Messing about in boats

On Thursday Dan and I set off for Southbank. Since Dan’s a bit of a boating nut, we thought we’d catch the ferry across the bay to glorious Williamstown, and check out the pier there, and get a look at the Enterprize replica.

I remember years ago when there was very little at Southbank, other than some big grey factories and an animated "Allens Sweets" sign that lit up at night. The sign might have looked cool, but the factories were pretty ugly, so they knocked that all down and built a big shopping/restaurants complex instead. It’s still grey, but much more interesting. And there are various boats heading to various locations all docked along the river there. Walking along there is a bit like walking along Lygon Street – in both places, the spruikers try to see if they can convince you to enter their restaurant/boat and spend some money on their food/ride.

But we knew we wanted the ferry to Williamstown, and we found it eventually. It was a quiet day for Les, the captain of the Williamstown Seeker, and we were the only passengers, so we ended up chatting with him at the helm, about boats, Melbourne, the weather, the bridges we were passing under, microbiology, nuclear physics, and anything else that came to mind.

We hadn’t got far when we stopped to pick up some more passengers. Dan, the boat-a-holic, was just innocently admiring the controls of the boat (Phwoor, check the thrust on that!) when Les asked if he’d like to drive the ferry for a little while, so Les could sell the other passengers their tickets and have a cup of tea!

Dan’s trip to Melbourne had been planned for a while. We’d thought about the various places we’d go, and since he likes boats, we’d planned to go to see some of the boaty-type places. But nobody anticipated that on his fourth day here Dan would find himself driving a ferry down the Yarra! Both of us regreted that nobody bothered to bring a camera along.

Dan didn’t even come close to crashing the ferry into anything, and Les came back after a while and we kept chatting about things until we reached Williamstown. Les advised us to check out the yacht club there (we could tell them Les sent us) and told Dan about a fleet of boats the same as his yacht, down at Geelong. Bonus.

When we reached Williamstown, we jumped out and explored for a bit. We went down a side street, through a laneway and past some big gates with all sorts of scary warnings about safety hats and unauthorised access being prohibited and things. That led to an obscure jetty, and we found the Enterprize replica.

The Enterprize was the boat that some of the early settlers to Melbourne arrived in. I’m not sure of the exact sequence of events, or why it was spelt that way, or where the original boat disappeared to, but the replica is a truly marvellous piece of work, all gleaming wood and ropes and sails and things. It looks incredible. There were a few people pottering about with various bits of machinery, still doing little bits of work on it. You have to admire the craftsmanship involved in something like that. It must take way more patience than I’d ever have.

Next we sought lunch. There’s quite a reasonable range of restaurants in that part of Williamstown, and we decided that given the nautical theme of the day, fish and chips would be in order. So we sat out in the sun and gobbled down some truly delicious food.

Then we roamed around to look at some more boaty things. After dropping Les’s name, two crusty old seadog-types let us into the Royal Williamstown Yacht Club for a bit of a Captain Cook. ("Oh yeah, well, if Les said it was okay, it must be okay.") There were a lot of boats moored there, most of which their owners had obviously spent a lot of time, care and dosh on.

We decided we’d head back into the city by way of the Westgate Bridge, a huge bridge over the Yarra. They built in the seventies – with only a short stop in construction when a large section of it crashed down, killing some of the workers. I forget how high and how big the bridge is, but it has to be that way to accommodate all the big ships coming up the river to the ports.

We caught an ugly orange bus to a little known shopping centre called Altona Gate. It didn’t look terribly exciting from the bus stop, so it was just as well that our Westgate Bridge bus arrived shortly afterwards. It headed along the freeway and over the bridge, from where glorious views of the city, the bay, and almost everything else could be glimpsed.

After reaching the city we decided to head for St Kilda Beach, so we caught a tram down there, looking out along the way for Albert Park Lake and the Grand Prix track, and of course the sights of Fitzroy Street, the traditional red light district. We got out at St Kilda Pier. By this point the weather had turned a pretty nasty, with rain and wind and other things that make you feel glad you bothered to bring along reasonably warm coat. We walked along the pier and the breakwater, checking out all the views of the city, the waves crashing up, and the boats bobbing happily in the water nearby.

We would have consumed some well deserved hot drinks at the cafe on the pier, but the guy there said he’d lost power (was it behind the fridge?), so we trudged back and into Acland Street, the land of a thousand cake shops, searching for some refreshments.

The real problem with Acland Street is that there are just TOO MANY cake shops. It makes it almost impossible to choose which one you’re going to buy your alarmingly fattening snack from. We eventually found a place that looked fairly hospitable, with various delicious things in the window.

One mouthwatering piece of cake and a hot drink later, we kept walking down Acland Street, skilfully dodging people who still hadn’t decided where to get their cake and hot drink (lucky it wasn’t a sunny Sunday afternoon, or it would have been REALLY busy!). We headed for St Kilda Marina, for a quick look at yet more boats, of which there were plenty.

That done, and many a boat having been eyeballed that day, we headed home, trying to resist asking our driver to let us have a go at driving the tram.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.