Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Goldenray and ‘Goldenray’: a tale in two hemispheres by Julia Jones

Ben Tucker's Snow Petrel
Three years ago, almost to the day, I opened my AE blogpost as if I was in AntarcticaSo, here I am in Boat Harbour, Cape Denison with five shore lines attached and the anchor down with 60 metres of chain. It’s the windiest place on earth but today, miraculously, the sun is out and the water calm. I’m being observed by crowds of Adelie penguins while dark brown Weddell seals lie like slugs on the stained ice. It’s taken two months to get here – six weeks of frantic, relationship-testing preparation and then two weeks sailing south through the most feared waters in the world.

Some readers took me at my word – and, to some extent, they were right, I was in Antarctica, but only in my imagination. My mind and body were elsewhere. Paragraph two began: 

Goldenray 2015
It is dark and damp in Suffolk and I should be conserving my torch batteries. It’s four in the morning and I can hear the tide running through the gap in the plank which I haven’t been able to plug [...] All I need to do now is stay awake and keep checking. Everything has been swamped and soaked up to two and three feet in the cabin. The bunk where I’m lying slopes sideways because the big, empty fresh water tank underneath floated up in the earlier flood and has settled back down at an angle. It’s too heavy for me to move and anyway it’s not a priority. All that matters is that the pump should keep running for as long as the tide is up.

I was on board Goldenray, our hopelessly leaky former fishing boat, where I’d arrived to find water up to the cabin bunks and none of her pumps working. One more tide and she’d have sunk. Not far, admittedly – Goldenray is moored in a muddy dock in Woodbridge on the River Deben in Suffolk – but it would probably have necessitated a salvage operation, with attendant expense and despair. I’d begged a wastewater pump, stolen (I admit) an electricity supply and now I was waiting it out until the tide went down again and morning light returned bringing a shipwright (I hoped). Meanwhile, I was reading.

It was Jon Tucker’s brilliant writing in his book Snow Petrel that had transported me to Cape Denison and I wasn’t only loving the clear cold sunshine, the crowds of Adelie penguins and the fantastic achievement of the three Tuckers being there (Snow Petrel was the smallest yacht ever to reach Cape Denison and no other has succeeded in the twelve years since their voyage): I was also loving the fact that when things had got tough and there was nothing physical to be done, Tucker and his two sons read. When they were trapped in their cabin with a blizzard raging outside and all they could feel was Snow Petrel being pressed down by the weight of snow and ice, they took to their books. As Ben Tucker generously commented after the blogpost, "Good luck getting Goldenray's deck leaks sorted out, nothing worse than a soggy book, except for having no book."

Jon Tucker and I have become friends, though we’re unlikely to meet. He and his wife Babs cruise the Pacific in their ketch, New Zealand Maid, on board which they brought up their five sons. Jon now writes eco-adventures for older children and I’ve just enjoyed his most recent title, Those Sugar Barge Kids. One episode felt especially vivid. Jake, the young hero, has been slow to fall asleep in his first night with new friends on board an old sugar-barge in a mangrove-jungle in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands.

Jon Tucker's new novel
It seemed that the noise of the big bilge pump had changed from a soft hum to a harsher grinding noise, but Ella and Sam had been silent for several minutes already, so he turned over for the tenth time and tried really hard to sleep.  […] He turned again trying to get comfortable. There was a slight squelch under his mattress and he was suddenly aware that there was no longer any noise from the pump. He felt the floor and sat up with a sudden fright. His hand was dripping wet.

It is dark. The tide is high. The environment is muddy. It came as no surprise to notice that the fictional New Zealand sugar-barge had been christened ‘Goldenray’

Equally it will come as no surprise to friends as well as readers to discover that Tucker’s young heroine, Ella, deals with the situation far more quickly and decisively than I had done. She races to fetch a heavy, petrol-driven fire pump:

That sugar-barge
'Jess you can unroll the outlet hose and stand by on deck. Jake, you’ll be on the suction end – but I need some cups of water to prime it before we start.’ Jake was pleased to be doing something effective even if it was just filling cups from the galley tap.
As Ella screwed the cap back on and turned on the petrol valve, she sent Jake back down to catch the suction hose. ‘Get Sam to show you where you can get it into the bilge near the ladder. There’s another floor-hatch – she knows where it is.’
A moment later Jake gave Ella a thumbs-up which was followed almost immediately by the roar of a petrol engine. The heavy suction hose pulsated in his hands, and a small whirlpool developed not far from where it disappeared into the murky water, with a slurping noise that could just be heard over the noisy pump.

