Authors: Helen Goltz
She wasn’t happy about something—maybe it was a bad day at school or after the first few weeks, it was all just a bit overwhelming. We both noticed it—Sebastian and I—and we discussed it after she turned in early last night, really early especially for a Friday night. Around midnight Seb went up to check on her but she wasn’t in her room. He saw her in the attic seat watching the beach, but didn’t invade her space. Kind of hard to know whether to interfere or not, but she might have wanted some time out to think ... about her parents, school, whatever was in her head. None of us were good communicators.
Next morning, I glanced over at Ophelia as we pulled out of Seb’s garage and began our drive to Warrnambool together. We were both rugged up—it was a cold morning. We would be back from the wreck site just after lunch or earlier if she didn’t want to eat. I bit my lip, while deciding whether to raise it with her or not. Our communication to date hadn’t been great, she was direct, I was tactless. What the heck.
She looked over at me and smiled. “Sure, how are you?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I rolled my eyes. “But you’re not.”
She sighed and looked away.
“Okay, dropping it,” I said.
“Good,” she turned to look at me. “How long will it take to get there?”
“About twenty minutes. Why? You want out already?”
She rolled her eyes and smiled again. “No Mr. Paranoid, I just like to have my bearings. So, since you’ve got a captive audience, tell me about your great, great, descendent who became a hero.”
“Ah, yes, runs in the family,” I said to get a laugh and it worked.
“Go on you big ham,” she encouraged me.
I headed towards the Highway and drawing a deep breath began my tale.
“My ancestor, a very handsome young man lived and worked in Warrnambool and he was in the right place at the right time, not to mention he was phenomenally brave when a shipwreck went down. Still with me?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s hardly complex yet. A lot different from Chayse’s storytelling,” she added.
“Mm, yeah that would have been a dry telling,” I took my eyes off the road to momentarily glance at her. She only mentioned that to get back at me for my last wisecrack, I’m sure.
“Go on,” she said.
It felt nice to have her beside me ... to be friends with a girl and enjoy each other’s company without all the other tension and drama.
I continued: “La Bella was a Norwegian-built ship, a barquentine—that’s a sailing vessel with three or more masts—quite beautiful.”
“I saw a picture of her in the library, when I started my assignment,” she said.
I nodded. “Seb’s got a model of her in his study. Well, La Bella was approaching Warrnambool with a load of timber. She’d come from New Zealand. The seas were really rough and there was a mist too. It was November 1905 and the captain, Captain Mylius ordered the ship steer for the light, as you would. But as it came around, she was hit by a really rough sea.”
I saw her shudder and she rubbed her arms.
“Cold?” I asked, reaching to adjust the air conditioning.
“No,” she assured me. “It’s just that I was on the rock when a huge wave hit and it just roared. Scared me half to death, so I can’t imagine what it would be like being out in a ship in a roaring sea.”
“I know. While I’ve been surfing, I’ve had some huge waves that pinned me to the bottom of the ocean and I thought it was all over. The sea is a harsh mistress,” I said.
“Mm, what’s that from?” she asked.
“So you’re saying I couldn’t come up with a line like that?”
She laughed again.
I was good for her, I’m sure. “Okay, some poet,” I agreed.
“Oh well, that narrows it down,” she made fun of me, again. She was winning. “Please, continue.”
“Ah yes, La Bella. The huge, treacherous ocean struck her, knocking her around, waves breaking over her, until she was literally thrown on to a submerged reef.”
“Ouch,” Ophelia winced.
“I know. You can almost hear the grinding of the reef on the ship’s bottom, can’t you? So, the Warrnambool Harbour Master, whose name was Captain Roe—but spelt Roe not row—and four lifesavers rowed out in a whaleboat to help. Most of the usual lifeboat crew were away and so volunteers were called in,” I stopped for breath.
“And this is where your great, great, great ...”
“Grandfather volunteered,” I finished her sentence. “The other volunteers got the whaleboat out but it was pretty impossible to get near the La Bella because of the breakers. The rescue went on for about ten hours but the lifeboat crew couldn’t get close enough to the ship and were forced to return to shore. The sailors got weaker and were suffering from exposure and exhaustion, and a few got washed overboard.”
“So terrifying,” she shuddered again.
I stopped talking for a moment to negotiate some traffic and we continued on. “So, three of the men were eventually rescued and my relative, William Ferrier sculled out twice in a small dinghy and saved two others including Captain Mylius. The rest of the La Bella crew of twelve were washed overboard. The captain was suspended for twelve months and William was awarded twenty pounds and a silver medal,” I finished on a high.
“One of the drowned men was Chayse’s ancestor then?” I asked.
“Yeah, Pierre Johann was his name. He didn’t make it. Neither did the captain in the long run. It’s said that the stress caused him to have a heart attack six months after the incident; he never sailed again and died at aged thirty-seven.”
“Poor man, I can only imagine. And the wreck is still there, that’s where we’re going,” she stated.
I nodded. “She lies on her port side in the sheltered water inside the reef she struck. This bow section is relatively intact and the reef where she struck is now called La Bella reef.”
“I wonder why more people didn’t do what William did, you know grab a boat and help,” she said.
“Too risky. He seemed like a pretty humble guy though—there’s a record somewhere of his thank you speech and he says ‘I only tried to do my duty, and I am sure that every man ... would have done as much’,”
I said in my best imitation of delivering a speech.
“It was heroic,” she agreed. “I couldn’t do it. Could you?”
I frowned. “I don’t think any of us really know unless we’re tested.”
I was relieved to spend the day with Adam. It was nice sitting beside him, watching him handle the drive so effortless, taking charge and distracting me for a while.
