Tuesday, June 19, 2007


"Whenever it is a drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

We run into Stelio at the pub. He has been out at sea, catching the snow crabs. I never would have picked him for a seafarer. More your groover and shaker - wax in the hair, funky streetwear, bit of bling - Stelio hangs out with the lovely Kristal. We always seem to run into him at the pub. So it comes as quite a surprise when he says he has been spending time at sea. At the edge of the continental shelf.

Yeah, i've been working through the pain, he says. Sea-sickness. When you're 200km off the Carnarvon coast, there's no barlese. Just got back, and had to play a team pool comp at the Sandy the other night. Grand final it was, too. Lost every frame. Couldn't stop the table moving.

Poor Stelio. Saw him again at the lovely Kristal's barbeque party, briefly, then he was off again on the boat. It was, like, eight o'clock at night. The tide was running out.

Crustaceans. What a way to make a living.

We went out on Scott's boat the other day, for sea trials. Scott's boat looks like the SS Minnow from Gilligan's Island, but without the hole in the side. Big, white and wooden. We were out on the drink the night before. I thought, sleep it off on the boat, then go to work Sunday and finish the paper. We get out there to the harbour, Louie, Mick, Chrisso and i, and Scott has the instrument panel pulled out, wires everywhere. It's spaghetti marinara.

This is Mark, says Louie. Oh, good, says Scott. He shows me the wiring. Temperature guage keeps showing high, and the ammeter's not working. What do you reckon.

It seems i've been nominated to fix the wiring on the boat. Unfortunately nobody told me i had been hired as the electrician, and i'm completely hammered. I stand swaying in the cabin, and we haven't even cast off. Still, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me one thing: as a professional, you must always remain in command. And make outrageous demands. Sorry, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me two things: always remain in command, and make outrageous demands. If you're on a shoot, demand exotic props. And employ the argot, the vernacular of the field.

Sorry, three things. Remain in command, demand outrageous props, and use specialised language.

And always appear confident at all times, even if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. Especially if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.

Sorry, four things. If there are four things i have learnt whilst working as a professional photographer, it is command, demand, bamboozle, and bluster. I stagger into action.

Where's the multimeter? Take me to the bridge!
You're standing on the bridge.
Then the engine room, goddamn it! Where's the alternator? We need to check the diodes!
We descend into the hull. Darkness. Bilge pumps. A great big inboard diesel. I move about, poking at wires and nodding sagely.
Just as i thought! The single phase inverter is coupled to a transistorised regulator!
Oh, says Scott. Is that bad?
Of course it's not bad, you fool! I am disconnecting the sender unit!
I pull a wire off the temperature sensor.
What do the guages read now, Captain?
Scott scrambles up through the hatch to inspect the instrument cluser. They are exactly the same, he calls down.
I put the wire back on. Just as i suspected! i yell. You have an earthing problem!
That's just what i thought, he yells back. An earthing problem!
I stand up too fast, and suddenly everything is spinning. I fall down with a thump.

Needless to say, we don't get to sea that day. I can't understand why the instrument cluster is not earthed to the body of the boat. Scott has no idea either. The two guages are connected to each other via black wires bolted to the metal instrument panel. But the instrument panel itself is set in a wooden fascia. Where is the earth?

Eventually, after i burn a hole in the end of my finger with the end of a shorted wire, Scott calls my bluff.
You're not a sparky at all, are you, he says.
Sort of, i say.
He stares at me.
I take my finger out of my mouth.
Well, no, not exactly, i say.
What are you then?
A writer.
A writer, he says.

We retire to sleep off our hangovers.

I wake up hours later, and suddenly realise i was on board a boat. A boat is not a car. Of course nothing is earthed to the body of the boat - it floats in seawater. Seawater is an electrolyte. Of course you wouldn't use the chassis to return the current.

I probably would have figured that one out, had i been sober. You live and learn.

Well, you live.

Tomorrow we take out the Minnow for sea trials.

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