. "Get a glass of water and a saucepan. Try to sleep."
Of course that is not all I say. There is also a few 'I love you's" and "I wish I was there right now to clean up your vomit you poor sick child." There is even a "Look, if I could get a helicopter ... (I would probably give you the same advice son.)"

I woke up before dawn. Here are bits, snippets, pixels, of what I saw.

At dawn I caught half a bucket of herring in fifteen minutes. They went into a frenzy over the kangaroo meat bait, swirled away whenever a seal slipped into the water, returned to my hook. I filletted them on the deck, salted them down and now their flesh sits in vinegared jars in my fridge.

As we sailed away from Investigator Island, I knew I may never return. The sealing gangs that I write about would have visited, the island being one day's sail from the next safe anchorage. Flinders was there too.
"He named it after his ship !" said K. "Can you imagine it. A rock. A bloody rock!"

I've been to a few wild places. This wild place already produces a kind of ache in me. Investigator Island. I know that whenever I hear that name I'll remember the night I spent holed up against the island. I'll recall my lucid dreaming of sirens and seals, that magic sound, of seeing the surf crashing beside our boat, of the sun hitting the green mountain in the morning and of those pups fighting for fun on the rocks. Herring. The sea lion silhouetted at the top of the island, yelling to his harem against the dawn.
Investigator Island.


  1. Things certainly look better in the morning light. I remember how stressful it was making anchorage at nightfall, cos if you get it wrong, you can be in a bit of bother. I recognise that longing for beautiful-alien places too.

  2. I found the anchorages thing at night really stressful too but K loved It. Back on the game, I think. Sailing again tomorrow ... Cape riche to Albany.

  3. Nice. Smooth sailing. Should be good, small swell and easterly winds.

  4. It was a week or so ago, but could have been a hundred or two hundred years. The same winds, the same sights and sounds(minus the modernity), the same dangers, same sense of remote place, of strange shifting time. You were there, just like they were...

    1. Yes ... It was worth it for that alone.