We sailed into the Bay of Islands on a sunny Wednesday morning with a steady breeze, diving petrels, and penguins greeting the boat. I wanted to cry. At least, tears welled in my eyes. New Zealand. Beautiful, beautiful, destination.
In the first two days I dissolved in a fuzz of comfort; melted into a
comfort of familiarity. Our first evening took us to a pub with local
beer on tap and great fries, followed by a bar with posh pizza (superb
crust and toppings) and fantastic live music. The singer and guitarist,
supported by his extremely able bass player, rolling out old and new
favourites time after time. Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam,
Sublime, Bob Dylan, Hendrix… an eclectic combination that, combined
with the local wine, beer, rum, language, culture, ambience, mood, and
extreme exhaustion, all reacted explosively into a great night out.
On our first morning Andy returned from the local shop with ingredients
for breakfast. I coo’d and yaay’d with every item he pulled items out
the bag. Bacon! Mushrooms!! Toast! Orange Juice! Fresh Liquid Milk!
Carrots!!! Crunchy Apples! Live Yoghurt! Tomatoes! Fresh Crispy Green
Green lettuce! Avocadoes! And so on. We were laughing with expectation
before the first item was even tasted.
Next came the delights of many hot showers (really hot, really strong,
unlimited water at a price of $1 for 4 minutes), the industrial scale
laundromat (we washed everything, ev-ri-thing), the hose pressurised
with fresh water at the dock where we moored, the cafe with frothy
lattes, and the endless greenery in all directions where we could walk
and walk and walk. In the first days we both developed aches at the
bottom of our shins, where leg meets ankle.
For four days Andy emptied and scrubbed the boat while I took over the
washing machines. Recently worn clothes stank. Warm clothes stored in
bags for nine months were full of mildew. Sleeping bags, blankets,
pillows, woolen jumpers, hats, towels, sail covers, lee cloths…. they
all got washed, dried, folded, and put away. Books, food crates,
cupboards, kitchenware, cables and wires, drawers, charts and
navigational guides, were all cleaned and sorted out. During one
afternoon removing mould from a seldom-visited corner of the forepeak,
Andy found a leaflet appropriately entitled ‘how to grow a garden in
your galley’. It was about sprouting.
We gave away a big tarp and an inflatable dinghy, never used the whole
way across. We gave away books. We packed away clothes. We created
space, and a space in which to breathe again. We re-created a home in
our home. We phoned our families. And we caught up with lots of folk
we’d met along the way.
And then we got ready to leave again. One more journey, taking Zephyrus
to a place where we will take her out of the water and give her a great
big thankyou birthday. Without going too crazy (I hope), we will remove
and replace the paint from the waterline down, repaint the topsides,
strip and varnish the cockpit, and maybe even slap some paint around
inside. Give her a great big thankyou while we still have the energy.
Make her a beautiful place to be again, and a boat that we’ll be able to
enjoy sailing around New Zealand without always thinking of the work
that needs doing.
We set off and had a lovely time. The first day we didn’t even take the
sail covers off despite fifteen knots on the beam. We motored for four
hours to a beautiful island and then tumbled up a hill. The second
day we sailed around the corner, not far at all, gently and slowly,
deliciously. The third day we rounded Cape Brett, temporarily leaving
the Bay of Islands and working our way down the coast towards Whangarei.
The whole journey could be done in a day but we chose to take five. On
each day we left in the morning, arrived shortly after lunch, had a
siesta, then went for walk. We slept, stretched, talked about nothing
much, and enjoyed the place so very much. A wonderful destination, New
The unfortunate truth is that I don’t love sailing. I don’t mind it, at
times I quite like it, and I love what you can do with it, where you can
go, the nature of the travel. I even think that I understand,
hypothetically, what the fuss is all about. But I don’t love it for
itself. For the feeling of soaring along, the tilt of the boat, the
matching of fluttering tell-tales that make her fly just-so. I’m not
bothered if the luff flaps or we keep a reef in longer than necessary.
Infact, I’m happy going slower. The adrenalin of sailing I do feel, but
it’s not always invigorating. Rather, it triggers a sense of fear.
Playing on the limits of control is not my thing.
But I do love that we’re here. And New Zealand is beautiful. I would be
very happy living here and sailing Zephyrus around the country’s many
bays. She seems perfectly suited to day sails and night anchorages. Or,
maybe that’s me. Whenever we find a secluded bay, bracketed by green
rolling hills and empty beaches, I am in love with the moment. When, at
night, I see a skyful of southern stars and not a man-made light for
miles, I want to burst into song. Yes, I love it, I love it, and I feel
so very lucky to be here.
