We actually manage an early morning today, a bank holiday, and emerge into a nation in mourning. We also emerge very reluctantly as it is freezing cold in the flat - the temperature here in the daytime ranges from about 13-17 degrees but at night it drops to freezing. Even this wouldn't be a problem, God knows if you've ever lived in Manchester you're used to cold in winter, but Manchester has a trump card - heating. Australians, it appears, are in denial that winter happens and almost none of the houses even have heating. Our flat has an air conditioning unit with a 'vaguely warm' function which is on all night but that on it's own coupled with no insulation makes hot showers, gallons of tea and thick duvets very necessary.
We head over the water for breakfast and dive into the first place we see on Circular Quay - 'City Extra', it is called, and adorned with newspaper decor and sun. We sit outside in the sun and plough through bacon, hash browns, sausages and eggs each (the bacon here is as good as Canadian bacon!) and orange juice. Sitting on the edge of a wharf watching ferries come and go, in the sun, with a man playing a didgeridoo not far off makes for an enjoyable if novel breakfast experience. Filled up on fuel for not very much money we set off again for Darling Harbour.
Outside the National Maritime Museum of Australia, sat regally in the harbour, are three large ships which turn out to be the HMAS Vampire, a destroyer and training ship, the HMAS Onslow, an Oberon-class submarine and the HMB Endeavour, the three-time voyager of Captain James Cook. Making a beeline across the bridge for the museum, the Vampire is closest so we duly climb aboard with token shouts of 'hello sailor' at passing ferries. This boat was most recently used for training but enjoyed active service in the Australian navy from 1959 until 1986, with various refits along the way. We are lucky to have caught her, a guide tells us, as she will be going back to the navy in a week or so. Inside the metal hull we see rows and rows of cramped bunks and low-ceilinged mess halls but miraculously, Fred managed not to whack his noggin on anything. Through towards the bow of the ship, the mass of piping and levers under turret 'a' comes into view. It looks hugely complicated - we both try to lift one of the shells and can't. Turns out this isn't mere woman/mere geek weakness - it's bolted down.
Next, up to the top to see the big guns. Nearby is one of the navymen who sailed on this vessel in the Pacific, who has a very interesting story to tell:
It got so stinking hot that if we weren't on exercise, all the crewmen would sleep on deck. Anywhere you could find space was fair game to us then. Problem was, one lad, I forget his name, he didn't last very long... Anyway, one lad fell asleep under one of those, see those? He points to turret 'b', on which are sat twin 4.5 inch guns. Well, he didn't hear the call to General Quarters and he was still asleep when they fire the first barrage. The concussion he got nearly killed him, so everyone had a bit more respect for the smackers after that.
A variant on the Royal Vany's Daring Class destroyer, the Vampire had to be adapted for Australian conditions, and this included the addition of more vents to solve the problem of the heat below decks.
We have a good mosey around the rest of the ship, including the spacious and comparatively luxurious Officer's cabins and mess (it paid to be an Officer, apparently). You can still see remnants of the past ages not to be gotten rid of - the underside of one of the bunks is covered in stickers and dates - Honolulu, SIngapore, Korea, New Zealand. There are about thirty of them. Back amidships we disembark and prepare to squeeze down the cramped hatch of the Onslow.
Easier said than done. Even for me, fairly flexible and physically fit, trying to fit backwards down an 80cm hole with a ladder is not very easy. Fred gets firmly stuck and has to be disengaged by a grinning volunteer. Descending down about two metres we come to the only deck of the boat, face-to-face with six massive torpedo tubes and another six massive torpedos. We are told that she was designed to carry fourteen, six in the tubes and six lashed to the hull and under grates in the floor - the space to walk would have been about 60cm wide. Another interesting story greets us as we arrive on deck.
Although Onlsow has never seen active duty she was used extensively in international war games, played out over in the Pacific ocean. She was one of the first RAN submarines to be fitted with anti-ship missiles and put these to good use! She sunk seven ships in the Exercise Kangaroo 3 in 1980 and in 1998, when she managed to sink a US Nimitz-class supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson. Onslow being a diesel-powered boat, about forty years older than the Carl Vinson and with much more primitive equipment, this was quite an achievement. Having been ordered radio silence, the supercarrier Captain was very surprised to get the message "USS Carl Vinson, you have been sunk, please return to dock", and then the crackle of a radio and just one Australian voice - "Gotcha."
