I was born in Tasmania, moved to Victoria and educated in
I very much enjoy time spent with my two sons, Andrew and
Dale, my daughter, Kerry-Anne, and my stepson, Richard, and wife, Julie.
The ocean has played a big part in my life – surfing, diving and sailing.
Read a sample:
The cold biting wind funnelled between the rock-strewn valley, chilling his body as he trudged warily along the narrow, tree-lined, muddy road.
The road curved over the hill, partly disappearing into the mist that lay ahead. The overhanging fir trees surrounding him were heavy with moisture, cutting down the daylight and giving the place an eerie feeling. Stopping, he listened; all was quiet, the whistling of the wind his only companion.
“Surely I haven’t taken the wrong turn – I’d hate to get lost out here!” he said to himself with a laugh, but there was a touch of concern to his thoughts. “So this is fucking Scotland in summer!” How it reminded him of his boyhood days in Strachan, walking along the same type of road. “The only difference is I knew where I was!” he added. What good days they were, he remembered, exploring the countryside or sailing the old Huon pine timber sloop, the boat his father loved so much. Selecting a dry spot at the edge of the road, he removed his backpack and placed it on the ground while clearing away some broken branches. Making himself as comfortable as he could, he sat down. He was tall, over six feet, and slim, his handsome, clean-shaven face fringed by long sun-bleached blond hair. Even though he was only 32 years of age, his face was already showing the signs of his outdoor life – lines had appeared under his eyes and around his mouth, adding ruggedness to his good looks. A small gold earring in his left ear completed the picture. A warm feeling engulfed him as memories of his life in Strachan flooded back. Strachan, that small fishing village on the rugged west coast of Tasmania, a magnificent area steeped in convict history. How far away it all seemed now – he thought of his father, a gentle man always more concerned with other people’s problems than with his own, a leading figure in the fight to save the magnificent Franklin River from being dammed. Dammed in the name of progress, or so the government said – such an emotive issue, it had divided a once close community. Friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour, even though it was over 10 years ago, the scars of this bitter conflict had not completely healed and may never do so, he feared. Was it this that had aged his father so much, his body now crippled with arthritis, or was it the death of his beloved wife, drowned in the flooded waters of the very river in which his father had devoted years of his life trying to save?
‘At least it’s safe now,’ Mike hoped. ‘World Heritage listing has made sure of that! Or has it?’
The young man stared ahead, his eyes seeing nothing, sadness now replacing the warmth he had previously felt.
The sound of an approaching vehicle brought his mind back to the present. Jumping to his feet, he waved down the oncoming truck. It stopped only feet in front of him, skidding on the soft edges caused by the heavy rain that had fallen earlier that day.
“Can you give me a lift?” Mike shouted above the roar of the noisy diesel engine. The driver glared down at him without replying before slowly opening the door, motioning him to get in.
“Thank you for stopping,” Mike said, taking his seat in the truck. “I’m Michael Conrad,” he added offering him his hand. Ignoring his friendly gesture, the driver crunched the truck into gear and they lumbered off down the winding road. Turning slightly to look at the driver, Mike saw hunched over the steering wheel a short, overweight balding man about 55 years of age, he guessed, who seemed more interested in steering his truck than indulging in conversation. His nicotine-stained, dirt-encrusted fingers opened and closed nervously as he gripped the wheel. Staring again through the mud-splattered windscreen, Mike felt he was lucky to have a lift at all, as he had not sighted another vehicle during the five hours he had been walking. He questioned what the truck and the driver were doing on this deserted stretch of Scottish road.
‘Up to no good, I’ll bet!’ he laughed inwardly. How true his feelings would prove to be.
“How far to the next village?” Mike asked. Still no reply. He tried again, this time a little louder in case the driver was hard of hearing. Again no answer. Instead the man reached into his jacket pocket, producing a crushed packet of Camel cigarettes. He lit the cigarette from a lighter on the dashboard of the truck, positioned above the ashtray which was full of cigarette butts and roll-your-owns.
