Getting in the Spirit

Writing about the trials of getting to Benbecula made me remember my email diary from my Tasmania expedition in 2001-2002.
This is an account of taking the “Spirit of Tasmania” ferry from Melbourne, Victoria, to Devonport, Tasmania, in November 2001.

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“That cream is really going to curdle with the red wine,” says Bob the Kiwi biker next to me at dinner out on the Bass Strait.

He indicates our dessert plates sitting waiting while we finish our gluttonous portions of main course. He's chosen gateaux with a modest dollop of cream. I've gone for meringue with a portion of cream the size of Uluru (spoon slipped).

I’m busy masticating a mouthful of lasagna so can't reply.

“You'll regret that later, mates!” This is from the Aussie opposite. “We're gonna hit 5 metre waves in the middle of the Strait!”

My swallow is more of a gulp. Strewth.

 

Dinner is included in the ticket price on the Spirit of Tasmania. It's a magnificent hot and cold buffet to which you can return for as many helpings as your greed or stomach will allow. Hot roasts and cold meats, huge platters of vegetables, lasagnas the size of continents, heaps of salad, mounds of glistening seafood.

I've nearly finished my second helping and will have to let my belt out a notch soon. Mixing red wine and cream on top of all this could be a big mistake when we hit those waves.

.....Perhaps if I don't eat all the cream?

 

Bob rides a BMW and is not a member of the ‘God Squad’ – the Christian Motorcycle Club who arrived in a thunder of Harleys at Station Pier in Melbourne. They all have the big-bearded, big-bellied, built-on-a-huge-scale look of Hells Angels, and I noticed they left a very un-Christian litter of cigarette butts up on deck. It might be an idea not to make any jokes about lions to them.

 

I start in on my meringue while Bob sits back contemplating his gateaux and looking slightly ill. We've done exactly what other travellers around us are doing – taken full advantage when offered truckloads of delicious, varied food because our next meal is likely to be a cheese sandwich in a lay-by.

In addition to mountains of vegetables and huge slabs of veggie lasagna, the array of seafood proved so alluring that I have given in to carnivorous urges and chomped my way through prawns, crab, scallops, squid and possibly cephalopods as yet unknown to science. In a gluttonous, wine-fogged heaven, I heinously don’t care.

 

I do leave most of the cream in the end. My wine is nearly gone and Bob is still staring at his gateaux. I'd like to stay and offer immoral support but I need some air, and a walk if I’m capable. I take my leave and stagger off clutching my bowling ball of a stomach.

The two glasses of wine combined with the gentle pitch and roll of the ferry make me feel quite merrily drunk. I should look for some of the God Squad and ask if they’re having a rrrroaring time!

Luckily, I’m distracted by the gift shop before the opportunity arises. At the back of the shop is an information centre where I pick out some relevant leaflets, including one on Tasmanian quarantine laws. Stuffing them in a pocket I roll gently on into the Huon Lounge where I order another glass of wine.

 

When I pull the leaflets out again, my ferry ticket comes with them and I notice for the first time a section devoted to prohibited items and substances.

There's the usual no-no on guns, knives and flammable liquids (I'm hoping my Leatherman knife doesn't come under this heading but I did take the precaution of removing it from my pocket and dropping it behind the passenger seat as I drove onto the ferry).

Something else catches my eye – ‘Boxed matches may be carried on the person, book matches are strictly prohibited whether in your vehicle or on your person.’

Eeep! I've got book matches inside my survival tin in the car! I can't even throw them in a bin because there’s no access to the car decks until we dock. What if they search my car on the way out? How big is the fine? Will I be locked up or just pitched into the harbour?

I pick up the quarantine leaflet. I haven’t packed any rabbits or cane toads so I should be all right here.

 

‘Beware the Tasmanian Sniffer Dog!

Fresh fruit & veg, honey, plants, cut flowers, soil. If you pass the barrier checkpoint our trained sniffer dogs will detect these items and you will be fined $100 on the spot.’

 

Oh, crap! I've got a bag of apples in the car!

(I'm now too thoroughly agitated to take note of the fact that organic items may be surrendered to the quarantine officer, incurring no more than a stern look and a slapped wrist).

Book matches, a knife and a bag of illegal apples! I’ll be deported with the speed of a quantum particle!

Maybe I could ram the barrier, pelting them with my felonious fruit on the way through?

....I'll have another glass of wine and think about it…

 

During the night, the 5 metre waves make little difference to the Spirit of Tasmania, as it can deploy a pair of stabilising fins like a shark’s pectorals. Genius! Why don’t all ships have these?

Rather than giving me a hangover, all the wine I’ve imbibed simply gives me a good night’s sleep on the hard floor of the sitting room. A whole lot cheaper than paying for a cabin.

By 7am I’ve been up for an hour, eaten breakfast (no sign of Bob, maybe he ate all his gateaux after all?), and photographed a huge full moon hanging low in the morning sky.

8am brings the first glimpse of Tasmania. By 8.30 we've docked in Devonport and I'm waiting morosely in the car deck wondering if I'll be allowed one ‘phone call.

 

As it turns out, going through Tasmanian quarantine is not so scary after all.

There is a choice of three lanes. A banner stretches across them and on this are three foreshortened views of a yellow Labrador's face. Beware the Tasmanian Sniffer Dog!

In the middle lane the Lab's nose is red (something to declare) and over the outer lanes, its nose is green (nothing to declare).

I drive my Corona estate under the red-nosed Lab and hand my apples to an officer. Car boots are being searched in all three lanes, although I don't see any sniffer dogs, with or without painted noses.

"Back’s open," I say to the officer (it’s always open, the lock doesn’t work).

It’s only when I hear – thunk! "Ooof!" – that I remember the hinges don’t work either.

"Sorry!” I squeak, “forgot about the loose hinges!"

He is only mildly concussed and laughs it off. "No worries, happens a lot!"

And that’s it. The open road is ahead of me. Not a sniff of a sniffer dog. No deportation, no incarceration, no ramming the barrier or sudden dips in the harbour. I drive out of Devonport and take the Bass Highway east and south through rolling hills.

I like Tasmania already.

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