Sea pangs

An old friend dropped in on the Sonofagun yesterday. We haven’t seen Warwick Hill for years…and learned that he’s been very busy, living a very adventurous, high-energy life, and that he and his partner, TJ, have been filming all their experiences at sea. I’ve just watched the DVD of their latest documentary, No Fixed Address, this morning. Twice in a row. I loved it. Going to get a few copies, now, for other friends who live on boats and dream of sailing after a life of adventure and freedom and beautiful coastlines.

The following two videos are just short teasers, covering two separate adventures that Warwick, TJ, and their Indonesian-built perahu, Oelin, had…but they’ll give you an idea of what the full-length documentary is like:

No Fixed Address is available from Warwick and TJ’s website, www.oelin.com, either as a DVD or an mp4 download.

It made my eyes water a bit, to realize how much of this life of boats (and the men on them boats,) and the rolling sea, and sailing, has rubbed off on me over the years. I found myself missing that kind of life, a lot, and thinking maybe this quiet life on a houseboat, lovely though it may seem, is a trap. A soft, downy, comfortable, lazy trap.

The waterfront community, wherever you are, reads a bit like the dramatis personae of Treasure Island, or the cast of characters in some movie like Pirates of the Caribbean… you’ve got your young, muscled divers and oil rig crew. Your whippet-thin, heroin-dependent deckies. Your scheming con men with shady deals, forged papers, unpaid bills. Your fighting drunks and knife-wielding dock rats. Your plump but steely-eyed wives of shipyard owners (they run the office, hold the purse, they hire and fire). Your permanently-installed-on-a-stool-at-the-bar dreamers and talkers who never go anywhere. Your grizzled fishermen. Your jolly, kindly old shipwrights. Your jaded, foul-mouthed barmaids and galley cooks. Your ruthless skippers. Your “worked-my-way-up-from-nothing” fleet owners….

Stereotypes, yes, and in real life you’ll find that the same tattooed, hard-drinking moll in a skimpy dress who hangs out with the fishermen, or the boys from the oil rigs, on Friday nights is also a school teacher. Or a professional dancer. Or a librarian. Because real life isn’t as black-and-white as the movies, and people aren’t flat cardboard cut-outs. Real people have dimension. Real people are complex.

That said, there really is some truth behind the classic characters in pirate or seafaring fiction. There’s a reason they became stereotypes, after all. Because, you see, they do exist, they just always seem to be there…almost archetypal in that you will find the same aging, slightly sour, curvaceous and heavily-inked beauty serving grog to seamen from behind the bar, at any waterfront in the world.

There is also the Hero. Or the maverick.*

He may not always look like a hero…he may even be a she. And she may not always be completely selfless or sainted. But you talk to this person for 10 minutes, and you recognize the archetype, you recognize the role they’ve been given to play. Heroes are enigmatic. They’re quiet, but exude total knowledge and control of themselves. They’re the ones you think of when something difficult needs to be done, when the situation calls for experience, nerves of steel, confidence, courage. They’re the sort who volunteer and head rescue operations, boat salvage projects, treasure-hunting expeditions. Not everything they do is for money. Often it’s for the challenge…a “glory job”, some call it. The adrenalin. To break a record. Or, often, they take on crazy projects simply because those ones are more colorful, more interesting, than any of the staid, safe, well-paying jobs they could do. They don’t like permanent positions. They’re reluctant to take things on that will bind them to one place.

As in any Pirates of the Caribbean cast, there are just a few heroes. Supported by a cast of hundreds, you might say. We’ve lived in a few waterfront communities, now, and there are never more than half a dozen heroes on hand at any given time. And they don’t hang around. They’re forever heading off to do something strange, exciting, adventurous, crazy…merely stopping in to do a bit of maintenance on their boat, or earn some money, before going again. Because they have a bucket list ten times longer than others do, and almost every item is something difficult, something that others tell them “has never been done, can’t be done”.

Warwick is just this sort of guy. When Kris was on the White Bird and needed a tow through rough seas over in the Kimberleys, Warwick is the first person I thought of…how I’d wished he’d been around then! Of course, Paul Butler is cast from the same archetypal mold, and Warwick couldn’t have done a better job than Paul did, in the end.

*Kris, of course, has played this role, on many waterfronts. I knew it within 20 minutes of meeting him. He was even wearing a T-shirt that said “Lupo di mare” (wolf of the sea) on the front. And I? I guess I’ll play the role of the island vahine who goes off with this wolf. Now, where’d I put that ukelele?

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2 thoughts on “Sea pangs

  1. How I enjoy your tales of the mariner. I was married for 30 years to just such a one as described. He was a doer of all things. Loved the sea, loved boats, loved sailing and though he tried throughout the years to put down roots, they never fully developed deep enough, so in the end, the sea called, he answered. Life on an island was never quite enough. I on the other hand like sailing. I sailed from the Mainland to Hawai’i and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. But, my goal was Hawai’i. I was content to just sail through the islands and not venture any farther. I am an opihi, clinging to my islands. He was a swordfish longing for the open seas. Now, we are just great friends as we probably should have been all along.

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    1. Nice story, Kihele! The things that make a mariner so desirable/lovable are, funnily, the things that will eventually make him leave one day. But you’re right, the spell of time spent with them is always so rich and wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

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