The year is 1945. A young Danish sail maker is aboard the Lawhill, a tall ship on a mission. It's bound for the bottom of the world, a little town named Hobart. It's filled to the brim with cocoa beans for Cadburys. He'd probably never heard of the place, but welcomed the adventurous ocean voyage from Cape Town.
The day they dock, a young Tasmanian is begged by her friend to enjoy a night out with the sailors. Although this lady is less than overjoyed, she eventually agrees to frock up.
The waterfront is buzzing; it's alive. The young Dane walks up to the window of Customs House Hotel and peers in. He takes one look at her, rushes back to the ship and changes into his suit. This lady is beautiful with sparkling blue eyes; he needs to look his best.
That night, the two of them laugh and fall hastily in love. Six weeks later they’re married. This fairytale isn’t one of ‘Danish royal weds Hobart girl’ but it is the story of how my father’s parents met. So when the Tall Ships were headed for Hobart in 2013, I felt it fitting to invite my father down to share a meal in that very same pub, far from the hometown of his Danish father whom unfortunately I never met.
Fireworks boomed over the harbour as we ate, but not nearly as powerful as the sparks that flew some 68 years before. Across from me were sparkling eyes much like my grandmothers, born out of a Tall Ship voyage.
The tall ships of 2013 are not carrying cocoa beans, but celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian navy, a navy my father joined at the age of 16. They hail from the Netherlands, the UK and Australia – continuing to carry young men and women across oceans to new lands.
As we wander the docks, I see crew down on their knees- polishing, sanding, tending to these giant ocean-going vessels with weathered hands. Some carry more than 1,250 square metres of sail and I wonder how my grandfather skillfully prepared his own to tackle the high winds of open seas.
I see laughter, comradeship, shared tables where no doubt tall tales are spoken. It seems everything has it's place on a ship, from the oranges and coffee supplies to the characters that keep it rolling in the right direction.
One sailor tells me, that when the wind is not blowing out here, you don't go anywhere. You sit and you wait. You're at the mercy of the sea and have plenty of time to slow down to the pace she's chosen. Perhaps that's why these weathered folk seem so relaxed....so un-rushed.
Some ships didn't make it to Hobart, including the Indonesian ship Dewa Ruci, a reminder that the weather can be harsh off the Tasmanian west coast. Despite this, the Tall Ship fleet is the largest to arrive since the Australian Bicentennial in 1988.
There's no doubt our maritime history is rich. But what's equally pleasing is how lively it is today....from the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and Sydney to Hobart festivities, to the Wooden Boat School attracting international students to the township of Franklin, the craft of boat building and our maritime heritage is in safe hands.
Words and images: Alice Hansen
Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.