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Look! Kangaroos?

How a bunch of Aussies, an old wooden cruiser named Flinders, and a passel of marsupials joined forces to emphasize a deeply philosophical point.

The new owner sat there in his new helm seat, steering a straight stretch of an Australian river by merely twitching the big destroyer-type wheel, a little right, a little left, thereby proving both his own mettle as a helmsman and quite likely his new boat’s mettle as a proud and true-tracking natural.

“Give the green one up there a little more room,” suggested his friend, pointing toward a signboard on a steel stake at the next bend. “There’s a shoal comes out a good ways right there. Some guys know about it, some don’t. No sense gettin’ them brand-new props of yours dirty, eh mate?”

Both men laughed. The bow of the boat swung off slightly toward the center of the channel, where the water was deeper. A grunt of approval soon followed. Then came a grunt of thanks.

Obviously, these were two happy guys, wholly immersed in their element. They both sported similarly salty, if somewhat frowsy, ensembles, although each was quite well-to-do. You know, faded blue jeans, T-shirts with stretched-out necks, old, scruffy deck shoes, and boat-name-emblazoned baseball caps. And they both wore expressions of ineffable contentment, not unfamiliar to those of us who, regardless of our station in life, whether low or lofty, live, breathe, and sweat boats, boats, boats.

“Look,” one of the other Aussies on board said, nodding in the starboard direction. “Kangaroos.”

The river was flanked here by a couple of slightly elevated grassy levees and, not too far off, upon what appeared to be a trail or dirt road atop the starboard-side levee, you could see a long line of about 30 kangaroos, some big, some small, some in between, hopping blithely along like giant rabbits. Wow!

In short order, however, I discovered that the sight was a total snooze for just about everybody on board but me; Aussies encounter lots of kangaroos apparently and they don’t get all that worked up, even when a whole gang of wild marsupials leaps past.

“Look,” yet another Aussie said, nodding in the same starboard direction that had produced the kangaroos. “Now that’s a pretty boat!”

Every man in the wheelhouse—and there had to have been at least five Australians besides us Yanks—shifted gears. And the swap from ho-hum-a-bunch-of-hopping-beasts to look-at-that-beautiful-old-single-engine-cruiser-just-abaft-our-stern happened so seamlessly and with such rousing dispatch that I was shocked—at least momentarily. I mean, Wow indeed!

But then, what a beauty!

I smiled as she began overtaking us, slowly but surely. She was maybe 40-foot long, seemingly a woody, carvel-planked and recently refurbished. With a white hull, white superstructure, and gray trim. Sweetly varnished rails, caprails, dorades, and hatches. A massive rubber rubrail installed just below the freeing ports in her bulwarks. And a big name board affixed to the rear of her deckhouse proclaiming Flinders.

Conjectures and comments flew. The new owner’s friend felt that Flinders had just recently come out of a long stint in a nearby boatyard, although he couldn’t remember which. Yes, absolutely, agreed a couple of other men. But then no, no, no, maybe not so recently, the new owner disagreed. Hadn’t a couple of brothers from Brisbane bought her a year or so ago? Weren’t they friends of the yard manager up there at Norman R. Wright & Sons? Yes, that was possible, a relative youngster conceded, but then he suggested that maybe one of the fellows who’d bought the boat was actually the yard manager. And hey, he added, weren’t the folks up at Wright’s just the folks to get a job done right?

Of course, we all waved at Flinders and her crew as they came abeam and swept on. Then a lull of sorts descended upon us as we continued to glide along with our windows and doors open to the morning’s breeze. Every man on board seemed to withdraw into himself for a bit, as if to consider something.

I did a little considering myself. It was funny, wasn’t it, about Flinders and how her momentary presence had so changed things on board, even for the guy with the brand-new boat under his deckshoes. And it was also funny about the conjectures and comments. Hadn’t I heard them, or at least their equivalent, many, many times before, on vessels of all types and sizes, in ports all over the world? In places like Sydney, Ft. Lauderdale, Panama, Singapore, and Seattle?

Boating, it seems, is much like music. There’s a universality to it, born of something unfathomable and elemental. For some of us, no matter where in the heck we are, there’s nothing that satisfies like a boat, not even a cheeky kangaroo apparently, even one that’s right there alongside, darn near cheek-by-jowl!

Read more of the Exploits and Misadventures of Capt. Bill Pike here. ▶

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.