Mutiny and the beast

cargo_boatAfter my three years of teaching English in China, I decided to cash in my plane ticket home to England and head off to Cairns, Queensland, where my sister was based. One of the highlights of my year there was learning to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, I was so hooked (and broke) that I decided the only way to get in some more dives was to work on a dive boat.

Except I didn’t sign on to work on a dive boat. It turned out that the job I got as all-round helping hand was actually on a cargo ship that took supplies out to the shrimp boats at sea off the Queensland coast. As a way of supplementing his income, the slave driver captain took paying guests on board and promised them some stop-offs for diving. We employees too were promised free diving in our leisure time.

The only problem was that we didn’t have much free time at all. In fact, we didn’t even have a cabin to sleep in. The boys slept in the engine room (smelly and noisy) and we girls slept in a hold (smelly and noisy). I don’t think we had a shower during the entire 10-day trip.

mapAs I boarded the mothership, I was blissfully unaware of the fact that the captain had hired us as slaves for ten days. There I was thinking that I could cope with serving the paying guests, doing a spot of washing up and a lot of scuba diving.

“Make some scones!” ordered the captain as I stowed my meagre belongings in the hold.

Scones? From scratch? Without a cookery book in sight… Wild panic threatened to overwhelm me, until I met my angel.

Her name was Sarah and she DID know how to cook. Without using a cookbook. She even enjoyed it!

As we chugged off on our sea voyage from Cairns up to Cape York and then onto Thursday Island in the Torres Straits, I suddenly remembered a vital fact…

… I get seasick!

The first couple of days were tough until the queasiness went away. I scurried around alternating between serving the guests, puking over the rail, washing up, puking over the rail, serving the guests, puking over the rail…

Once the seasickness left me, all that remained was the hard slog of getting up at 6 am to prepare breakfast, clear up, make elevenses, wash up, make lunch, clear up, make afternoon tea, wash up, make dinner and wash up until about midnight.

We did get to go on one fantastic dive with a guest who was an expert scuba diver. And we were allowed off the boat at Lizard Island to enjoy the feeling of sand between our toes for a couple of hours. Other than that, it was hard work all the way. By the time we passed Cape York, Sarah and I and the two deck hands, decided to mutiny once we got to Thursday Island. The captain had completely gone back on his word to let us dive and enjoy the trip.

He didn’t want to let us off the boat at Thursday Island but we went anyway and headed to the pub to drown our sorrows with at least one beer.


There was no time for anything else. One of the guests came running up to us to say that the captain was going to leave us stranded on the isolated island. And although that option was more enticing than working our way back, we realized that we would be well and truly stuck without any money or a change of clothes. So, we dashed back and jumped aboard.

The worst part was that when we got back to Cairns and disembarked, the captain refused to pay us our wages. We could hear him laughing as he sailed off – he had just got free labour for ten days – while we were left empty-handed and despondent.

But not too despondent, I might add – because I did have one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. One day during our trip, the cry went up that there were whales swimming alongside us. I grabbed a mask and snorkel and dived into the water with my clothes on. It was an amazing and humbling experience to swim alongside these gentle giants.

That alone was worth more than any amount of money.


32 thoughts on “Mutiny and the beast

  1. Great story – pity the bastard didn’t pay you but still an amazing experience. The Frog Queen and I went snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef a couple of times when we stayed in Cairns in 1992. A long time ago but the trip is still etched clearly in my mind as I write. Wonderful.


  2. Wow! I can’t imagine being in the water with them. What an amazing feeling that must have been.

    What a creep. But it will catch up with him. Always does. Hopefully has many times over!


  3. I’ve always heard that if a person can outlast a few days of seasickness, it will leave. BUT I assumed that meant the person had already died. Oh, the things I am learning from you!


  4. You are so adventurous! The Captain sounds vile-you should have swiped some vital piece of equipment from him! I would love to see whales, but not sure I’d have the courage to swim alongside them.


  5. You’ve done some amazing things – one that you missed out on though was drowning the evil captain. I love your tag of *I hated the captain*

    Were you able to follow it up at all – I don’t mean a hit-man or the like, but spread tales about him to all and sundry and make his name mud. It was a rotten thing that he did, after all.


