Monday, August 24, 2009

Local Knowledge

“WHY?” Max wanted to know. “WHY do you want to circumnavigate New Zealand?”

“Because it would be beautiful and poetic,” I replied, sounding like a total idiot.

He peered at me, not sure if I was pulling his leg. “But why not go up and down the East Coast? It’d be a damn sight warmer, for a start. All the good harbours are on the East Coast. There’s beautiful fishing.”

He made it sound tempting. And while I scoff at the concerns of people who don’t sail—namely, my mother—Max had already sailed around New Zealand. Alone. He knew what he was talking about, which was why we’d invited him to dinner, along with his partner Jen. We were spilling over with questions about safe harbours and potential itineraries, but first Max wanted to ascertain what the hell it was we thought we were doing.

“Let me put it this way.” He began folding his paper napkin between large, leathery palms. “What do you WANT from this trip? Do you want to have a nice, cruisy time? Because you’re not in California here. When it turns to shit, it turns to shit fast. It can be very bloody uncomfortable out there.”

“I want to write a book about New Zealand,” I told him, sloshing more Shiraz in our glasses. We were drinking a wine with the unfortunate name of Shipwreck Red. “I want to learn about the history, and see the country, and have adventures, and write about them.”

“You know Bill Bryson?” Peter joined in. “She’s going to be the next Bill Bryson.”

To his credit, Max did not visibly roll his eyes. Instead, he did his best to dissuade us.

“Stewart Island,” he began, “is the southernmost harbour in the world, apart from Cape Horn. They don’t even talk about swell down there. You get on the radio and listen to the fishermen, they’re all on about the lift.”

“Lift?” It sounded nice, like fluffy white clouds and magic carpet rides.

“Lift,” he repeated. “They’ll say ‘there’s a lift of twelve out there, can’t run the ferries.’”

“Twelve feet?” Peter smiled broadly. “But that’s no big deal, depending on the frequency of the waves. It’s if they’re breaking you’ve got a problem.” He leaned back in the forepeak, pleased with his command of nautical lore.

Max looked triumphant. “Twelve metres, boy. Swells of twelve metres. With a metre or two of chop, blowing off the top.”

Oh. Twelve metres is thirty-six feet. That’s the size of Sereia. I swallowed, the wine burning my throat.

Max drove his point home. “Why d’you think there’s so many Kiwis in all the great sailing races of the world? The whole country’s got the same population as Boston, and there’s a hell of a lot more Kiwis in the races than blokes from Boston.”

“Um. Because Kiwis like to sail?” I asked tentatively.

“NAH. Because it’s a prick, girl. It’s a prick out there.”

“So what are you saying, Max?” Peter wanted to know. “Are you saying we shouldn’t go? That it’s too dangerous?”

Max looked surprised, like we’d just bit him on the ankle. “NAH I’m not bloody saying that. I’m just saying be aware of what you’re dealing with. And listen to the weather. And take it seriously. Because it can bloody well smoke out there, and you don’t want to be caught in the shit.”

No. I certainly didn’t want to be caught in the shit. Certainly not with my baby on board. The mood of our happy little dinner party began to feel uncomfortably glum.

I tried to brighten things up. “So Max,” I asked, “after your trip, was there anything you wish you’d done differently? Anything you wish you’d seen, that you missed?”

He nodded, looking over at Jen. “I would have liked to have someone to share it with. Some of that scenery is so magnificent, you can’t believe what you’re seeing. You get punch drunk with the beauty of it. And when you finish,” he smiled fondly, “it is a magical sense of accomplishment. It would have been great if she’d come with me.”

Beside me, Jen burst out laughing. “Ha! Not me. I’m not stupid!”

Oh. I thought. Are we?


  1. Antonia writes.."Oh. I thought. Are we?"

    I write...."Yes. I believe you are!"

  2. Not stupid, just too much risk in my opinion. Stay on the East coast first. It makes no sense to go south first after having been on land for over a year. Shake out the cobwebs and get the baby (and yourselves) used to the boat. Sailing with kids will make your brain explode, you don't need the added worry of 12 meter waves.

  3. Whether you change your plans or decide to circumnavigate, I don't think you need to go around NZ to write a book. I think you've got all you need to do it already inside your head.

  4. Questions:
    Looking at your blog it seems you have missed out on cruising Bay of Islands, Auckland immediate islands, Great Barrier Island, in fact the majority of acknowledged choice cruising grounds in New Zealand.

    Now I can understand if you need to come up with a book for commerical purposes and thus need the
    West and South coast element to add something extra.

    Still, why charge out and bypass the areas NZ is renouned for? Hell, you have to go through it to get to the other parts anyway. But ahhh, any seasoned sailor understands, and I'll answer my own question. One doesn't "do" west coast in winter. So that means your window for it is approaching.

    Still, what a shame to bypass the good parts for the extreme parts.

    To each their own. Bon voyage.

  5. Do what your heart dictates. You know enough about risks by now and how to handle the seas and your boat. Adding a baby into the mix ups the challenge somewhat. Good luck.

    I love your blog. You are very funny and I really relate to what you are talking about.


  6. p.s if you feel inclined to drop by my blog site.


  7. wherever you go, I can't wait to read all about it!