The wind was rampaging through the night whipping the seas into a state of frenzy. Gallivant was taking on water. Every creak and grown that her weary timber made I feared it would be the last. My hands were numb, my stomach cold. All I could taste was salt. All I could smell was salt. Salt ripped at my skin. It ripped at my existence. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to hide. But I couldn’t give up now because I could see the lighthouse. If I gave up now it would just be silly. Like throwing a tantrum. I took another look down at my sodden chart knowing there were rocks that lurked beneath these waters. It was futile. Rationality would not prevail, my mind was delirious. My whole body was aching; bruised and battered, just like my boat. ‘Not far to go now girl’.
That mesmerizing big turning light grew brighter and brighter. Then the rugged cliff face of Bastard Head rose up from the darkness, lit up by the shimmering white spume of the growling waves breaking at its feet. Gallivant was doing her best to continue her charge into the steep waves that surrounded us, as if she knew that our refuge was close. But then I heard a roar come up beside us, shredding what little nerves I had left into confetti. Gripping the wheel I braced myself. The wave loomed overhead, suspended for a moment in time before it came crashing, crushing down. I was knocked to the floor as Gallivant was thrown to her side.
Then all I remember was voices and lights, barking, voices and arms.
I awoke in a haze to a man with a silver beard peering over me. “Young lady.” He said with a slight tip of his hat. “You are all safe now, no need to worry. We got you all safe and dry on land now.” His voice was gruff but not harsh, his face as weathered as the cliff face. I felt warm. I hadn’t felt warm in days. There was a lantern casting a yellow glow upon us, beyond I could not distinguish. The man handed me a big mug with steam rising off the top and told me “Hot chocolate. And I don’t drink so don’t ask for anything stronger.” The warmth from the mug was like magic to my fingers that permeated down to my toes. The man’s brow furrowed deeper and he said “Now tell me. What brings a young lady like you out to the seas like this?”
“To find out who I am.” I responded.
“Ahh well that is a most important thing to find out.” He nodded his head. “Well I had better get back to the lighthouse. And you young lady had better drink up that hot chocolate there and then go back to sleep. We’ll see you in the morning when you’re ready. No rush.” The man turned to leave.
“Thank you Sir.” I called out unsure if he would hear. He turned around and gave me another nod. “My names Hope, Sir.”
“Well pleased to meet you Hope. My name’s David.”
And with that he left out the door, and I drank my luscious liquid and fell back to sleep.
The next time I awoke it was to a big dog, with a wet nose and wiry, grey, scruffy fur, licking my hand. It took me a moment to remember that I was not on Gallivant anymore. With a throbbing head and a body that felt as heavy as an anchor, I propped myself up against the warm brick wall. This pleased the dog. With a wagging tail it put its head on my legs. It became even more pleased when I began to scratch behind its ears.
The light of the lantern hand now been replaced by a daylight struggling to push through an overcast sky. The wind was still howling. I gazed around to discover I was in what looked like a small house. A fireplace and the bed that I sat upon were occupying two corners of the room while a small kitchen with dinner table, and bookshelf with armchair occupied the other two. A large purple rug covered the floor. I could smell camphor, freshly chopped camphor wood. I could not smell the salt. My heart dropped remembering last night. What had become of Gallivant? The thought of her sunk at the bottom of the ocean or smashed up against the cliff suddenly left me feeling so alone. More alone than all those months that I had been at sea. That ship was all that had been true to me all these months and now I did not even have her company. The dog gave me a nudge, I had apparently stopped scratching and was to resume please.
