Monday, September 14, 2009


The other day I was having tea with a friend, and I asked her where the toilet was. When I excused myself to head off down the corridor, she hollered, “YOU DON’T HAVE TO THROW IT OUT THE WINDOW,” a gesture that was surely intended to be helpful to trolls like me who’ve used buckets for so long that we’ve forgotten how indoor plumbing works. So I peed on the carpet and festooned the walls with toilet paper, then returned to the living room to finish my tea. I hate disappointing my friends.

But the truth of the matter is that we’ve left the bucket phase of our lives behind us. When Peter dismantled the head this last time, he discovered that her main pump arm had snapped clean through, the victim of twenty-odd years of metal fatigue, corrosion, and low-fiber diets. There was nothing, short of Jesus, that could resurrect her. We progressed through the typical stages of grief: the anger, the denial, the guilt. Finally we accepted the fact that the only thing that could lift us from our life of eighteenth-century squalor was a new toilet, so we bought the cheapest one we could find. It’s plastic, and it’s made in Taiwan.

We’re not getting rid of the bucket.

But we are going sailing. Yes, three and a half months after leaving Invercargill, after an exhausting boat refit and a series of terrifying diagnoses for our son, we’re raising a sail. We’ll just head toward the Bay of Islands at first, an easy jaunt to an area with lots of fascinating history. There’s Waitangi, where New Zealand became an official part of the British Empire, and Russell, once known as “the Hellhole of the Pacific,” presumably because it was one helluva place for a party. Back in the day, the whole town was awash in whale blubber, booze and cheap whores, although now you’re more likely to find souvenir shops and a rather chic breakfast cafĂ© or two.

I’ve been studying the history of the Bay of Islands, which gives me a valuable perspective on our voyage. While we’ve had our share of troubles, just think of poor Marion du Fresne, captain of the French ship Mascarin. In 1772, he and his men were logging kauri up in the Bay of Islands, working with the local Maori tribes to fix up their ships and reprovision. Somehow, they managed to annoy the locals, and before they knew what hit them, Marion and two dozen of his men were slaughtered, cooked and eaten.

When their captain failed to show up, the French stormed the local village, and they found Marion. Or rather, they found what was left of him: “the skull of a man which had been cooked some days before. All the remaining flesh had been eaten and upon the skull itself were still to be seen the traces of the teeth of the cannibals.”*

Death at the hands of cannibals. And to top it all off, the year was 1772. I guarantee you Marion had to shit in a bucket.

All things considered, buckets and brain-damaged babies aren’t so bad. It could be worse. There could be cannibals gnawing on our skulls.

* Dumas, Alexandre. Translated by F. W. Reed. Captain Marion. Christchurch: Cadsonbury Publications, 1998.


  1. Arrrr, I likes me a wee child for breakfast. In the Zee, where men are men and sheep are nervous, always remember, cook a round headed nipper feet first and don't spare the horseradish.......Right, now, off to McDs......m

  2. Russell was my favorite town in my 4 month tour of NZ. Great sailing in the vicinity and the friendliest people. Smell of flowers in the air. This was in 1993, so hopefully things haven't changed too much.

  3. It's inspiring that y'all got going so quickly on your refit. I really enjoy your updates and think Silas is the cutest! Happy trails with lots of booze along the way.