Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On a slow boat to …Sydney

Once upon a very long time ago I used to take the ferry to and from high school (aka St Trinian's… although it wasn't nearly as much fun) every weekday. Or, rather, those days when I wasn't suffering too much from 'nerves' to go to school. Gosh, I had quite an impressive absentee record when I look back.

But I digress.

This post is about Sydney's ferries. Here's what a modern Sydney ferry looks like:

Nice enough, but rather soulless compared to the lovely old ferries I used to use as a teenager. The 'Lady' and 'K' series were built in the early 1900s through the Edwardian era, and featured padded and reversible seats downstairs, painted wooden seats upstairs which curved nicely around your bum, and, excitingly, a view down the stairs to the smelly, noisy and quite glorious diesel engine. You'd hear the bell the captain rang telling the engineer to give it some welly, put it in neutral, or in reverse.

This is the lovely old Karrabee, which was the ferry I usually rode home on:
She's painted in the colours I remember too, and went off the run in the 1980s as the oldest ferries made way for the current batch. The Karrabee memorably sank in the Australia Day Ferryboat Race in 1984 but managed to make it back to Circular Quay. Refloated, and fixed up, she was sold and became a static floating restaurant up at the Central Coast. Sadly she wasn't well-maintained at her new home and gradually deteriorated into the mud she rested on, and was broken up nearly ten years ago.  Find out more about her here.

These old ladies had dual controls - the captain could change ends, so that when he berthed at Circular Quay he could stroll the top deck and use the wheel at the other end, simply sailing out from the wharf rather than having to reverse and turn as the modern ferries do.

Riding the ferries was a big thrill when I was a little girl, before my high school years. A trip on the ferry was a trip to town in the school holidays, to see a movie or meet with friends and family. Ferries meant a treat, with the journey as big an excitement as the movie or friends. And 'town' was much nicer then, with only a handful of high-rise towers and most buildings on a human scale.

Because I rarely use the ferries - I'm not a huge fan of the Sydney CBD and only venture in there when I have to for client stuff, or a few times a year to visit the Art Gallery of NSW, see a show or other activity only available in town - going for a trip on the ferry still has some of that childish thrill for me.

Is there a nicer way to travel to the city? I doubt it. When the sun's shining, even on a winter's day it's a lovely journey. You simply HAVE to slow down. You're not in a car cursing the other drivers and wondering if the parking station will be full. You're not on a bus with a fat man redolent of body odour plonked beside you and oozing flesh over your legs and arms. It's probably sad for the ferries on my run that they AREN'T crowded. Even in peak hour, you rarely reach 'standing room only'.

Today I had to head into town for a client meeting and caught a ferry soon after 10am. I was one of about 15 people on it. Likewise on the return journey at nearly 2pm. And this is during school holidays, so about 1/3 of those travelling were kids with parents.

There was a chill breeze this morning so I sat inside on my trip to town, relishing the sun sparkling on the water, eyeballing the lovely waterfront houses at Birchgrove, enjoying the choppy water under the Harbour Bridge which boaties call The Washing Machine and missing our grumpy old boat Bootle (which we sold earlier this year).

The sun had hit full capacity on the way home, so I sat out the back with the breeze on my face, enjoying my surroundings. Sydney's main attractions always look nicer from the water. As the ferry left tourist-infested Circular Quay behind it my spirits lifted.

I could have taken this photo without the ferry's superstructure, but I chose not to. Likewise this:
Through The Washing Machine and over some nice bouncy wake from another ferry, around the corner heading away from Balmain's Thames St Wharf I saw these buildings, which have received a very jolly coat of paint since I last saw them - which must have been months and months ago:

I like this photo - you can only really see Sydney Tower in the background; just a hint of the Horrible Highrise that is our CBD these days.

Even though I was using the ferry for work, the trip on the water made me feel as if I were playing truant from my business, which was a superb and uplifting feeling.

If I didn't hate the soulless, cement-ridden modern Sydney city centre so much, I'd find excuses to ride on the ferries more often. I look back at my time at St Trinian's and realise the ferry rides were the best part of those four hated years and I was privileged to use such a pleasant mode of public transport. There are times when it really is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

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