David walked in the door. “I see Billy has found you.” He walked over to the kitchen. “You up for some food. Just porridge. Nothing better than ships food but it is warm. I’m gathering you haven’t eaten much for a few days with that storm.” He bought a big bowl of porridge over, drizzled with fresh cream and honey, telling Billy to go lie on the rug. Right then that porridge looked like the best and tasted like the best meal I had ever had. Food! I devoured the contents in a frenzy and then looked down at the empty bowl feeling slightly embarrassed. David laughed. “That’s alright.” He said “We got more where that came from, not on that tight of rations.” To which he carried the pot over from the stove and generously filled my bowl again with more of this delicious porridge. “Cream and honey?” He asked with a laugh. I nodded eagerly. I hadn’t had fresh cream in weeks. But as my porridge feast drew to a close that feeling of loneliness returned again, letting me know it was going to take more than a couple of bowls of porridge to make it go away. I was afraid what I might be told after I had finished eating, what had happened the night before. So I sat lingering on the last few mouthfuls not sure if I was ready yet. Part of me just wanted to stay in the warm bed, eat warm food and sleep, and not have to face this life stuff at the moment.
Noticing my hesitation David pulled over a wooden chair and sat beside the bed. Billy taking this as his cue too returned from the rug, head on my legs ready for more scratches. “Well you do owe him a few. But Billy here doesn’t keep count. He’s just happy you’re safe.”
I put down my bowl and patted Billy’s head.
“Well I’ll start by telling you that we got Gallivant to shore too. She needs a lot of work but she is salvageable.”
“And as far as for you, well you got Billy here to thank for that. We heard your pan pan around eight o’clock. We always keep an extra ear and eye open when the weather turns wild like it did. So we got ourselves ready for you myself, Billy and the trusty tug Georgie Girl and we headed out to wait for you out the edge of the bay, escort you in, make sure you’d be safe and glad we did. She was a blowing alright and dark too eh. Only thing I could see was the shimmering white of those big waves crashing against the cliff.
We would have only been all but fifty metres away when we saw you. Just in time too. We saw you take that big wave over the top and Gallivant’s mast breaking as she breached. Our hearts were pounding for you Hope. I revved up Georgie Girl, and put the big spotty on. That’s when we saw you bobbing in the water. You weren’t looking too good, lucky for that lifejacket. Anyway I pulled up alongside as close as I could then it was up to Billy to do the rest. I let him out on his line with his doggy life jacket on. The sea was a mess but he kept paddling like a champ while I steadied Georgie and kept that spotlight on you like you were a superstar. He was barking to you but you weren’t responding. Well he got to you and took a hold of your jacket with his teeth. That is how they’re trained to do it you see. Then I pulled you both in back on the line, got you up on deck and wrapped you both up nice and snug in blankets and hot water bottles. A nasty bump on your head had you in Alice in Wonderland but Billy kept his eye on you while I tended to Gallivant.
She was back upright by this stage and didn’t look too low in the water to tow. I managed to get a good line onto her and away we chugged back to the jetty. It’s been too blowy to pull her up onto the cable lift, but we’ll do that when this weather has quietened down. Should be tomorrow.”
I looked down at Billy and thanked him. “And thank you too David for saving us.”
“Ahh that’s all right kid. I’ll tell you, you haven’t been the first to be seeking shelter here behind Bustard Head and you haven’t been the first we have had to save either. You’ve also not been the first that we’ve had come by here searching for their answers. I don’t know what it is, something in these waters that seem to attract searchers like you….” Davids voice trailed off to some distant thought before returning to the conversation at hand. “Now tell me Hope, where you from?”
“Brisbane.” I replied.
“Sunny Queensland hey. So how far you been traveling to find your answer?” David asked.
“Right around, heading north back home now.” I answered.
“My, my, that is a long search, a serious search for any sailor let alone a young person like yourself. Well you definitely got some guts. I’m sure you’ve found that out. But what about your question – who you are. Have you found that answer yet?” He asked earnestly.
“No I haven’t.” I replied, my sinking heart returning. “I’d given up, decided to just head home, if that’s what you’d call it. Turned out to make quite a fool of myself.”
“What?” Exclaimed David. “A fool? Now don’t you go thinking about yourself like that young Hope. I’ll tell you, the only fool is the one who never seeks an answer. You had a question, and a real one at that, and you went out to find the answer. Now what’s foolish about that?”
“Well I didn’t find it did I.” I said with one of my childish pouts. “And I don’t even know if there is one anymore.”
