On a Turneresque Day by the Sea

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A P&O cruise ship floats through a water-coloured seascape

There are some days down by the Bay when the world seems lost in watercolour. The days don’t have clear edges, they don’t seem to begin nor do they have distinct intervals. It is only at sunset that a sense of time can be perceived as the late summer sun breaks through the hovering heat haze. On these days, the humidity creates mesmerising atmospheric effects, with obscured horizons and Turneresque painterly seas.

Boats of the Bay
Boats of Port Phillip Bay

On a day like this, ships, or sometimes a mirage of a ship, appear on the lost horizon, giving rise to thoughts about Fata Morgana.²  Shapes emerge from nowhere, lost in a soupy mist, magically and mysteriously.

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The Spirit of Tasmania turns in the narrow shipping channel of Port Phillip Bay

We cart our chairs and a bottle of wine down to the beach and set up in front of an old boatshed, spending a few hours meditating on the passing parade of ships. Some are famous cruise ships, others are time-tabled ferries to Tasmania, while others seem malevolent. Once we saw a black piratical ship on the bay which we labelled the ‘Ship of the Dead’. We are waiting for it’s return, perhaps to pick us up on the way through.

A half empty cargo ship moves steadily across the channel towards the 'heads'. Black swans cruise by in the foreground.
A half empty cargo ship moves steadily across the channel towards the ‘heads’. Black swans cruise by in the foreground.

I once wrote a children’s story about some little kayaks being stuck in the shipping lane in the black of night. The terrified kayaks escaped by riding the ship’s wake back to shore. The story had lots of sound effects, the blasting horn from the ship’s warning system- three honks and you’re out- and the sshhwash sshhwash of the ship’s wake. I could rely on this story to put little ones to sleep when camping by the sea. It’s a scary story with a happy ending as the kayaks surf their way back into their unlocked boatshed. Now that the children are older, they wait for that blasting horn and sense the danger for some lone yacht or fishing boat caught in the shipping lane.

The Spirit arrives
The Spirit heading towards Melbourne

My brother, an EPA man who sometimes works on the bay, informed me of the pilot system used to aid boats in and out of the shallow waters of Port Phillip Bay. The pilot boards each ship, either at the port of Melbourne or at sea near Queenscliff. Their entry and exit from the ship makes for terrifying reading,

“the pilot boards directly from the launch with the ship steaming at about 7 knots. The high degree of seamanship and skill shown by the launch coxswains during this procedure is relied on by the pilot and the deckhand, who assists the pilot to board from the exposed foredeck of the launch. In heavy weather this can be a hazardous operation but with experience the pilot knows when to leave the pitching deck of the launch and to grab and scramble up the rope ladder to the security of the ship’s deck.”¹

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The sun breaks through the haze and the day begins.
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Another vessel, highlighted by the setting sun, looms upon the now distinct horizon.

¹ http://www.ppsp.com.au/history/history.aspx

² A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is the Italian name for the Arthurian sorceress Morgan Le Fey, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths. Although the term Fata Morgana is sometimes applied to other, more common kinds of mirages, the true Fata Morgana is not the same as an ordinary superior mirage, nor is it the same as an inferior image.

Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognisable. A Fata Morgana can be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions or in deserts. This kind of mirage can involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands and the coastline.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fata_Morgana_(mirage)

33 thoughts on “On a Turneresque Day by the Sea”

    1. It is the Siren story – being lured to the rocks by those creatures near the straits of Messina and goes back to Homer’s tales. Yes, it could well be related.

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  1. You have captured the feeling on the Bay so well, and the photos are wonderful. I went to school with a girl whose father was a pilot, but I never thought about what a dangerous job it must be. (She got sick of having to explain that he was a boat pilot, not a plane pilot!)

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    1. My dear friend Olga used to call me Fata Morgana ( my family name is Morgan), Fata in Italian meaning either Fairy or Siren depending on the context. Here it is a reference to the Sirens.
      After I wrote this, I thought it sounded more ‘stoned’ than eerie. ( except for the Ship of the Dead)

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  2. As long as you stay safe on the sand with chair and bottle of wine and are not lured by the siren call, then all is well. You have transported me to the Bay and your photos really resemble paintings. I hate to name a fave but the second one is just gorgeous.

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  3. I loved this post Francesca. Sublime photos and beautifully written. I so know what you mean about the bay. I wish you’d write a novel.

    I think we saw the pirate-esque yacht when we we’re in Mornington in January – did it look like this? …hang on, can’t figure out how to copy picture in. Will try again.

    Thanks, as always, for your lovely musings and reading. Xxx

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    1. It’s a spooky looking, black framed boat, almost like a skeleton of a boat. It’s coming to get me! I bet you have had lots of days watching ships, boats, yachts and canoes on the Bay, being so lucky to live nearby. It is hypnotic.
      Thanks for reading my ramblings Rachael. xxx

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  4. Francesca, I thought you were poking fun at yourself with the term “Fata Morgana” but I read your enchanted article about the bay and ships passing in the night and became informed. For those interested in ships, the largest ship ever to visit Australia “Ovation of the Seas” will visit Melbourne around December 2016 this year on her way around Australia, NZ and the Pacific. So look out for that one sailing through the heads to Port Melbourne.

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    1. If only I could be there in December to watch that spectacle. It would be like watching a block of flats floating along on the sea- or even more spectacular at night, with all the lights twinkling.

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  5. Ha, this is excellent! Here in Vancouver we get two kinds of Fata Morganas. The one is the regular ocean kind where Vancouver Island inexplicably rises into the air by about 10 miles and my plump cat Morgan, (named after Morgana La Fay). 😀

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