‘The ‘rollies’ – probably marijuana,’ Mike guessed, smiling inwardly, remembering his experiences with the drug, both pleasant and unpleasant.
The driver took a deep faltering draw on the cigarette.
“No need to yell,” he grunted in a guttural voice, emptying the exhaled smoke in Mike’s direction. “Fifteen miles,” he added curtly, showing a mouthful of crooked teeth.
“You’re a fat, ignorant shit,” Mike mouthed, waving his hand in front of his face to clear the smoke, while again surreptitiously studying the driver. He wondered what sort of accent he had. It was a bit hard to place – possibly fucking German.
‘I’ll see if I can get him to say something else,’ he pondered. “Do you live in the village?”
“No, I don’t!” the driver snarled back, obviously not wanting to talk.
Thinking it best not to antagonise him, Mike lapsed back into silence as the old truck rattled and groaned its way along the uneven road. The swiping of the windscreen wipers and the driver occasionally clearing his throat and spitting out the window was the only break in the uneasy truce.
Sometime later, the truck pulled up with the shudder of brakes. The driver reached past Mike and opened the door.
“I turn off here. The village of Rosslair is straight ahead. It’ll take you about 10 minutes, and next time you’re looking for a lift, don’t stop in front of my truck, Michael Conrad,” he snapped, spitting his name out, “or I’ll run over you!” He growled, leering aggressively at Mike.
Grabbing his backpack, Mike jumped out and slammed the truck door.
“Thanks a lot,” he yelled. “Have a nice day, you stupid Kraut bastard! How I’d like to kick you in the balls!” The last of his words were drowned out as the old vehicle drove off, leaving a pall of black exhaust smoke hanging in the crisp air.
Pulling his damp Parka around his lean, athletic body, and brushing his hair from his face, Mike glanced at his watch.
‘Two pm; about four hours before it gets dark,’ he guessed. ‘I’d better hurry,’ as he quickened his step. He paused as he arrived at the outskirts of the village. Looking around, he was struck by the realisation that there were no people to be seen. He felt an air of unexplained brooding hostility in the street. Studying the rows of neatly attended cottages, their doors tightly closed against the world and curtains drawn across the windows, he could easily imagine eyes staring at him from inside darkened rooms. He dismissed these unpleasant feelings with a shrug of his broad shoulders and continued walking to the end of the road. The screech of sea birds caught his ear.
‘That sounds better. I’ll go down to the wharf and look at the boats,’ he thought.
He started to feel good inside as he breathed in the salty air. The sea had always had a calming effect on him since he’d been a young boy. A number of fishing boats were in the harbour, some moored against the wharf, others swinging gently at anchor.
‘I’m sure they do go fishing, but when?’ he wondered. The outline of a yacht caught his attention. Dodging puddles of rainwater, he moved over to have a closer look. It was about 33 feet long. Ideal for single-handed sailing, but looking very much unloved. The varnish was peeling from her timber mast and paint flaking from the hull, but she still had the sweet lines of a thoroughbred. The sound of music could be heard coming from inside the boat.
“Anybody on board?” Mike called through the open hatchway. Removing his Parka and mud-stained boots and socks, he jumped easily over the railing. The teak deck felt good beneath his bare feet, sending a surge of energy he had felt many times when stepping onto his father’s boat. He peered down the companionway and saw a man’s figure hunched over the table.
“Hello there,” he said.
The figure turned and slowly looked up at him.
“Come below,” the voice called in a slurred English accent. “Like a drink?” the man asked, pushing a half-full bottle of Dimple Haig whisky towards him, at the same time reaching across to a small battery-operated radio and switching it off.
“No, thank you,” Mike replied. “I must introduce myself. I’m Michael Conrad.” He held out his hand while studying the seated figure opposite him, whose ruddy complexion and dishevelled unkempt appearance masked his true identity. A stained, checked shirt with most of the buttons missing hung loosely outside a pair of equally stained corduroy pants. Many days’ stubble covered the man’s face and his thinning grey-black hair fell comically over one eye. Brushing his hair to one side, he stared back at Mike through glazed eyes as though trying to sum him up.
