6th December 2011
17th September 2011
Crossing the Bar
The bar was flat, or seemed to be
When we sailed out line astern with Denis's ashes.
Indian was leading the line
Reminding us that it was on Indian
Where Denis crewed.
There were high cirrus clouds streaking our blue ceiling
But down below on the blue water
There was a slight breeze out of the northeast
Blowing the Sea Rescue flag
But not much else.
We were behind Spray, my old boat.
Denis knew Spray well.
He had helped me replace the engine mounts.
Chuckled when I came alongside.
"Make sure you don't dint the houseboat."
Then he got about the job with methodical ease.
Raising the engine with a thick plank.
Working in the confined quarters of Spray's stern
Placing the new mounts where they could do the most good
And lowering the engine with the care of a parent with a new baby.
Spray was bouncing about on the bar.
Tossed by the compression waves of the run out tide.
Spray sometimes did sail like a cork.
We went out at low water to give ourselves time
To spread the ashes and race.
I was never comfortable about going out at the bottom of the tide.
But Denis understood.
It was safer to go out when the tide was emptying itself into the sea
And return on the flood.
That's what Denis had told me and he was right.
I had been an armchair sailor for many years.
A close reader of sailing books often written by cruising sailors
With little experience of river bars.
Now Denis was crossing the bar for the last time.
Much like Tennyson's poem of the same name.
I wonder if Denis knew those grand lines?
"Twlight and evening bell
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark."
We were not on a twilight passage.
The sun shone in a brilliant Pacific sky.
The fleet worked its way to Bird Rock
With its crown of guano
And perch smooth face.
How often had Denis manned his place on the sheets
Ready to work the winch while Indian stiffened
As Les brought her up into the breeze
To make the mad dash for the line
And avoid the other yachts.
Sometimes it was a close run thing.
Bow to bow with anxious looks to the other boats.
Some quiet cursing from the helmsman
And even loud shouts as skippers and crew
Suddenly faced the danger of a sea collision.
Denis always kept his cool.
Quetly going about his business
Clear eyed and ready to move
At a moment's notice
Depending on the skipper's orders.
Now he was ready to return to the rock.
Bird Rock with its almost pyramid symmetry
Poking out of the sea and greeting the fleet
Once again with a stern and solitary warning
Don't come too close.
Indian kept her distance.
The serivce words were spoken over the fleet radio
And the ashes were scattered.
The fleet released one white flare for each boat
A cloud of white smoke drifted on the breeze.
Denis's spirit drifted with that smoke
Softly rising to another place
Reaching those upper limits
Where peace and harmony
Live together like a sheet and sail.
Goodbye Denis. May it be smooth swailing from here on.
The Happy Sailor
The sailor whom the book My Voyage Around Spray was dedicated has died.
Denis John Fawell who was called The Happy Sailor in Val Wake's memoir about his life leading to the purchase and sale of his 26 foot Triton yacht Spray died on Saturday 10th September at his home near Heron's Creek south of Port Macquarie on the Pacific Highway. He was 61.
Denis was an active member of the Port Macquarie Yacht Club for many years and it was in this capacity that Wake first met him.
"He was one of those unforgettable characters, who always had a cheerful and encouraging word for those seeking his sailing advice," recalls Wake speaking from his home at Port Macquarie half way between Sydney and Brisbane on the Australian eastern seaboard.
Denis Fawell ran his own pump-out business and when Wake first met him he was living with his wife, Linda, on the yacht Nanani. Denis occasionally raced Nanani. When he did he had to make sure that Linda was occupied somewhere else before he removed some of the household fittings, including the television set, and going out to sea.
Wake in his book described Denis as:
"A happy-go-lucky individual, a capable sailor with a generous laugh and nature to match."
But even Denis realised that Linda could not live this way indefinitely. Denis sold Nanani and the Fawells moved into a house boat at the marina.
Denis still raced. He was a highly valued crew member of Razzamatazz Two and Indian Pacific. But it was his work as a club official where Denis is best remembered. As treasurer, with Linda's help, he was often found chasing skippers for their race fees before the club finally decided to do away with this practice and introduced a membership fee to cover costs.
Denis was also in charge of the club's only shore-based asset: A rusty iron barbecue. Every Thursday night during the summer twilight sailing season Denis was often found making arrangements for the after-race barbie.
Denis was also the club's safety officer, more correctly titled equipment auditing officer. With a well thumbed copy of the "Blue Book" his annual inspections of all club yachts was an essential part of the club calendar and he always made sure that skippers were aware of their responsibilities. Denis applied the rules with humour and practical seamanship.
Denis did not grandstand when offering his advice. He was modest and unassuming but when he saw a clear breech of the rules or a risky manoeuvre at sea he made sure that the offending skipper was aware of the infraction.
Denis did not hold back when asked to step up and help sailors in trouble.
When two club boats got into trouble crossing a difficult bar at Port Macquarie sea rescue was asked to send out its rescue boat to take off the women and children on the yachts and bring them back to safety on shore. All the women and children were safely returned to the land. Then the rescue boat went out again to supply the yachts with relief crew and rations. This time Denis was among the volunteers on board. The rescue boat had hardly cleared the sea walls of the passage out when a huge wave capsized the rescue boat. All occupants of the rescue boat got back to shore but the rescue boat was lost.
Later at a government house reception held to honour the bravery of those in the rescue boat Denis, who was some times seen with a can of VB in his hand, stood in front of the lavish spread of government house food and drinks and was heard to say:
"What no VB?"
Whenever it was necessary to make the extra effort to help sailors in distress, Denis was there.
One morning when a north east wind kicked in at between 20 to 30 knots three yachts broke their swing moorings in the Hastings River and were washed ashore, stranded on the rocks of the river's south bank.
