SASHA AND THE SNIFFER DOG

2005

Sasha’s grandparents, Janny and Warry, bought a boat and called it L’ARGO. They quickly learned how to navigate and tie knots that wouldn’t come undone as easily as Sasha’s shoelaces.

They put life jackets and lots of food on board, and kissed Sasha goodbye.

“We are going to practice boating and when we get really good at it we can all go for a holiday together in the Whitsundays. We can anchor L’ARGO in quiet bays and put on our goggles, snorkels and flippers and jump in the water to look at the pretty coloured coral and amazing reef fish” they told her.

Sasha was used to her grandparents ducking off to strange places she had never heard of before. She got out the atlas and said “so show me where THIS place is, please.”

Warry, who was a wizard with maps and directions loved it when Sasha asked him these sort of questions.

“Well, Sasha,” he said, “The Whitsundays are a group of islands that are close to the Great Barrier Reef. Some have resorts on them where people can have relaxing holidays eating icecreams by the swimming pool, but others are deserted and with safe anchorages in the bays around them where we can enjoy the peace and beauty of nature.”

“Hmmmm” said Sasha, “Will I be able to take my bike?” (Sasha had a beautiful new bike that still had its Christmas gift ribbons tied to the handlebars, even though it was already the month of May.)

“No Sash,” said Warry, “you’ll be paddling a ski around instead of peddling your bike.”

“Warry, I’d really like to come, but I’ll miss Griffin and Buster.” Sasha pulled a long face. “Sash, did you know that L’ARGO has two big engines that have the same amount of strength as 860 real horses. We actually say that an engine has “horsepower” when we talk about how powerful it is,” Warry explained.

“Wow, Warry,” said Sasha, with her eyes lighting up, “so what do L’ARGO’S horses eat? You must have to take a lot of hay for them.”

Warry laughed. “Diesel, Sasha, a lot of it. L’ARGO carries about 3000 litres of diesel to feed her horses. She can travel about 1000 kilometres before she runs out of food for them.”

Sasha concentrated hard to understand this. She knew how much a litre was because here mummy sometimes sent her to the shop to get “a litre of milk, and ok, an iceblock too.” And Sasha knew how far 1000 kilometres was too, because her other grandparents had their home in Brisbane which was about 1000 kilometres from Sydney, where Janny and Warry lived. It took a long time to drive there, over one whole day.

“OK, I’ll come then, because I think L’ARGO’S horses will go faster than Griffin!” said Sasha with a twinkle in her eye.

So Janny and Warry and two of their friends, Kay and Max, boarded L’ARGO with armfuls of important things like pillows and Scrabble and fishing rods and two-way radios and satellite phones and magazines and seasick tablets and sunhats and binoculars and actually so much stuff that they wondered how it would all fit in a boat that was only 15 metres long.

“Look!” exclaimed Kay, “there’s a bit more room under the stairs – we can squeeze the baked beans and sardines in there….”
“No, no!” shouted Warry, “not there. I want that spot for the BBQ tools. Put the beans under the bed. If you lift the mattress there’s a hatch underneath. You might fit the brown sugar and salt in there too.”

Kay and Janny winked at each other. With raised eyebrows Kay said “Warry, you obviously don’t do the cooking. Beans under the bed? When you want beans on toast for breakfast in a week’s time, no-one will remember where they are.”

Then Janny got the best idea she had EVER had. “It’s alright Kay. We’ll just have to bring a SNIFFER DOG on board.” Jan was already missing her poodles, Inca and Karma – almost as much as she was missing Sasha and her sisters! Janny continued. “Warry, I know we have to look for storage spots in all the hidey holes on L’ARGO. And I’ve already put the cashew nuts and blackcurrant juice under the lounge, so OK, I think I can remember that. But the doonas behind the anchor winch and shoes on the left side of the tool box and bananas behind the ceiling lining? Kay, do you agree that we need a SNIFFER DOG?”

Now Kay was Janny’s best friend. Kay also had very curly hair, enjoyed eating anchovies straight out of the tin and missed her dogs that had been left at home. So of course she agreed with Janny. “A really good idea! Then we can say “go fetch, pooch, find the tinned peaches!”

“NO DOGS ON BOARD L’ARGO!” said Warry in his strict Captain-Of-The-Boat voice.

Kay and Janny winked at each other again, and whispered to each other at the same time “that’s what HE thinks”

Warry pushed the buttons that fired L’ARGO’S engines. The horses were loose at last! Janny untied the ropes that kept L’ARGO tethered to the dock and quickly jumped aboard.

Heading north from Brisbane they cruised along the Queensland coast stopping every night for a good sleep. Mooloolaba, Fraser Island, Pancake Creek, Bundaberg, Keppel Island, Island Head Creek, Middle Percy Island, Mackay, Tongue Bay, Airlie Beach… So many new places to show Sasha on the map.

Every morning they tuned their radio into weather reports to check the speed of the wind and the height of the waves. On days when it was too windy to be comfortable at sea, Warry and Max would visit chandleries and hardware shops to stock up on equipment for L’ARGO. (Chandleries are like toy shops for people who like boats. They sell rope and shackles and fenders and plastic plates that won’t break when the boat rolls around a lot at breakfast time.)