I had a bad night—Jack didn’t show. I don’t know why or where he is. I wish I had never met him. I found myself moving from the aching pain to the anger stage.
I’m just going to have friends from now on, like Adam and the twins, Peggy, Argo and Agnes. Just trust in Uncle Seb and keep life simple for a while.
Adam turned into the Warrnambool breakwater area. It was so beautiful and weird to be constantly surrounded by water here and at home. In my former life, the only time I saw coastal water was the annual Christmas holiday to the Gold Coast for a week. Now I was surrounded by more water than land. He pulled his white four-wheel drive into a car park next to a ute and small sedan.
I thanked him and we got out. I removed my camera from my backpack and threw the strap over my shoulder. Adam grabbed a jacket for me which I offered to carry, but he said he had it under control. Good thing the cars were parked away from the jetty as the waves and sea spray crashed against it with a loud slap.
“The dive boats go from the Lady Bay boat ramp,” Adam said pointing to a ramp in the distance. “We can hire a boat and just go over the top, the wreck is about thirteen metres below the water so you’re not going to see it but you can get an idea of where it lies. Or I can just show you from here.”
It was really rough out there, I mean really rough. He must have read my mind and said, “come on, we’ll have a look at the general area.”
I nodded, pleased. We walked around the area while Adam indicated where the La Bella came in, where it ran into trouble, and where the wreck now lay. I took photos of the area and took it all in. It was amazing to think that a piece of history lay below the surface of the water. If I wasn’t such a scaredy cat I would have loved to have dived below to see it ... maybe one day. I could tell Adam was itching to get into a boat and go out, even to drift over the top of it.
“Sorry to be such a landlubber,” I shrugged. I wondered if he was disappointed in me—I hated to be a wet blanket.
Adam laughed. “It’s pretty wild out there today, let’s not tempt fate.”
“Are you referring to the curse, the myth I mean?” I asked.
He looked surprised. He dug his hands into his jeans pockets and looked at me quizzically.
“Who told you about that?”
“Everyone when I started doing this assignment.”
“Mm,” he said. “It’s just superstition.”
I nodded. “So do you go out after midnight?”
“Not if I can avoid it,” he said.
We left the La Bella wreck area and I took Ophelia to see some of the best swimming and surfing beaches.
I couldn’t believe it—when we headed further down the beach, guess who was there? Yep, Chayse Johann. Every other day he’s surfing at Port Fairy when I’m there, but no today, he decides to surf near his home. The guy’s a dick.
He sees Ophelia, waves, drops the board and has the nerve to come over. Glad to see he’s still sporting a few cuts and bruises since we last met.
“Hey Ophelia,” he says, then looks at me and says my name, “Adam.”
“Chayse,” I expelled his name between gritted teeth.
“What are you doing here?” he asks Ophelia. He’s standing there wet from the ocean in just his boardies, no wetsuit in this cold, and thinking he’s some surf legend.
Ophelia looks to me. “Adam is helping me with my assignment, so we’re checking out the area where La Bella lies and just doing some tourist sightseeing.”
“Yeah, well check out the facts too,” Chayse said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I arked up. I felt Ophelia’s hand go to my chest and she gently pushed me back a step.
“I’m doing plenty of research,” she assured him. “You’ve both been really helpful.” Ophelia steered the subject onto something safe and looking out to sea, said “surf looks good.”
“Yeah you should get back to it,” I suggested.
Chayse ignored me.
“Want me to take you out in the boat?” he asked Ophelia.
I step forward again. “What a good idea since clearly that wouldn’t have occurred to me,” I snapped.
He glared at me and Ophelia physically moved in front of me.
“Ah, thanks Chayse, but we’ve got it covered. In fact, we were just leaving, right Adam?”
Chayse and I were too busy staring each other down for me to answer.
“Right, Adam?” she said a little louder. “Bye, Chayse, good to see you.” She turned, hooked her arm through mine and led me away.
“Yeah see you Lia, catch you Monday at school.”
I’m catching her right now, tonight and all day Sunday too, buddy, I thought. I sighed. Why did I let that idiot get to me? I looked down at Ophelia and she had the trace of a smile upon her lips.
I rolled my eyes. “I know, sorry. It’s just he’s a ...”
“Yeah, I get it,” she cut me off.
“I’m starved. Want to eat?” I asked.
“A coffee at least,” she agreed. She reeled around quickly to stare at someone.
“What’s up?” I asked and looked to see what had distracted her.
She abruptly turned away and looked to the distance.
“Nothing, I just thought I saw someone ... something,” she shook her head.
I could swear her eyes filled with tears but she turned her face from me and when I next glanced, she was back under control. We headed back to my car, I unlocked it and taking her camera, put it and her jacket that I had been carrying in the back. As we were driving away I could see Chayse putting on a show for her; further along the beach lay Imogen with her girlfriends, sunning themselves despite the cold.
“He’s got a gorgeous girlfriend, why’s he hanging around you?” I said without thinking, again.
She looked at me and grimaced. “Yeah, why would you hang around me ... unattractive, anaemic-looking me, when you have Imogen?”
I shook my head. Too late to take that back, I began back-peddling fast.
“I didn’t mean that. You’re gorgeous too, but ... and I mean in a sisterly way ... but I’m just saying when is enough going to be enough for that guy?” I glanced at her and realised I was only making it worse. “I’ll shut up.”
“Are you sure you want to be seen with me for coffee? You could do better,” she asked.
Crap ... this was all Chayse’s fault again. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel, my mind working overtime on how to dig myself out of this one. I turned the car towards the cafe on the foreshore with the beautiful ocean view—that should impress her.