AFTER the Post published my first lot of Remo Memoirs (Weekends at Remo, September 14, 2020), it was nigh on impossible for me not to think about more poignant and funny times and happenings. As my dear Mum, Florence ‘Fofo’ Chambers would have said, “Tales to everything”.
Given the San Remo pier was such an important part of the town’s social and economic fabric it’s not surprising that so much happened in and around this structure. We kids used it as a playground in more ways than one. Playing in the craypot dinghies on the inside arm, paddling our hollow 3-ply “plank” surfboards in and around it, and using the beach between it and the bridge as the “be seen social place”. Swinging off the crane and into the water below was also popular. But this had to be checked first, otherwise a very hard and disastrous landing on one of the fishermen’s crayfish storage “caufs” would be your fate.
My love of fishing comes from Mum as she took brother Ron and me down the pier at slack tide to try to catch a feed. Dad made us fish traps out of an iron frame and chook wire. We used those to great effect. To this day, I can still feel Mum’s hand in the back of my belt as I leant over the side of the pier.
Mum and I also took a fish trap out on to the mudbanks opposite Edgar Road on an evening low tide, anchored it with stones and went back next morning to see if we’d caught a feed. Paddling out to the old breakwater with fish trap on surfboard was frowned on, but I did it whenever I could get away with it. (Bigger leatherjackets out there!)
When we moved to 23 Ocean View Drive, Ernie’s spot in the house was right by the living room window, so he could sit and look at “his view’. The gravel track behind Ocean View Drive was known as Bonsai Alley. I’ll let you, dear reader, guess where that one came from. (Gotta be able to see that water …) When a gale blew he’d say, “That wind would blow the sugar out of your tea down here”. We fed that line to John Williamson and he used it in a concert during the intro of his song “Winter in Wonthaggi”. Still waiting for the free tickets!
My first boat “Sarelle 1” was a rubber dinghy and I made a collapsible skid frame to take it up and back from the house to Bonwick’s Beach. The idea being to just row out far enough on an outgoing tide, fish the slack tide, then row back in on the incoming tide. Ron could do no wrong out on the water, but Ernie was convinced I was going to drown …
Though perhaps it was just as well Dad didn’t know that when on a boys’ fishing weekend in Sarelle 2, the 4.3 metre Quinnie, we went out into Bass Strait when it was really far too rough to do so. I’ve never concentrated as hard as I did that day on catching the back of that third wave to surf us back past Red Point. Methinks the Western Port sea gods wanted me to still be around when the time came to fight the Hastings container port …
From that day on we’d sit just inside Woolamai and look to the seaward horizon and if the “lump index”, aka the swell, was too high, we’d stay where we were. But the calm, sunny days “outside” (fishing lingo for Bass Strait), with 40 plus metres of deep blue water under the keel, with the towering granite cliffs of Woolamai as a backdrop and the big flatties on the bite, were days to be treasured.
Occasionally it was safe enough to do a round Phillip Island trip. When you get to the Nobbies and Woolamai starts to drop below the horizon …very special! Not to mention when we were lucky enough to have some beautiful dolphins wanting to play in our bow wave, as we steamed through that long lazy swell. Guided boat tours for guests took us just outside Woolamai, where there is a cave in the rocks and a small rocky outcrop, aka Gull Island. Folks were told to go home and tell everyone that they had “circumnavigated Gull Island”. Younger guests were told about the “Pirate’s Cave.”
In my later Newhaven Yacht Squadron years, I ran some wonderful round French Island trips. These were totally dependent on getting to the north-east corner of Western Port at high tide, otherwise no water! The coastline on both sides, ie French Island and Lang Lang, is very flat and if not for the Woolamai hills in the background and the caravans in the Lang Lang Caravan park, you could be anywhere nautical on the planet!
Later I joined the Corinella Anglers Club and very quickly became aware of the “fiefdom” that was the Corinella Boat Ramp, with Tony the Ramp master in charge. Woe betide you if you got on his wrong side. It was much, much, worse if he came out of his little shed with his yellow safety vest on. However, his OH&S attire was compromised by the shorts and thongs!
The classic example of this was peak snapper season in the middle of the Hastings Port battle. Cars and trailers were lined up back as far as the general store. These guys had nothing to do but read my anti-Hastings port brochures and as long as I only handed them out in the trailer queue, or in the trailer car park, all was well. The ramp was forbidden.
As for a “fishy story”, it’s hard to top what happened to my great mate and mentor Bob Leschen. One day out of Corinella he lost his best fishing rod over the side. After many “bother it’s” and “damn’s”, he put his other rod in the water and, lo and behold, caught the first rod!
In a book on fishing Western Port, the author, a well-known fishing identity, comments on the big tidal variations and the vast amount of low tide mudbanks. He states that there are two kinds of fishermen in Western Port. Those who run aground and those that have yet to do so. He neglected the third kind: those who lie!