“So you’re Mike Conrad, are you? What are you doing here? Not from bloody Alcoholics Anonymous I hope?” he asked sarcastically, “here to save my fucking soul!”
Mike smiled at him, unsure how to reply. “No, I’m not from Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m from Australia,” he answered laughingly. “I recently lost my job and decided to have a look around Scotland before returning home.”
“It’s obvious you’re from Australia. Who else has an accent like that!’ the man remarked, laughing to himself in a sad sort of way.
“Now you’ve told me who you are, I suppose I’d better tell who I am.” He paused to brush ash from the front of his shift before replying. In a more serious voice he announced, “I’m Doctor George Huston.” He tried to stand up and offer his hand to Mike, but the effect of the alcohol he had consumed was too great and he slumped back into his seat, his face reddening with the effort. “Fuck!” he yelled, puffing deeply on his cigar or what was left of it.
“I love your boat, Doctor Huston.”
“And I love her too, but call me George. I’m getting too old to live on a boat,” he droned, breathing heavily. “It’s a young man’s game – it’s time I got back onto the land.”
Mike felt his pulse quicken, the words tumbling from his open mouth. “Would you be prepared to sell her?” he asked, his eyes widening with hopeful expectation.
George hesitated before reaching for a cigar from an open packet on the table and dropping the old one into an overflowing ashtray. He placed it unlit in his mouth and chewed on it thoughtfully before answering.
“Well, make me an offer,” the doctor mumbled. “I’m too old to live this way,” again repeating himself. “It must be old age!” he added with a hollow laugh, holding up the open whisky bottle.
Mike thought rapidly. ‘How much can I afford? I’ve got my savings plus my severance pay from Davidson; altogether about £10,000. If I offer about £8000 for the boat – it’s worth all of that – that leaves me about £2000 for repairs and cruising money.’ His boyish face lit up with enthusiasm.
“£8000. How does that sound?”
This time Doctor Huston managed to get to his unsteady feet. Ripping the unlit cigar from his lips, he yelled, “Sold!” as his voice boomed across the small cabin.
Mike leaned across the table.
“Sold!” he shouted too, gripping the doctor’s damp, limp hand and shaking it excitedly. His mind raced as only a sailor’s would. “It looks like fucking Davidson did me a favour firing me.”
He wondered what adventures lay ahead. Little did he realise that this decision to buy the Windward Passage would nearly cost him his life.
“Have a drink and this time don’t refuse me,” George jibed in a more mellow way, “or I won’t sell her to you.”
Mike eagerly pushed an empty glass across the cabin table to have it filled.
“Cheers!” he called, tilting the almost full glass of whisky to his lips, the liquid burning his throat as he gulped it down. “How will I pay you? Is there a bank in the village?”
“Yes, there is one I use, not that I’ve got much in my account. The life of a drunk is not a good way to make money; you only spend it,” he sighed, emptying his glass. “Tomorrow I will take you there. Now that that’s settled, turn the music on and let’s have another drink. There’s fuck all else to do. I may as well get pissed!”
“Okay,” Mike replied, even though he was not in the mood for drinking, thinking it was better at the moment to humour him. Reaching over, he flicked on the radio while at the same time partly filling both glasses. He handed one to the doctor, who took it with a shaking hand, spilling some of the contents.
“Shit!” he groaned, placing the glass on the table and thumping his hands together in annoyance, his face reddening even more as he did so, obviously disgusted with himself.
“Tell me about your boat, George,” Mike said hurriedly, wanting to get the doctor’s mind onto some other subject. “Did you build her?”
“Me, no I couldn’t drive a nail straight,” he replied with a laugh. “I had her built in Cornwall. I’ve owned her for over 20 years – never sailed very far, always too busy working,” he answered regretfully. “Make me a promise, Michael,” he spluttered, his body swaying from side to side, his eyes trying to focus through the haze of alcohol and smoke from the now-lit cigar in his hand. “Keep her name, the Windward Passage.”