Kay and Janny liked to head off in a little rented car to find the best cappuccinos in town. And buy more emergency food to hide – brown bread, packets of cereal and teabags, just in case there were no more windy days for shopping.
And they liked meeting the pets that were with their people on other boats berthed in the marinas. They didn’t stay chatting for long to the cranky parrot that was being scolded for “biting mummy” but they liked the Devon Rex cat with the big ears and the posh red collar and lead. But they ALWAYS talked to the dogs. In fact, there were SO many dogs traveling on boats that Janny and Kay suspected that lots of other people had trouble finding their tinned peaches too!

There were five fridges on L’ARGO to store fresh and frozen food. Janny refused to let Warry put his screwdrivers and coils of rope in her iceboxes. “They are for FOOD only. WHEN I get a sniffer dog I’ll be able to find all the hidden food and THEN we will have spare space for your bits and pieces. Warry frowned “NO DOGS, definitely NO DOGS on board.”

Cruising along on L’ARGO was very pleasant on a fine day. But when the wind got strong and the waves got bigger, everyone had to hang on carefully, especially climbing the steep stairs to the flybridge. On those days being on L’ARGO was like being on the Scooby Doo ride at Movie World. Over and over and over again.

At night Janny and Warry slept in a cabin that had portholes instead of windows, and a big hatch in the ceiling that opened up so they could see the stars at night.

Kay and Max slept in another cabin and they could see the brilliant night sky through their hatch too. In a third cabin were a pair of bunk beds, perfect for Sasha and one of her sisters. And in the saloon there was another double bed. Lots and lots of places to sleep comfortably on L’ARGO! So finding somewhere for a sniffer dog to sleep would be no problem.

When L’ARGO was anchored up in quiet bays, Warry would lower the rubber dinghy from the flybridge where it was stored. He used a small crane called a “davit” to avoid hurting his back. When the dinghy was safely in the water he’d tie it to the big boat, then load the passengers from the swim platform at the stern. He’d check that the oars and anchor were aboard, and there was plenty of fuel in the tank for the outboard motor. Then LITTLE L’ARGO would zoom to the shore where they would unload their picnic baskets and snorkeling gear and spend time exploring. (And give the sniffer dog a run, imagined Janny!) There were shells to collect, fish and coloured coral to stare at through goggles and rock pools to explore.

On board L’ARGO they watched sharp eyed seabirds diving from the sky when they spotted small fish for their dinner, turtles popping their bald heads up to find out where they were and dolphins playing in the waves.

In the evenings, after an always really scrumptious dinner prepared by the onboard chefs, Janny and Kay, the L’ARGONAUTS, as they decided to call themselves, would play games or watch a DVD, just like at home. Or just relax on the flybridge and try to count the stars.

Because L’ARGO was a brand new boat she had all modern equipment. She had a TV that popped out of a cupboard when a secret button was pressed There was a clothes washer and dryer, a dishwasher and a satellite phone that could also pick up emails. And there was a microwave and a machine to make fresh water out of the salty sea and a generator to make power for the kettle, toaster, hairdryer and other electrical gadgets (“when you could find them,” thought Janny, knowing that the sniffer dog would fix that problem).

But by the end her first week on board Janny had snoozed on all the beds, watched the telly, defrosted the peas in the microwave, made heaps of water for her hot showers, washed all the clothes and dishes in their clever machine, collected all her emails, styled her hair with the hairdryer, and cooked her toast in the toaster and put the butter on it and gone hunting for the Vegemite BUT…

Every morning she hunted, but disappointed when she could never find it, she sadly ate her toast with yukky peanut butter instead. She looked under the bed, behind the stairs to the flybridge, under the BBQ lid, in the cutlery drawer, and in the box with the pens and pencils.

One morning, Warry said to Janny “Are you happy with the new boat? Is there anything else we need to live on board comfortably?”

Janny had been waiting for this opportunity.

“Warry, since you’ve asked, I’ll tell you now that there are TWO things we need….”

“Let me guess…” said Warry, who could honestly not think of another thing they needed. “Do we need a helicopter or a swimming pool?”

“NO room left for them under the stairs” said Janny, smiling.

“What about a lawn mower or a tractor?” said Warry

Janny didn’t bother answering THIS silly question.

“Maybe 1000 pairs of sneakers and a million packets of bubble gum?” Warry was being completely silly this time.

“SO wrong, try again..” said Janny.

Warry got a bit warmer when he said “Would you like a cranky parrot or a Devon Rex cat?” And when he asked if Janny would like a pony she called him a duffer, because there were already plenty of seahorses in the ocean all around them.

“I give up” said Warry.

“Warry,” she spoke very clearly so he would hear every word. “We do truly really need a SNIFFER DOG. If you had guessed this you would have been absolutely and completely correct!” And she told him about the missing Vegemite, and the spare toilet paper and the camera batteries that she had been unable to find.

Warry did not reply. He was thinking about his answer. But he did ask Janny what the second thing was that they needed.

Janny grinned. “It’s SASHA. We need Sasha. To come snorkeling with us. To make pancakes with me, to steer the boat with you …”

Warry, with the biggest smile on his face ever, interrupted,
“I know, I know…….AND FEED THAT SNIFFER DOG!”

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