In truth, I had been ready for ages. For weeks on end I had been engaged in preparation, readying myself for my maiden ocean voyage. This consisted mostly of committing every sea shanty I could to memory and dressing like The Love Boat’s Captain Merrill Stubing for several days in advance of our scheduled cast off.
Aviation and I have never really managed to get along. There’s something about the combination of defying gravity and painful seating seemingly designed by members of the Lollipop Guild that makes me extremely uncomfortable. The time had come to admit a gracious defeat and move on to other modes of transport.
Before people embraced the recordings of R Kelly and believed they could fly, they travelled by boat. This, I feel, was as God intended it. There are heaps of references in the Bible to boats – from simple fishing vessels through to Noah’s Ark – but you’ll struggle to find a single reference to an aeroplane. And in much the same way that a few hardcore fans have remained loyal to vinyl in preference to compact discs, so too have some stuck with sea travel.
When I was first informed that the Pacific Princess was no longer operating as a commercial cruise liner, I was devastated. At the same time, the fact that I had been able to purchase Gavin MacLeod’s original uniform on E-bay for only $7.50 suddenly made a lot more sense. Instead, I would be setting sail in The Spirit of Tasmania.
For the most part, my preparations went as smoothly as a baby’s bottom, all except when it came to sea shanties. As musical genres go, sea shanties have suffered a diminution in popularity over recent years. Why this should be is something of a mystery. I suspect this will remain the case until Lady Gaga and Beyonce finally relent and give their legendary cover of ‘Haul Away Joe’ the commercial release it so richly deserves. The closest I got to a genuine toe-tapping sea-shanty classic was ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart. Whilst the purists would, no doubt, screw up their collective nose, it’s a very useful song. By useful, I mean that you can pretty much substitute anything for the term ‘sailing’ and take the tune out for a spin. Thus, the process of packing can be done to the strains of ‘We are packing, we are packing…’ and so on.
When I told my brother that I was having trouble locating suitable sea shanties for my voyage, his response was to introduce me to the works of a group called The Lonely Island. They haven’t sought to reinvent the shanty genre so much as make it redundant with their song ‘I’m On a Boat’ (featuring T-Pain). The title pretty much says it all. It’s a tune done in a hip-hop style and features young men standing on a very large boat shouting ‘I’m on a boat’ over and over again. Given the visual evidence, it’s very hard to disagree. (Incidentally, is there some kind of rule that all new songs have to feature someone with an outrageous name? I can’t imagine The Beatles releasing ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ featuring T-Pain. I shudder to think of what would become of Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers had it featured Flo-Rida or Pit-bull. The sad truth is, that if the Three Tenors record was released today, ‘Nessum Dorma’ would be a single featuring Lil’ Wayne).
The first thing I noticed upon boarding The Spirit of Tasmania was that I appeared to be the only person dressed in navy whites. By the time I reached my cabin, I had nearly despaired from having to explain that I was dressed as a tribute to Captain Stubing and not the singer from The Village People. For their part, they retaliated by spelling out ‘YMCA’ in semaphore. Idiots. ‘In the Navy’ would have been far more appropriate. I could have kicked myself later on at the bar when I invited further ridicule by ordering a milkshake. You can only decline to ‘do the shake’ so many times before it starts to get your goat.
I then made the huge mistake of trying to get some dinner. Unfortunately, the main on-board restaurant was fully booked and we were cast into the gastronomic gulag that is ‘The Captain’s Table’. Although reviewing restaurants is somewhat beyond my expertise, I can only say that I have never been to a restaurant that has a stockpile of vomit bags placed strategically beside the bain marie. For those who would generously suggest that this was in case of seasickness, had you seen the content of the bain marie you would, surely, revise your opinion.
But just when all seemed lost, the ship turned out to sea and things took a profound turn for the better. It’s a little known fact that The Little River Band perform three sets a night on The Spirit of Tasmania, in between bussing tables. As they unleashed their trademark harmonies and gave the safety announcement, I felt a warm sense of wellbeing creep through my veins. Watching fellow passengers form an orderly queue for the bar, I finally learned the answer to the question; what is the spirit of Tasmania? The answer, it seems, is bourbon. We are sailing, indeed.