The sea is a pivotal part of my paganism, so on the 10th of April I took a short voyage with some friends aboard the Enterprize from near my old home town on the Mornington Penninsula to the Docklands, to celebrate my birthday from a few weeks prior.
The original Enterprize was a timber two-masted, topsail schooner built in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1830. It was a coastal transport vessel and was used largely for coal, supplies and occasionally livestock.
Although Europeans had sailed up the Yarra river in 1803 on a surveying trip as far as Dights falls in Abbotsford, they did not return to begin the settlement of Melbourne until August of 1835, when the Enterprize was hauled upriver and moored at the site of what is now Williams street.
The original Enterprize disappeared off the Hobart shipping register due to being wrecked on the Richmond River in NSW in 1847, with the loss of two lives.
The new replica Enterprize was launched in 1997, constructed partly from reclaimed materials using traditional boat building techniques. With an overall length of 27 meters, the rigging is hemp rope and the sails are hand-sewn flax cloth. The bulwarks are Cyprus pine grown on the Royal Melbourne Golf Course and the floor timbers are Jarrah wood salvaged from Melbourne’s old station pier. Below the waterline the hull timber once made up the floor joists of an old Freemantle wool store and the ship’s ribs include wood salvaged from New Zealand brewing vats. The heritage of these recycled materials gives her the feeling of being close in spirit to the original and not just an empty simulacra.
She’d been giving short passenger rides on the afternoon of the trip, so we got to watch her coming in to dock on Mornington pier from a distance as we walked down from the red sandy cliffs above.
After giving a quick offering of some whiskey to the boat and the sea off the end of the pier (I wasn’t able to get rum on short notice) it was time to go.
After a brief flurry of activity hoisting the sails where myself and my companions scampered about either trying to keep out of the way or be useful in helping pull rigging, we were off with a calm but favorable wind.
Crewed by personable, good-humored volunteers, it’s a quiet ship that hums gently with a diesel engine. The crew love her and she seems happy to soak up their affection-especially the magnificently crafted solid wood steering tiller which happily invites touch. Constructed as faithfully as possible to the original ship, the Enterprize is a real Melbourne icon.
It was a peaceful voyage with a minimal crew and only a small handful of passengers. Although the bay was calm with only small waves, I was still stumbling about like a vodka-filled toddler for most of the trip.
Being a traditionally rigged vessel, after spending the afternoon and evening aboard I felt covered in a light coating of tar. The skies were clear and we were gifted with a beautiful sunset, and then a view of the clear night sky with far more stars than I’m accustomed to seeing deep in the light-polluted suburbs where I live.
The sea was playful and friendly as she usually is towards me and I felt content to simply enjoy the experience, staring out across Port Phillip and along the coast in the distance.
After sunset, pulling in towards the city, Hobson’s bay glittered with sleepy, golden Sunday evening lights as we approached, the sky smudged with smoke and steam.
Cruising up the Yarra back to her home in Victoria Harbour highlighted the contrast of a Melbourne young and old as we passed the new shipping control tower then the old one, abandoned since 1985.
The busy shipping lanes were quiet and largely deserted and dormant; solitary human figures moving about on shore looked out of place, like the peculiar figures in a Jeffrey Smart painting. A lone man jogging along the wharf, a hooded figure hunched over at the edge of a floating 24-hour boat refueling station.
A huge European freight ship stood silent in the distance; the vast temporary car lots used for moving imported cars off ship lit but empty.
The harbor is a vast and awe-inspiring vista of industry, huge machines and ships that are peculiarly alienating in their immensity, dwarfing any human.
We passed serenely under the Westgate Bridge while the crew folded the sails, then under the festively glowing Bolte bridge, until we were back on dry land all too soon.
The Enterprize runs regular trips of varying lengths (and prices) making it accessible to a broad range of people. I highly recommend the experience to anyone with an interest in Melbourne’s heritage, sailing or the sea to give it a try. She’s a gentle ship, but the capricious sea has caused her deck to see plenty of digestive carnage from seasick passengers. Be sure to take some ginger first.