It’s a clear sunny morning when we meet down at the Sorrento Pier to board Searoad’s original Sorrento Ferry, “The Queenscliff”. Master Gus Rogers and his trusty sidekick, Skipper, meet us at the ferry entrance as all the cars are guided on board. Skipper, who was born at the Queenscliff ferry terminal, wears a little “security” coat the girls in the office made her, and is a real hit with the tourists, with Gus bringing her out on most crossings.
As we board the 60 metre long, three storey high, 22 year old vessel, the way the crew direct the cars seems effortless, loading them all in 15 minutes between berths.
“To load and unload up to 75 cars and 500 passengers in such a short time is an extraordinary effort. When it’s busy everyone gets in and helps,” says Gus, and you can tell straight away it’s a real team environment on the Sorrento Ferry.
Up on the bridge, Skipper has her own seat next to Master Gus, and seems rather at home living a life at sea. Six foot, tattooed Gus explains that getting the ferry out of the Sorrento Pier is quite easy but we have to slow down within a few minutes as it’s low tide and only one metre between the floor of the ocean and the keel.
As we start gaining pace again, past Lindsay’s beach and incredible Sorrento properties on the cliff face, two ships are coming up behind us.
“We always give way to ships so have to slow down again,” explains Gus, pointing out the rig tender and brand new helicopter landing ship quickly catching up behind us. “The rig will be going out to Bass Strait no doubt to one of the refineries, and the other is a brand new helicopter landing ship, HMAS Adelaide. Over the equipment, we hear the pilots talking to the launch and Gus explains all vessels are in constant communication.
After the two ships pass, we are on our way, and have only lost a small amount of time.
“The average crossing from Sorrento to Queenscliff is 40 minutes, travelling at six knots most of the way,” says Gus, who started out as a Ferry Captain on this same ferry 26 years ago.
“We do 12 crossings at this time of the year and 14 in the summer time, and now have three ferries.”
For Gus, his day starts at 5am, up for brekkie with Skip and then on board by 6am, working seven day rosters.
“I’m a bit of a boat nut and actually love the water. Skip and I go out on the kayak on our days off and she even has a life jacket,” says Gus, who also owned a 40 foot yacht, and began his ocean career as a navy diver.
“I was in the navy for many years before I started on the ferry, and then worked for the Harbour Trust as a diver. When the ferries came to Queenscliff I applied for a job and got it,” says Gus, an original ferry driver.
Gus explains that they never have a chance to get bored because there’s always something happening.
“If the breeze is over 40 knots then it starts getting interesting and a little difficult to berth at Queenscliff, which is very open to a lot of wind,” says Gus. “We’ve bounced off the posts a couple of times but this ferry was built for the bay so it’s no problem.”
And it’s not unusual to see dolphins swimming at the bow; Gus makes sure he slows down so the passengers can see them.
“We try to make the passengers experience as much fun as possible and they love seeing the dolphins. This year we also had two killer whale sightings which were incredible.”
They have even picked up stray surfers and divers along the way.
“We sometimes have to rescue surfers or jetski riders who are stranded and even rescued a couple of divers from Pope’s Eye one time. Their dive boat had left them behind,” says Gus with a laugh.
Although a total professionl now, Gus admits the first time he drove the ferry was a bit daunting.
“In those days there was a lot of sand so we had only a small area to manoeuvre the ferry. Sorrento is great but Queenscliff can be a daunting place. It took me a few weeks to get used to the conditions there,” says Gus, who has clearly got it down pat now as we berth smoothly on the other side of the bay.
On the bridge, Gus’s second in command, Steve Lock works his way around the room, checking equipment and keeping an eye out. Chief engineer, Peter Lumpreiksas, sticks his head in and tells us to come and check out the engine room when we dock.
A marine engineer all his life, Peter has worked on the ferries for two years, and makes sure the engines run smoothly. It’s a loud area down in the engine room where ear muffs are an essential part of everyday working procedure.
“It’s a great life working on the ferry,” says the man who previously had to travel away from home for work. “Now I can do my shifts and spend the rest of my time surfing at the backbeach in Rye.”
Back on deck, the team including Master Gus are all out there guiding the new group of cars and passengers onto the ferry. We meet Gus upstairs for another smooth exit from Queenscliff and head back home to Sorrento.
“It’s a clear run and a good day for it,” says Gus, who will have 10 more crossings after this one.
Looking back at Gus on the bridge with the wide open sea all around him, blue skies and smooth sailing, you can’t help think there could be worse places to call your office.
If you want to know more about Searoad Ferries visit their website searoad.com.au