I was stationed on the small boat, waiting patiently on the wharf for passers by to be persuaded to become passengers when the unthinkable happened. Our larger boat broke down! To give you a sense of scale it is the largest boat on the Yarra, admittedly not a spectacular bragging right, but in comparison to the river itself, it is a lumbering juggernaut. It’s roughly the size of a tennis court and the height of a goal post from the water. And there it was, in front of all the other ferry cruise stalls, floating aimlessly like the feather in Forrest Gump, other boats maneuvering around it like the inconvenience it was. My captain on the smaller boat knew we’d be required imminently, but knowing this would mean dealing with ‘The Captain’ on the bigger boat in crisis mode was an awful sensation. Like waiting for the whistle to blow in the trenches.
Sure enough, The Captain somehow squeezed his upper half out the improbably small engine room hatch and waved at us frantically for help, dozens of passengers flanking him with varying degrees of anxiety. Now our boat is much, much smaller than his. It’s about 15% of the size. Yet here we were, sidling up to the behemoth (while The Captain screamed at us to move faster like we were concealing a jet engine to spite him) and attaching lines to her starboard bow as if planning an attack. My captain then expertly shepherded the Titanic to a safe berth as people from the riverside bars and restaurants laughed and jeered at The Captain’s frenzied verbal assaults. It wasn’t over though. We now had to fix the engine and fix it fast because 48 passengers would be shortly demanding refunds, which on a public holiday (Good Friday) was not an option. The Captain and the captain seconded themselves in the tiny cave of the engine room. They would yell orders from the abyss at me and I’d relay them to the other deckhand, who with as much boat handling experience as me – zero – was now sitting at the wheel. Orders like, “Keep trying!!!” and “Oh! Turn ignition off NOW!” The passengers were having a royal time of it. Some of them started singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’
Needless to say it took almost an hour to get the engine running again, flooded thingy and a jammed whatchacallit apparently, but in that time we only lost 7 passengers. By lost I mean they demanded to get off the boat and get their money back. Our rivals watched this unfold with unbridled joy. As the newly fixed juggernaut sailed blissfully upriver towards the untold delights of Herring Island and the Parks Victoria Depot, The Captain’s screams still ringing in my ears, I took a moment to reflect upon how I had reached this point. Then a group of 11 Indian tourists boarded my boat and their kid did not stop screaming for 45 minutes. It was like a tiny air raid siren. Happy Easter.