On Sunday 4 December 2011 the Port Macquarie Yacht Club fleet sailed line astern across the Hastings' River bar to scatter a crewmate's Denis Fawell ashes at sea. The poem was written about that event.
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 our 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 runout tide.
Spray sometimes sailed 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 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 stirring lines:
"Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark."
We were not on a twlight passage.
The sun shone in a brilliant Pacific sky
The fleet worked its way to Bird Rock
With its crown of guano
And perch free 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.
Quietly going about his business
Clear eyed and ready to move
At a moments 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 service words were spoken over the fleet radio
And the ashes were scattered.
Then 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 for those upper limits
Where peace and harmony
Live together like a sheet and sail.
Goodbye Denis. May it be smooth sailing from here on.