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My Voyage around Spray

OFFICIAL LAUNCH : December 9th 2010
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"There is nothing-absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing." he went on dreamily. "Messing-about-in-boats; messing..."

Ratty in Kenneth Graham's
The Wind in the Willows

Portrait of Joshua Slocum                  

The subtitle to My Voyage around Spray with apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum gives an important clue about the book's purpose - it reads A re-discovery of Australia. Does that mean someone called Johusa Slocum discovered Australia? No, not really.

Joshua Slocum was a Yankee sea captain who when he retired re-built an 'oysterman' and sailed it single handed around the world. He was the first person to complete a world circumnavigation solo. It took him three years from 1895 to 1898.

Val Wake discovered Joshua Slocum while attempting to reach the North Pole. That is a story in itself which the author explains in his book. It was Slocum's book Sailing Alone around the World that rekindled Val's boyhood interest in boats and eventually led him and his Canadian born wife Lil to the small Australian coastal town of Port Macquarie.

For the last 20 years of his working life Val was a civil servant working mostly for the British Foreign Office. He was head of a government film unit and radio service. It was while he was in the civil service that he seriously took up sailing and started re-reading Joshua Slocum. In Slocum's self published book he found a reference to a place called Port Macquarie on the Australian east coast. One of Lil's working colleagues knew something about Port Macquarie. The colleague's brother-in-law was a meteorologist who claimed that Port Macquarie had one of the world's best climates.

Val was nearing his mandatory retirement date. He and Lil were looking for a place to settle. The cost of living in England was going to be a severe drain on their retirement income and there was the English weather which was often cold and wet. Maybe Port Macquarie had something better to offer?

This was when Val's re-discovery of Australia started. He read all he could about the district and in 1990 Val and Lil flew out and made a reconnaissance visit to Port Macquarie. They liked what they found. They bought a unit or flat and planned to permanently move in late 1995.

By the time they took up residence in early 1996, Port Macquarie was beginning to experience the first stirrings of the 'sea change movement' the arrival of people desperate for a sea view at any cost. The small coastal community that had first attracted Val and Lil to Port Macquarie was changing. High rises were rivalling the town's tall Norfolk Pines that once dominated the landscape.

Sprays transom

Val bought himself a yacht which he called Spray after the boat Slocum used to sail around the world. Val became an active member of the Port Macquarie Yacht Club and began to learn what made Port Macquarie tick.

There is a lot about sailing in My Voyage around Spray but there is also a lot about the Australian character, Australian attitudes, hopes and prospects. Val uses Port Macquarie as microcosm of the Australian way of life which is changing, replacing the cultural cringe of the past with a new vibrant and cosmopolitan society that can live comfortably with the ideas of Europe and Asia and in the process produce a culture of its own.

My Voyage around Spray is published by Sid Harta of Waverley, Victoria. You can order it from the publisher's website and is available from selected bookshops. Copies can also be ordered from

val says farewell to spray