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
Melbourne, Devonport and the Bass Strait.
The "Spirit of Tasmania" started life as a ferry ship that
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
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
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
On the next page, the "Spirit of
Tasmania III" the "Contship Nobility" and heaps more.