The Cornell family’s maiden voyage aboard the SS DAZZLE – a 30-foot motor cruiser purchased by father Darren as a present to himself on the occasion of his 50th birthday – has gone surprisingly well, given Mr Cornell’s limited maritime experience and general ineptitude around anything mechanical in nature or requiring spatial awareness.
Witnesses report long-suffering wife Meredith and children Phoebe and Scott were unusually impressed by the calm authority with which Cornell navigated the SS DAZZLE up the Clarence River, from Yamba to Grafton, last Saturday morning.
“From the moment we set out from Yamba Marina, Daz seemed so … informed and knowledgeable … which are two attributes not often applied to my husband, god love ‘im.” recalls Meredith.
“First of all, Daz knew where to find the boat ramp, which was a bonus. Then, when we’d launched and scooted over to Iluka for a stickybeak, he told us a great story about how the Sedger’s Reef Hotel got its name – how in the fifties, a fella named Cecil Sedger took over the Iluka Pub and the hotel gained a reputation with the local fishos as a great place for a beer before (or instead of) going fishing. Soon tourists began to ask where they could find this wonderful fishing spot known as ‘Sedger’s Reef’ and the name for the pub stuck.”
As the Cornell family ventured further upriver, Mr Cornell regaled his wife and offspring with a detailed account of Harwood’s unique and harmonious history, and how when CSR bought the sugar mill in 1872, ‘things really started to thrive’.
“Dad’d just finished telling us about Harwood ‘n’ that” recalls son Scott, “when he looks at the bridges up ahead of us, squints and says ‘I reckon the clearance on that new bridge’d be about… ahhhh, 29.4 metres, give or take’.
“Deadset, who needs Wikipedia when Dad gets on a roll like this?”
It was as they moved past Maclean – with her father making a well-informed assessment of the merits of taking either the South Arm to Ulmarra, or sticking to the main river route – that daughter Phoebe noticed her father had carefully secreted a copy of “Clarence Cruising – A Mariner’s Guide To The Clarence River” (a free publication produced by Clarence Valley Council) under the tartan rug next to his perch at the wheel, and was sneaking glances at it when he thought no-one was looking.
Phoebe subtly alerted her mum and brother to the source of Mr Cornell’s source of new-found knowledge, but instead of calling him to account, they indulged their father’s little scheme, and marvelled out loud at his extraordinary knowledge and insights of the Mighty Clarence River.
Thus they chuckled appreciatively when, passing by the gorgeous village of Lawrence, Daz informed them that, with a light breeze from the right direction, the aroma from the Lawrence Tavern’s woodfire pizza oven has been known to lure passing sailors; or were they to pull up to the Brushgrove pub for lunch, they’d be taking in the same view from “The Brushy’s” verandah that patrons have been enjoying for over a century and a half, and so on.
Passing by Ulmarra, the Cornells remembered their adventure there fondly, and despite the temptation to put ashore, pressed on for Grafton, all the while oohing and aaahing at their father’s glorious newfound ability to predict bridge and powerline clearances, potential hazards, and items of interest, long before they would come into view.
Daz’s crowning moment of glory came after passing under the two Grafton bridges, where –excitedly pointing out the wreck of the SS INDUNA and sharing its claim to fame as the boat that carried a young Winston Churchill to freedom after escaping an African military prison in the 1899 Boer War – Mr Cornell proudly recited the note Churchill politely left for his captors: “As I do not consider that your Government have any right to detain me as a military prisoner, I have decided to escape from your custody.”
At this stage, with a growling tummy and an impatient desire to step ashore and grab lunch in South Grafton, son Scott suggested that “Dad, you’re either making this up, or you’ve got some kind of amazing guidebook hidden under that towel there.”
Realising the game was up, Darren Cornell felt a familiar twinge of embarrassment, but it had been too glorious day on the water to let anything bother him. He checked the guide, engaged the throttle, and set off for the pontoon on the eastern bank, smiling to himself as he pondered whether or not to tell his beloved family about next weekend’s whitewater trail adventure.
• Clarence Cruising: A Mariner’s Guide, is available from https://www.myclarencevalley.com/cruising-the-clarence