Voyage Surprise

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


Taking the inter-island ferry to begin his career.

Submitted: April 28, 2018

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Submitted: April 28, 2018

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Back in the day, Henry boarded the TEV Hinemoa one of the inter-island ferries that plied the Kaikoura coast and Cook Straight from Lyttleton to Wellington and vice versa. He had been selected for Ranger training and was journeying to Rotorua for an induction course which would change his life. He was travelling on his own, a young fella, barely past eighteen, breaking away from his comfort zone and the bosom of his mother.

His parents took him over to Lyttleton harbour to see him off. Without them he could have taken the train from the Christchurch railway station, an electric train that passed through the famous rail tunnel, or he could have caught the steamer-express that left Invercargill at the bottom of the island and chuffed its way up to Lyttleton where it unloaded passengers and freight onto the ferry. Mum wanted to make the journey over the Port Hills, because Henry was her youngest and the first to fly the nest. She, had a tear in her eye as Dad sung a few lines of the wartime song, ‘We don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go!’

Henry had a brand new, blue expanding suitcase, with his initials stuck on, transfers of gold lettering with a back borders, chosen by Mum. It was hefty and awkward for him to carry. Even though it was midsummer, Mum had made sure he had cosy clothing and four grey woollen blankets, each with his initials darned onto them with red wool. His ticket had his cabin number on it but the purser wasn’t very keen to shown him where it was, his attention was on the first class passengers. However, there were signs that showed him the way once he had figured them out, and he made his way to a double cabin in the bowels of the vessel, below the waterline he guessed, and near the bow. The government wasn’t spending up large on his travel costs!

He left his suitcase in the cabin, whoever it was bunking with him surely couldn’t get past the one-key-fits-all locks! He headed up to the deck to join the crowd watching the activity before cast-off. They were about forty minutes late because the train had been delayed at Ashburton and the loading of freight took extra time. Henry spotted his parents among the crowd and they waved from time to time. Finally the ship honked its foghorn and she backed away from the wharf, when in the open water of the harbour she turned and headed out towards the sea with the pilot’s launch steaming along behind. It was a still evening, the sun was down but there was a lingering twilight allowing him to see the hills that flanked the harbour. He could pick out the tussock grasses and from time to time he could see farmhouses with their twinkling lights.

The Hinemoa hove-to for the pilot to disembark and board his little launch for his return trip, and before long she passed through the Heads and they were in the open sea. A southerly had spring up so the ship was riding up and down the swells. It had become chilly, so Henry searched for somewhere warm up and perhaps buy something to satisfy his youthful need to eat. He couldn’t find anywhere that resembled a restaurant, although he’d never eaten at one on land either! And he’d never been into a bar. You weren’t allowed to booze until you were twenty one in those days.

There were smoking rooms, which Henry avoided, and he found a restaurant for first class passengers. The saloon sold pies, but he found the stewards, didn’t want to serve him because he wasn’t buying beer. The men buying beer seemed to have the knack of attracting their attention, which was by flashing a half-crown piece and giving them a wink. Henry had never encountered tipping before and he was damn sure he wasn’t going to start now! So he decided to out-patience the stewards, by watching them at work. They seemed pretty slip-shod and weren’t in a rush. They sold smaller bottles of beer and just opened the bottle, shoved it into an eight ounce glass, neck-first and handed it like that to the customer! Henry eventually had his pie, but it was as cold as charity and limp!  

Henry’s cabin mates were a mother and her young boy. Why the purser or whoever put them with a single bloke is one of those unsolvable mysteries. The boy was complaining of an upset stomach, and any wonder, they could hear the bow slicing through the waves, and feel the rising and plunging as she pounded through the swells! The stuffiness and heat from the engine room didn’t help either. Mum had packed a couple of sheets of brown paper for him, because his grandmother swore that black and blue that if you put brown paper next to your skin, on your belly, you won’t be seasick! He gave it to the mother and she put on the boy, and said she would like to use some too. It must have worked because they all slept soundly.

After the stuffiness of the cabin, the fresh morning air was invigorating for Henry when, bright and early he was up to watch as they passed through the heads of Port Nicholson on their way into Wellington. The sun was above the horizon, but would soon be blotted out by a bank of clouds. He watched the low, steepish hills pass by, they were dried by the summer’s sun and there were a few sheep grazing, ignoring the familiar ship as she slipped by. The ship turned for docking, giving Henry a good view of Petone, a suburb of Wellington. Once alongside there was all the activity of tying up and securing the vessel. Quite a crowd had gathered on the deck ready for disembarkation and they had their luggage with them, so Henry went down to collect his.

Strong and all as he was, Henry’s load was an awkward carry and the trek was long toward the bus station. He stopped to flex his shoulders and turned to watch four gaudily dressed young women with deep voices, as they walked along the wharf towards him. They wore high heeled shoes and he wondered vaguely how they managed to walk so sedately. As they came abreast of him, he did a double take, he recognised them! They were the stewards from the saloon aboard the Hinemoa! Dressed up like women, long hair, boobs and all! They were wearing nylon stockings with seams, perfectly straight, down the back! They were laughing and chatting like normal people!

Henry’s education was just beginning!


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