The Onslow is a fascinating beast - originally housing 67 men fully crewed it is inconceivable that a space Fred has much difficulty moving around in could have possibly housed them all. The bunks fold away so as not to impede movement any further and the galley for the enlisted men is smaller than the one in our studio flat! It is all quite impossible, but we are assured that it did work and it must have done as the boat is one of six used by the Royal Australian Navy for years. Below the deck, when we come across the "snakeholes" down into the belly of the boat, we can see the huge diesel engines and 220 massive batteries that were used to move her. Everything is tiny - the showers, the urinals, the bunks and even the Captain's cabin, although it is the only (non-bathroom) room on board with a door. We clamber inelegantly back into the sunshine with more than a healthy respect for submariners.
The replica Endeavour comes next and we are relieved to find that below the deck there is space enough for Fred to stand up. We learn that the 56 Navy men, 12 Marines and 5 officers on board Cook's vessel were in there for 3 years, sharing the space in cycles with a massive hearth under the foredeck and animals on the aft. The space in which we are stood was used both for eating and sleeping - hammocks were hung the navy regulation 14 inches apart (they must have recruited some skinny Navy men) and were all numbered so as to avoid waking the wrong men for the watch. The marines, posted onboard for the protection of the officers and supplies, occupied a tiny space at the back on the right. We see the lead line and the vicious-looking ninetails. But there is more, behind a half-screen at the back.
This 'extra' bit was made by taking the original ship design (originally deep and for pouring coal into) and sticking another deck in it. Consequently we have to crawl past the officer's cabins - the space is only 4 feet tall. The officers enjoyed a little more privacy, with very quaintly English, tiny curtained windows, one in each cabin. If I were an officer, I would have made the crew sleep here as it's almost impossible to bloody move. However, I reason that in Cook's day there were less bratty children bashing one's camera around. Cook, we hear, was a much-admired Captain. He paid his men well, awarding bounty for bravery or kindness, and insisted on hygiene so despite being at sea for three years he didn't lose any of his men to disease and only had to contend with two cases of scurvy.
Right at the back is the domain of Cook, and of famed naturalist Joseph Banks. Spacious and with standing room, replicas of Banks' watercolours adorn his cabin and copies of Cook's journals sit at the writing desk. It makes for a very good half-hour, although not one for wrinklies as they will probably have expired by the time they have climbed up and down ladders and crawled around in the bowels of the ship. Back up we go, thoroughly saturated with history, and after a quick drink we go into the museum proper in order to further saturate ourselves.
The Maritime Museum, while not particularly well-organised is also not kid-friendly - fantastic! It is nice and quiet and featuring exhibits on hyper-fast hydrofoils, dugout canoes and navigation it absorbed both myself and Fred for over 3 hours. My most favourite section was entitled 'Passengers' and featured insights into the lives of many travellers to Australia over hundreds of years. There is a letter from one of the early free settlers to her sister at home, detailing the boredom, illness and her delight at the 'gentleman's distractions' aboard her boat including leapfrog and word games. There are accounts of the Dunbar disaster, the worst peacetime maritime disaster Australia has ever suffered, and then the stories of migrant children, sent over on boats alone by their families in the fifties. There are accounts of the trials suffered by young Japanese and Lebanese women who fell in love with Australian sailors, whole families of Hong Kong Chinese who emigrated in fear of Chinese rule over their state.
Exiting into dusk, the world cup spot at the end of the harbour is starting to fill. On our way back to the ferry we spot a bloke wearing an Oktoberfest tee shirt, he becomes Fred's hero of the day, and rightly so! We send our sympathies to his family as he was probably killed at some point during the evening... After picking up the prints and digital copies of the photos from my F3 (which have been uploaded to the gallery and fill the space under this post) we head home for another beautiful dinner spread and sleep.