“Is there some special reason you want me not to change her name?”
“Yes, there is. I’ll tell you about it one day when I’m in the right mood,” he stammered quietly, the words coming with difficulty.
“Of course I’ll make that promise,” Mike replied with a reassuring smile.
“That’s great!” the doctor said, emptying the last drop from the almost empty bottle into his glass. “Now tell me what you’re doing in Rosslair.”
‘I’ve already told him but in his pissed state he can’t remember,’ Mike thought. “I lost my job and decided to spend a few months sightseeing before returning home to Australia.”
“That’s right, you’re from Australia,” George slurred badly. The smoke from his cigar lingered above his head before being sucked from the slightly open skylight. “Keep talking,” he added, impatiently waving his cigar.
‘He’s not a happy drunk. I bet he must feel bloody awful. Why would a doctor be living on a boat in this out-of-the-way village? When he sobers up, I might find out,’ Mike thought.
“I’m waiting,” Doctor Huston mumbled impatiently.
‘What do I say?’ Mike thought, hesitating before answering. “Well, I’m 32 years of age, not married, but not gay,” he quipped with a forced laugh, trying to ease the tension. “I’ve always wanted to be a solicitor, but I never had enough brains, or maybe I was too honest.”
“Yes, yes,” George Huston interrupted him. “Hurry up, any brothers or sisters?”
No, I’m an only child. My mother died when I was quite young.” His words struck a chord in George’s hazy mind.
“My wife is still alive,” he whispered tonelessly, “and I’ve got one daughter – how I miss them!” There was a deep sadness mixed with despair in his words. “I need another drink,” he stammered, trying to get up. Instead he slumped forward, his chin hitting the edge of the cabin table, the cigar dropping from his mouth, and blood oozing from a cut on his chin.
Mike moved quickly, easing the doctor back into his seat. He bent down and grabbed the remainder of the cigar, stubbing it out in the ashtray.
“Help me to my bunk,” George barked, “and hand me that cloth near the sink,” pointing to a rather dirty tea towel.
Doing as he was bid, Mike helped George onto his bunk, passed him the tea towel and assisted him to wipe a small amount of blood from the gash on his chin. Putting a pillow under his head, he said, “If you’re comfortable, George, I’d better be on my way. It’s nearly dark and I have to find somewhere to stay tonight.”
“Stay here, it’s your boat now or it will be tomorrow,” George replied sleepily.
“Thank you,” Mike answered with feeling. “I’ll go and get my shoes and backpack from the pier, if that’s okay.”
“Make yourself at home,” George replied as he yawned through closed eyes.
Mike retrieved his backpack, shoes and socks from where he’d left them, and glanced along the wharf towards the village. Lights were now visible from some of the houses.
‘So there are people here,’ he thought, laughing to himself at his imaginary fears. Taking his gear below, he stored it under the starboard bunk. He cleared some papers and books from the bunk and sat down. The sound of heavy snoring from the opposite bunk indicated that George had fallen into a drunken sleep.
‘I hope I haven’t acted too quickly buying the boat,’ he pondered, a frown crossing his tanned, handsome face, as he remembered his many friends’ advice when he used to live in Strachan.
“Slow down!” they had warned good-naturedly. “You want everything to happen NOW!”
“Well,” he would answer with a laugh, “in this life you can wear out or rust out, and I’m going to wear out. That’s why I make quick decisions.”
His eyes wandered round the cabin, noting the strong deck beams. The construction of the boat was obvious – brass fittings giving her an old-world charm.
“No, I’m sure I haven’t made a mistake,” he reassured himself. Stretching himself, he lay down and soon drifted into a deep sleep, the walking and the whisky he had consumed had tired his body. His mind wandered back to recent days when he’d been a diver on the North Sea oil rigs.
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