The Spirit of Tasmania

My first trip anywhere on a real ship was across the Tasman Sea on the "Spirit of Tasmania". A Distance of 429 kilometres across Bass Strait, in the TT Line ferry "Spirit of Tasmania" in February, 2001.

Australia and Tasmania - Long View

melb-devonport 1
Melbourne, Devonport and the Bass Strait.

The "Spirit of Tasmania" started life as a ferry ship that covered the
route between Germany and Sweden across the Baltic.

Leaving Melbourne dock

View from the upper boat deck as Melbourne gets smaller.

* * * * * * * * *

It had been a cold morning in Melbourne. As the ship left dock and turned 180 degrees to leave the wide open Port of Melbourne the sun came out as it only can in Australia.Within seconds you could smell the slit turned up from the river bottom by the propellors. The seagulls went crazy and attacked the silt, as I now know that they always do. The ship opened up her engines and tore away from the dock directly into the open sea. The breeze caused by the slipstream was pleasnatly cool but the sun was just as hot as ever. I sat back from the rail and watched the sea and the other passengers. One in particular caught my eye. An English male tourist in his twenties sat barechested on the steps and drank directly from a bottle of beer. The sun hammered down on his crew-cut head.

I was in a sadistic mood. I sat in the shade and watched as he drank the entire bottle of beer. He finished it and still sat. Some time later, I looked up from my book. He lurched to his feet, left his empty bottle behind and staggered off with what looked like a Number Ten "drinking beer in the Australian sun" headache. If you have never had one of these, imagine crossing sunstroke with a violent beating by Mike Tyson. Then imagine that your eyes are filled with treacle. Imagine that the treacle has been discovered by a swarm of flies that live inside your eye sockets. They are something like that. I suppose it is something that everyone should do once, as a learning experience, but ... education can be a hard, ugly, thing.

The other passengers were easily enough classified into groups. There were the married couples, who once the ship had left port, evaporated to their cabins and appeared only at meals, looking flushed. There were the old sea dogs, who stalked the deck with steely eye, and judiciously examined all the lifeboats, one by one. The old folks who gathered in huge gangs and shrieked at eachother. Lastly, there were the "poetic rail leaning sea starers" ... and that subgroup was made up by me.

It was a boring ship to be on. My tiny shared cabin had a snoring, farting, grunting, scratching, muttering lump in one of the upper bunks. The slightest noise would rouse grumpy complaints from the middle of the lump. If I made any more noise at all after one of these complaints large, smelly, body protruberances would be randomly projected from
the blankets, with appropriate sound effects. It was rather like the top bunk had a huge spider in it. I kept my head down while in the cabin, and spent my time wandering around. All the good stuff was locked off, and the only things that one do could were basically pay to be amused. This meant drinking alcohol, drinking revolting urinary weak "coffee" or
playing the poker machines. I made half my fare back from the poker machine pictured below, so that wasn't too bad.


Its a nice feeling pressing the button and winning while watching the ocean pass by. Also a silly one. That has to be the silliest place I have ever played the pokies. No matter how much I won, I kept worrying that I was missing something good. I was. Nothing I can say can explain it, but the view of the unbroken ocean from a ship is worth its weight in gold.
There is something hypnotic about the flat, flat sea. Hypnotic and deeply, deeply, good.


Have a look at the rust on that light fitting. A few weeks later, on the trip back, that same light fitting had been painted. You could tell. The paint had been slapped right over the top of the rust. All things considered, it created the feeling that the owners were saving money on upkeep, which is a dubious feeling to have in the middle of Bass Strait at night.

A good thing too. If the way people behave when they get off a docked ship is anything to go by, the way they would behave in a shipwreck must beggar belief. That said, the Spirit was as safe as houses. Rock solid quality ship building from people who knew exactly what they were doing. The fear? I've seen people crapping themselves with fear on planes, for the whole journey. On ships, the fear seems to evaporate as soon as the ship leaves dock. Somehow, I think that deep down, people have a race memory regarding ships. It is too early in their evolution yet for people to have the same natural feeling about planes. That said, according to my highly scientific, piss weak coffee calculations, the "Spirit" had about two and a half times more lifeboat/raft space available than her top possible manifest. Lifeboats! Eek. Eek. All those stories about people starving in lifeboats. One of my friends goes quite weird at the mention of lifeboats. Fair enough. But which would you prefer? Starving in a lifeboat with all the good conversation and competitive jocularity that goes with deciding who to eat first, or being projected into the side of a mountain at 520 miles an hour? Not that the "eating" option exists anymore. With satellite location no modern ship is more than 2 days from help, anywhere, ever. Well barring incredible FUBAR stuff, anyway.


Inside a four bunk cabin on the "Spirit of Tasmania" My head was resting against the wall formed by the outer hull of the ship. The brown door was the way out, to a maze of narrow corridors and then to the stairs and lifts. The other door is the one to the tiny bathroom. As you can see, trapeze group sex would be an option for double jointed contortionists.

The snorting, farting, muttering, blanket lump is off camera in an upwards direction. When I took this picture, my camera went "beep" From memory, the lump above made an effort of accomplish all the forementioned noises, simultaneously. I hope he didn't rupture anything.


Docked in Devonport, at night. Being on the ship felt like being locked into a rather dingy shopping mall with lots of bored shoppers. Looking back at the ship from the carpark, I was amazed at how vast she actually was. When one looks back at a ship, one always feels an emotion a great deal like love. I rarely feel that way about aeroplanes.

* * * * * * * *

The Spirit of Tasmania is no more. She has been sold and replaced by two new, faster
ships which can do the journey in ten hours. They travel in opposite directions, so
waiting time is reduced. The new ships, however, don't seem to have the same panache
as the old one.

The last time I saw the "Spirit of Tasmania" docked at Garden Island in Sydney. Apparently the "Spirit" has been sold to Fjordline in Norway. You can see her pictures and some 360 degree panoramas of her new internal fitout. There is also a corkingly good picture of her here - Fjord Norway. She has not changed much. A new paint job, a refit and some decor changes within, she is the same ship. More in the way of bars than I remember, including an Autralian themed one, but the same ship.

The "Spirit of Tasmania" was replaced by two slightly smaller ships, both of which make the Melbourne tp Devonport run at the same time, each leaving in the evening and arriving at their respective ports at dawn the next morning. They are called, confusingly enough, the "Spirit of Tasmania I" and the "Spirit of Tasmania II" and look almost identical in their red-and-white livery. Because these two ships which travel all night they deliver very little in the way of the fun of being on a ship, but they make the bulk of their profit from ferrying trucks across Bass Strait... not passengers.

For awhile, they were matched with a new service, the "Spirit of Tasmania III" which made up for the "funless" aspects of these two ships by making the journey to Devonport from Sydney, 20 hours to the north. The service lasted only a couple of years since apparently Australian tourists prefer the destination to the journey, and preferred cut price economy airlne tickets on crammed airplanes that make the trip in 2 hours. With complimentary peanuts.

Alex Rieneck

On the next page, the "Spirit of Tasmania III" the "Contship Nobility" and heaps more.