  6. ok, seriously….scubing diving off the Great Barrier Reef is the kind of thing you READ about …not DO…. but you have done it! WOW! Talk about some incredible stories to share with your kiddoes!


  7. Brilliant post. Yes the Captain was an absolute out and out bastard, but hey, he’ll will have got payback – karma and all that! Whales! What an experience. I can’t imagine anything bigger than a Great Dane.


  8. LadyFi, the whales must have been amazing! I went around the world narrowly missing whale-visits all over the place and finally caught up with them in Hermanos, South Africa. It was an experience I’ll never forget, but to actually get in the water with them…I imagine that took quite a lot of guts!


  9. You have got the most amazing stories of anyone I know! You have done so much! I am hoping my move to Brazil will make me more adventurous, that we will travel, and appreicate life more!!!

    Oh, and what a bastard! People like that are SO terrible.


  10. OMG, that’s a terrible captain. Why didn’t you all just feed him to the sharks…lol. You all can take over the ship. But am glad you get the experience even though it is noisy and smelly and your puking all the way…lol. Not everyone get this type of experience and am sure you come out stronger than ever. Thanks for sharing your story and have a nice weekend.


  11. Oh as an Aussie I so loved that story. What a nasty person to deprive you of your wages. I just finished hearing a story about a similar boat, where the cook went crazy and stabbed the skipper with a knife and the the others on the boat had to tie the cook up and take the boat to shore. Oh my what adventures there on the sea. Loved your pictures and I never got to Thursday Island but stayed at Bamaga on the other side. My cousin was a cook in Thursday Island for a few years too. Thanks for sharing, it really was an amazing adventure.


  12. Archaeogoddess: Hear, hear! The more people tell this to LadyFi, the better the chance that it will happen one day 🙂


  13. I enjoyed feeling like I was living your adventure, except for the slave labor and the throwing up. How old were you then? In your twenties? Have you ever had a desire to move there, since your sister lives(d) there? Wish I could try a year in Australia. Thanks for a great story. Keep them coming.


  14. What an amazing experience! I would have been scared to death working for that man. You lived to tell about it though, and you swam with the whales!


  15. Gutsy Writer: I must have been about 27 years old at the time. The sister that lived there is now back in the UK, but my younger sister recently became an Australian citizen. She lives in Perth with her husband. I’d love to live over there, but we are too old to get in under their employment schemes…


  16. I wondered how old you were too… 27. What an amazing adventure! Sounds like you were with Captain Hook though.

    You really grab life by the horns – the more I learn about you, the more you fascinate me. I get terribly motion sick, would be mortified at sleeping in a smelly place with no shower, and would never be brave enough to enter the water near whales. I know they’re gentle – just couldn’t do it. You’re inspiring.

    Wonderful story!


  17. If I had a sister in Perth, I’d move there in a heartbeat with my husband. We’re both 51, which is too old for a job visa too, but there has to be a way. Perhaps I could meet a nice Australian girl and introduce her to my 21-year-old son, and they could get married. Then as a parent, I could live there. (Just kidding!) but at least you see how badly I want to move, just for the experience. It’s still in my blood, which is why the teaching abroad in Chine, like you did, is something else we’ve considered. I heard that a US citizen can pay the Australian government, $30,000, and get healthcare for the rest of his/her life. I wonder if that’s true.


  18. Wonderful story! What an experience it was for you. Sadly such exploitation still goes on in Oz today. Your post takes me back a decade when I and Mrs S spent some time in Cairns and Port Douglas. I still have the mug and the kangaroo-skin hat to prove it!


  19. I thought you were writing about my adventures as a cook on the mothership then! must have been a different ship, or was it the same crooked Brett Devine?? Don’t remember you telling me you swam with whales…. I do remember being followed by dolphins (and sharks)…


  20. Hiya, I picked up the name Brett Devine from the posts- I’ve had a similar experience with this character- is he from Rozelles in sydney? We should swap yarns!


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