Denis was one of the first people out in his dinghy attending to the stranded boats and throwing out lines to make them safe.
Wake in his memoir made the following his final tribute:
"I hope in some small way, my work will give him (Denis) comfort and provide a tribute to his energy, generosity, courage and determination to get the job done and done well. It was, when all said and done, as much as you could ask of any man."
The service for Denis Fawell was held at the Innes Park Memorial Crematorium on Thursday 15th September, 2011. A number of Port Macquarie Club members attended.
5th January 2011
My Voyage available on Amazon
Following the highly successful Port Macquarie launch of Val Wake's non-fiction work My Voyage around Spray ( with apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum) late last year, efforts have been made to find new marketing outlets for the work.
Probably the most important is the introduction of the title to the listings of the world's biggest online bookshop, Amazon.
'I had trouble finding the title at the start,' said Val Wake speaking in Port Macquarie. ' But if you perserver you will eventually get there.'
The introduction of the title on Amazon comes when major Australian retailers are mounting a campaign to get the federal government to levy Australian GST on offshore online sales.
' I think this is a bid for protectionism by our major retailers. I can see no justification for it at all. It is time our retailers learnt to compete,' says Wake.
Copies of My Voyage can also be got by goiing to the publisher Sid Harta's site or at selected bookshops around the country.
10th December 2010
Book Launch in Port Macquarie
More than $500 worth of books sold in one hour.
Val Wake the author of four titles since his retirement in 1995, organised his own book launch in Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia on Thursday 9 December 2010.
"I have given talks and attended book signings but I did not attend my first book launch because it was in Adelaide. This was an unusual experience for me,' said Wake speaking in Port Macquarie.
The Port Macquarie Public Library was the venue for the launch. The library is less than 10 years old and is in the distinctive Australian architectural style of Glen Murcutt.
Kath Millard, the chief librarian, offered Wake her full support for the launch. Setting aside the meeting room, arranging chairs, organising the tea and coffee urn and even the display of Val Wake's books.
About 30 people turned up for the launch. Many were Wake's friends and acquaintances but about half of the audience was made up of local readers attracted by the publicity organised by Kath Millard and Val Wake.
There were a number of sailors in the audience. One of them, John Freeman, had learnt to sail with Val Wake on Spray. There were also the new owners of Spray, Jim and Nancy Ringland.
Cameron Marshall, the programme manager of the local ABC radio station hosted the event.
Marshall used to sail with Wake on Spray and in his introductory remarks Marshall referred to his sailing experiences.
Wake gave a half hour talk with reference to his four titles, why they were written and how they became books.
Wake devoted most of his talk to the launch of My Voyage. He said:
"My Voyage around Spray is about an old man's love affair with the sea and a young man starting out, looking for a purpose in life. Dylan Phillips was that young man. He joined me on Spray when was 14 years old. Together we learnt by our mistakes."
Dylan Phillips is now a serving officer with the Royal Australian Navy. He served on HMAS Parramatta in the Arabian Gulf and was the leader of the party boarding Somalia pirates' boats.
Dylan's mother, Sue Phillips was in the audience at the launch and at the end of Val Wake's talk Sue Phillips publicly thanked Val for being Dylan's surrogate granddad.
At the end of the launch Wake found that he had sold more than $500 worth of books. Most people bought more than one copy of a title as Christmas presents.
"You never know on an occasion like this what's going to happen. I don't think I will do it again. It takes a lot out of you. Still I am gald I did it," said
30th November 2010
Retired Diplomat Describes New Novel as Brilliant
James Cumes, a retired Australian diplomat who lives in Vienna has described Val Wake's new novel When the Lions are Drinking as brilliant.
In a review posted on the Amazon book site, using his pseudonym Cresscourt "Rosewood," Cumes writes:
'This brillant book seduces the reader from the start with its intriguing title "When the Lions are Drinking." Most of us like an insider's view especially of a major Civil Service and here we have a flavouring of a Foreign Office - the British Foreign Office, what's more- and film-making as an extra sweetener.'
When the Lions are Drinking is a title taken from an old Thames watermen's story. The lions are the embankment lions along the banks of the Thames River in central London.According to the watermen's story when the lions are drinking central London and the seat of government Whitehall is in danger of flooding. Wake has used this story as a metaphor. During the length of the novel he suggests that Whitehall is danger not so much from flooding as the schemes and duplicity of ambitious people.
' Author Val Wake has a marked capacity for characterisation, partly no doubt because of his career as a journalist but especially through his innate talent for thoughtful analysis of what we are, what we do and why we do it.'
When the Lions are Drinking is told through the eyes of Felix Manners, the head of a government film unit that works for the British Foreign Office providing propaganda to win the hearts and minds of people on a number of fronts ranging from the Falkslands to Afghanistan.
'This was the first time I have told a story with a first person narrator. I had to assume attitudes and beliefs of a first generation Englishman born of a German mother and an Irish docker father. I tried to avoid the cliches. But I think with such a background it was important that Felix Manners belonged to something that was larger himself. In Felix's case it was the Great Game,' said Wake speaking from his retirement home in Port Macquarie on the Australian eastern seaboard.
Cumes believes that Wake has handled his large caste well. He writes:
'He ( Wake) copes effortlessly with the huge caste of characters he creates. Sometimes he is harsh, especially on the women. Shirley Keene has a "reputation as the office tart," but he can also be tender as he is with Morag Macleod in the final chapter. In his sex scenes, he is matter of fact."One Night Stand' and a few other sexual episodes are modestly erotic.'
Cumes concludes by saying:
'It is a page turner whose pages the reader will long remember with a great deal of pleasure.'