Saturday, 11 January 2014

Spirit of Australia

There was one recurring theme to people’s reaction whenever my wife and I would tell them we were going to visit Tasmania. Whether we did so together or whether it was her telling her friends or me telling my colleagues, the reaction would generally be the same.
First, we would be asked how we’re going. Second, upon digesting our reply that we were going by the Spirit of Tasmania ferry with Our Car™, they would change tone. Drastically.
Reactions did vary, but the general intent would be the same. The look on the face would change into worried/tragic mode; verbally, they would express concerns. They would ask us, in that polite Australian way, whether we react well to sea sickness; they would recommend pills to address sea sickness; some would even go as far as to recommend we book a cabin close to the life boats.
WTF? We are not talking about a Magellan trip for the unknown here. It’s basically a board in the evening, disembark in the morning type cruise on a fairly big boat. The Spirit of Tasmania is smaller than your average luxury cruiser, but not much smaller. Its safety records are pretty clear, too: none has been known to have sunk. Personally, I was quite looking forward to the boat trip: I have been on board aircraft carriers, but never did I actually go cruising on a boat of this scale.
So what is going on here? What is making bona fide Aussies, guys who hunt a croc for breakfast, ride their kangaroo to work, and down a barrel of beer for dinner turn into chickens with the mere mention of a ferry ride?

Having gone there and back again on board the Spirits of Tasmania I & II, yours truly can now report as to the true nature of the cruise.
First, you hang around the “boatyard” for an hour or two, wriggling your way through various queues with your car, up until you board and cram it in a manner designed to allow you to get out of the car (and that’s it). Then you’re forced to go to the upper decks, comprised of cabins, viewing areas, sitting areas and shops/dining/gaming (that foul Australian word for gambling that cold bloodedly murders the true meaning of gaming).
Our cabin was tight but usable, featuring four bunk beds (two at ground level, two upstairs) and surprisingly usable shower/toilet. While accessing the upper beds was a bit of a challenge, the facilities were quite good: better than some proper accommodations we had the displeasure of using at Tasmania [you can read all about that side of the trip in my TripAdvisor reviews].
As for the swashbuckling aspect of the trip. Leaving Melbourne was calm and peaceful affair, but once the ferry left Port Phillip Bay things got substantially more dramatic. I woke up in bed several times during the night to feel the world around me going up and down (interestingly, not from side to side but rather front to back). Being in bed I was not troubled at all other than being kept awake, but I could easily imagine reacting rather badly were I to be on a passenger seat or in one of the public areas instead. My wife’s reaction was similar; my son slept through.
The way back was a different story. As we left Devonport we were informed by Captain Stubing over ship’s PA that in contrast to the past week or so the seas are calm. He was right; our Love Boat cruise was Dead Calm.
We made it out alive. Didn’t even need to use the life boats.

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