So there it is. One lifestyle, different loves. We are both having a
wonderful time exploring this area. The landscape is gorgeous, and
familiar. The coast reminds me a lot of Ireland and parts of Cornwall,
and the inland bits of Wales. Scenery that I’d never get tired of waking
up to, as long as the sun shines.
At times on the way down, I take the wheel. I raise the jib. I winch up
the mainsail. We do our usual anchoring duet. (When we anchor he’s at
the helm, I drop the hook, and tie up the chain with an upside-down
rolling hitch. When we leave, he winches it up while I flake the chain
inside.) Even as we sail Andy says -too close, mate- or -look at the
telltales-. Still gently teaching me because I’ve said I want to learn.
“I want to learn to sail in New Zealand”, I said.
But it’s not true. What I want, is to love it. Not just gain
proficiency. I want to love it love it love it, and want to be out there
living it loving it.
As he tells me to watch the sails I feel the petulance of a nine year
old welling up. Like for some reason I’m blocking my ability to love it
because he loves it so much. The navigation and weather, that so many
people rightly assume are my realm, surely interest me a lot. I think
they’re very cool indeed and can geek out with the best of the fanatics.
But I don’t love them.
What I love is that we just sailed nine thousand miles from southern
Chile to New Zealand in a thirty-seven foot concrete boat.
I phoned my brother in New York for a chat. He was simultaneously out
for dinner (asian fusion), babysitting a two yearold, juggling work
engagements, climbing a tree, and talking to his sister in New Zealand.
From behind the scenes the toddler’s mother asked when I would next be
in the City, to which I found myself divulging our latest daydream. New
Zealand- Japan-Kamkatcha- Aleutions-Alaska- northern B.C- Vancouver.
Then (take a breath), put the boat on a truck to the Great Lakes, sail
up the St Lawrence to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, then round the
corner and down the east coast to New York City, passing the Statue of
Liberty on the way in.
“Oscar will be in college by then!”, she exclaimed. And that may well be
So, if I don’t like sailing, why are we, am I, not talking about
quitting? At this I can only guess. The lifestyle, if we can find a way
of making it sustainable, will be addictive. For all the hard times, and
scary seas, and frustration of dependency and lack of purpose, and the
days and days of ‘why am I here?’, it has an amazing, un-matchable,
freedom associated with it. As well as life-enriching adventures.
To travel by wind and wave, in your own home, across oceans and between
countries. To stay in foreign lands for as long as you’re welcome. And
be able to leave whenever the mood changes. To meet and make friends
around the globe, learn their stories, and share the stories. To
understand better the Earth as one physical place, our place, our home,
regardless of religion, race, climate, and politics. And also inclusive
Could it be that on some level adventurers and travellers are like
musicians and artists: while many of us can’t exactly say what the point
is, we know we wouldn’t want to live in a world without them.
I am in love. With this life, this country, my life, this area, all
We bought a car on a deposit of a chocolate bar (33% cocoa solids, with
almonds), rented an apartment for my friends on a handshake, bought
mobile phones with cheap international rates, hauled out in a yard where
showers are hot and everything is possible, and the sun shines every day.
Sometimes, there are times in your life when nothing seems to be going
right. You don’t meet the right people, everything is hard, life is at a
standstill and existence feels like stagnation in a murky swamp. Then
there are times on the other end of the spectrum when things run so
smoothly it’s hard to keep up. We barely think the need and a solution
Be wary what you wish for, it might just come true.
So I skip through my days of chores and admin, hardware shops and
supermarkets, with a smile on my face. Is it just the change in scenery,
the appreciation of finding ourselves in a western country where things
work and people speak our language, or is life actually silver-lined
And then I think about those days at sea, the months even, the times
that were amazing, and the times that were really hard, and I realise
that at no point did I feel like I was in a murky swamp, and at no point
did I not feel alive, and how much more did those experiences make me
appreciate the simple things, the easy things, the lovely things, and
the dull things, of this life that we used to call ordinary.
If you don’t want the easy life then, by default, it’s going to be hard.
Which isn’t the same as bad, though there are times when you wonder.
Already I can sense a rose-tinted hue infusing my memory. Crossing the
Pacific? Yeah- it was amazing, really amazing… absolutely you should
do it. Chance in a lifetime.