“I see.” Replied David leaning back in his chair. He removed his hat revealing a thinning layer of silvery curly strands like that of his beard. “Sounds to me like you got broken spirit.”
“And a broken boat.” I added.
“What Gallivant, that’s a minor detail. A bit of work but a minor detail, nothing we can’t fix here at Bustard Head. Isn’t that right Billy.” David looked down at the dog. Billy gave a little bark in response who was now curled up on the floor between David and I. “Now look I got to get mending some fences. I think you’re strong enough to get around the house yourself. But no wondering around outside. I’ll take you down tomorrow to see Gallivant, if your well enough. Right now you just need to keep eating and sleeping. Billy’s going to stay here with you.” Billy, now with eyes closed, thumped his tail on the ground a couple of times in response.
David lifted his tall frame up off the wooden chair. “You know Hope, there is a saying that if you take one step towards the truth, the truth will take a hundred steps towards you.”
“Well I’ve already travelled? nautical miles” I said snidely.
“Well then that’s steps less you have to take now then isn’t it.” He said before walking out the door. My pout returned. I was exhausted, sore and David was right, my sprit was broken.
I had hoisted the sails on Gallivant with such high expectations. I had read about people going on journeys and returning fulfilled with their answers in hand and peace within. But I hadn’t gotten any of that and sailing solo around Australia is pretty soul searching stuff. So what was wrong with me? I wondered. Maybe I was just wrong. Maybe I am just Hope Fletcher, 26, five foot four with olive skin and brown eyes. Maybe that is all there is to it. At that moment with broken spirit I wanted to believe that, then I could just go back to Brisbane and go ahead with my life like my friends and family (if you would call them that). I wanted to believe that there was nothing deeper than the surface. I had had enough of searching. But there was one problem. My name. Hope Fletcher.
Mum said she named me Hope for a reason. She was not quite sure what that reason was but she told me that when she held me in her arms for that first time, my skin all pink and wrinkly, she knew she had to give me a name that meant something. Sometimes, like now, I wish I had been given a more normal name like my siblings Isaac and Beth. A name that didn’t contain so much…hope. Isaac and Beth sure didn’t think there was anything special about me, nor did Aunty Tess. Obviously my dad never thought anything special of me ‘cause I don’t even know who he is. I knew this kind of thinking of mine would upset mum. She would get in a bit of a flurry and a teary glaze would form over her sunken eyes. She would place one of her shaking hands on one of mine and say ever so sternly ‘you listen here Hope Fletcher. Don’t you dare knock yourself down like that.’ But it is hard not too isn’t it when you try and do something so epic only to fail.
Sure, my journey so far has been an adventure and filled with so many experiences. But experiences come and go. I have been looking for something solid. I have learnt a lot about my character and I have sure learnt a lot about sailing. I have met great people and now know what people mean when they talk about the natural wonder of the world. I have had experiences that others can only imagine or watch on TV. But there is still that same loneliness and emptiness that I felt before as I still haven’t found who I am.
I spent the rest of the day in a moping daze between sleeping and eating some of the pumpkin soup that I had also found on the stove. I didn’t even go outside. I didn’t want to see outside. I didn’t even light the lanterns nor the fire when it turned dark. I just lay in bed and closed my eyes. Billy in protest jumped up on to the end of the bed, pushing my legs away, he curled up and closed his eyes too. I noticed David come home. But I didn’t open my eyes. I think he knew. He just quietly lit the fire and as I sneaked an eye lid open saw him pull up for the night in the armchair. I felt like a spoilt brat.
I really wanted to go down to the jetty, wherever that was, and see Gallivant. Maybe she could soothe my woes? So, I did get out of bed, to the astute attention of Billy, who then decided to follow me as I gingerly walked around the house. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and saw the nasty lump on the side of my head that I had given me my aching head. I looked over my bruised and scratched body concluding that I didn’t want to go through another storm, or another knockdown anytime soon. I compromised with myself agreeing on sitting outside on the porch instead of wondering off to find Gallivant. Even doing that was exhausting.
Outside I was greeted by the wind and the familiar smell of sea spray.