It is a splendid day. The sea is glassy and white clouds scud, as only clouds can, across an azure Albany sky. The thirty horsepower Mercury is getting us across at a good clip. We can see the silhouette of the Cheynes II framed against the white beaches of Possession Point. The whole venture brings to mind Kenneth Graham: "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
The Cheynes II. And i thought my '62 Spitfire was a rustbucket. It had nothing on this old Norwegian whalechaser. It is one of those spectacularly failed projects. You know the ones. Your uncle probably had one in his shed, a chassis of a vintage car or truck, dozens of cardboard boxes full of parts, and a head full of dreams.
"It had a series of owners, all fixated on owning the ship as a kind of boys' own adventure," explains Sarah Toa, as she pilots Old Salt's tinnie across the harbour. "One of its owners was going to make his fortune out of it during the America's Cup, hiring it out to rich Americans, so they could watch the yacht race in luxury. Decked it out with a chef's kitchen, plush velvet booths, jarrah panelling. They went broke, of course."
As we approach the half-sunken ship, pigeons explode into the clear sky, circle, and resettle. We draw up alongside and tie off where the rusting deck lists right down to the high water mark. Surprisingly, there are no 'keep off' signs here to deter visitors, nothing imploring them not to trespass, no warning signs at all - other than the obviously dangerous deck. I step onto it, and see it has completely rusted through in parts. A bit like the floor in my '62 Spitfire. I welded the floor pans up, and then the sills rusted through. I replaced the gearbox, and then the cylinder head went. I went through two differentials and still it howled like a banshee. The fuel pump imploded along with various axles, bearings, radiators and starter motors. "No-one ever owns a Triumph," a knowledgeable friend told me. "You only ever own Triumph parts."
We weave our way past the rusted holes and scattered debris toward the bow of the ship. The bulkheads have long been stripped of their brass portholes. Pieces of chain and steel plate are lying about. What looks like a mast rises high above the deck, secured by cables. A rusted 44-gallon drum is affixed to the top, guarded by a lone cormorant. Of course this can't be a mast: the Cheynes would have been powered by a massive diesel engine. Or was it steam? It must be a lookout, a crow's nest, from which the whalers would have sighted their quarry. The cables still hold a few rungs, which run up to the rusted drum. One could still possibly climb it, but it would be a suicidal mission. And today i'm just not in the mood. I did try to commit suicide once, back in 95. I took up smoking and stopped wearing seatbelts. This, however, proved unsuccessful.
These days kids paddle out here from Camp Quaranup to do bombies off the deck. Miss Polly told me she came here once on a school camp, and did just that, only to find that the impact with the water a few metres below was sufficient to pull her bikini top off.
Ah, to be sixteen again, and swimming with topless, raven-haired girls. I gaze out into the green waters and trip over a length of steel cable.
The Cheynes II is, i realise, one of the last bastions of freedom. Here, we are completely free to fall down, hurt ourselves quite badly, and sue somebody's ass. It is a treasure trove of litigation. Sunken ships and treasure. A boys' own adventure indeed.