Oh, how I know and love that slurping noise! Whether the whirlpool is spinning counter-clockwise (as it may have done on New Zealand's ‘Goldenray’) or clockwise as on Goldenray, it’s a sight and sound to gladden the anxious heart. And even if the Coriolis effect doesn’t always work exactly as we learned in school, who cares? That unwanted water is on its Way Out. I will commend Jon Tucker's novel to you for its unexpurgated truth to nautical life (among its many other fine qualities). 

There are however problems with writing too directly from the events of daily boat-maintenance. Suffolk's Goldenray has (touch wood) never subsequently sunk quite as low as she did on that terrible night. However I cannot deny that she is not in mint condition and, were her various power sources to fail, I have no hefty petrol-driven fire pump to heave into place as on fictional New Zealand's 'Goldenray'. Over the past couple of years various well-respected figures around the Woodbridge waterfront -- people who I count as my esteemed friends -- have suggested that the time has come to let the chain-saws have her. I understand that they have my best interests at heart. "Think of the extra time you could devote to Peter Duck," says one master-tempter.
Goldenray, 2018
I nevertheless indignantly resist their sensible suggestions and over the course of this 2018 summer have spent many hours painting Goldenray  in eye-catching colours to try to divert attention from her structural imperfections. When the Owl and the Pussy Cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat did anyone have the audacity to check the condition of their underwater planking? I think not.

Perhaps unfortunately, however, Suffolk Goldenray is about to join her alter ego New Zealand 'Goldenray' in print; leaks, pumps and all. Worse still, the character who now insists (in my forthcoming novel Pebble) that she should be abandoned to the chain-saws is, fictionally, not an entirely admirable role-model... How can I avoid my esteemed friends of Woodbridge Quay from feeling slighted or traduced by this? Of course I have never intended anything to be taken personally – it’s only a plot device to keep some of the older and more effective characters out of the action so that my youngest hero, Liam, gets a chance to shine...etc etc etc

Ah-ha!, I know what I’ll do: I’ll move Goldenray further south and … wait for it, here’s my master stroke… I’ll change her name.
Welcome back, Lowestoft Lass!
(from The Lion of Sole Bay)


Susan Price said...

Great blog! Thanks, Julia.

I write as a landlubber but surely somebody checked the underwater planking of the beautiful pea-green boat, or would the owl and the pussy-cat ever have reached the land where the bong tree grows?

By odd coincidence, I am reading Lansing's account of Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition -- he certainly picked a name for that ship, didn't he? So I'm with you, in imagination, in terrifying Antarctic seas, among the Adelie penguins and leopard seals... OMG, those scary leopard seals...

julia jones said...

...the owl and the pussycat, you will remember, took plenty of money...

julia jones said...

There's a new polar gallery opened at the National Maritime Museum and I've been reading some of these stories in an accompanying book of essays. There's an amazing scene when Endurance is dying in the ice and they smash a load of Hurley's photographic plates so they won't be tempted to go back for them. The role of media in those expeditions is fascinating, I'd never thought about it properly before.

Umberto Tosi said...

You had me fooled, willingly. Thanks for sharing your adventures - at sea or soggy dockside.

Jan Needle said...

As Bogbrush might say - great stuff, Julia. You've just cheered up a grim morning oop north! And as a man who's slept on Goldenray - don't let the doubters get you down!

Bill Kirton said...

I sit here, warm, well-fed, my feet up on my desk, and feel ashamed that I'm not outside doing something - anything.
Great post, Julia, but it just reminds me that when I had my own boat, I just tacked up and down the Moray Firth, seeing dolphins and seals, yes, but no penguins - and needing to worry less about the accessibility of bilge pumps than the state of supplies of gin and bottles of tonic.
Thanks for the life-enhancing, if vicarious, pleasure of your adventures.

Unknown said...

Having spent a summer living on the real Goldenray, thanks to Julia and Francis' generosity at a time of crisis, I understand the pleasures of a bilgepump slurping dry.... and I learned a valuable lesson when the rain fell too, which is 'never leave your slippers where a bucket should be'.

'Pebble' is going to be an excellent read and I should be finishing off the illustrations now instead of reading blog posts over lunch!


Susan Price said...

Julia -- excellent point about the 'plenty of money.'
The book I'm reading doesn't have the incident about smashing the photographic plates. What a loss! But it has plenty of other blood-chilling moments.