Eager to find out, we organised Azur’s birthday party at the marina, with no other plan B than using Obelix and the marina lounge for shelter in case of extreme weather. Needless to say that… More
12 January: Kahangaro, Cavalli Islands
Departing from the idyllic Okahu Passage is not an easy thing, but we’ve been promised wonders in the Cavalli Island and the much praised Whangaroa harbour, so, as soon as we’re up, we hoist the sails to venture further up North, and when the Cavalli Islands are in sight, we see in Kahangaro Island, the quintessential miniature deserted island bound to satisfy our Robinson Crusoe desires. We can’t resist the sight of the tiny white sandy beach, surrounded by scenic rocks, ornamented with a few (non native) phoenix palm trees to complete the picture, and alter our course for a closer examination, even though it is not flagged as an anchorage on any of our charts. And, as it turns out, as soon as we drop anchor, I can see rocks behind us, beneath the surface that make me very uncomfortable and completely rule out my leaving Obelix to go ashore. I make the call to bugger off. Too bad for our Robinson Crusoe aspirations!
Papatara Bay, Cavalli Islands – where my heart nearly stopped
Instead we carry on to Papatara (Horsehoe) Bay, bigger, sheltered and lovely, except the sand is grey, and coarse, and there is already a zoom-zoom (my affectionate term for fizz boats) anchored there. Not the same free and adventurous feeling. Anyway, in no time Thomas is off exploring the underwater world to bring us lunch, so it won’t make much of a difference to him, and we’ve got a mission of our own: baking Kakahu Road cookies. A few batches to go through, in our tiny unevenly-temperature-regulated oven, before heading to the beach. Every now and then I pop my head out to see where Thomas’ got to. I can now see him a few hundred meters away from the boat, near a reef. All of a sudden I can see big arm movements. He waves at us frantically once. Then a second time, then nothing. I wait, but his body barely moves, I can’t see what’s going on. My brain starts wondering why he’s trying to get our attention, why he’s not clearer about his intentions, and wonder how would someone in trouble call for help from the water, what is happening that I cannot see. It has to be beneath the surface. My heart accelerates, I oscillate between panic and reason, nothing bad is happening, otherwise I would hear screams, or would I? But in doubt, I don’t want to be the wife who stayed behind, baking her cookies while her partner was in distress, getting attacked by a shark or something, alone in the water with no one else to call for help. So I resolve to rush to him, switch off the oven, jump in the dinghy with the boys, and off we go, my heart pumping faster than it ever has. When we get closer, I can see Thomas’ body lying at the surface, face down in the water, not moving, awful sight if you ask me, so I scream at the top of my lungs “THOMAS!”. His head suddenly lifts up, he seems surprised to see us. I explain to him trembling what went through my head, and he explains he’s chasing a fish hidden in the kelp, but a seagull keeps assaulting him for being too close to his nest, so he was just trying to scare it away… Pointless fright, now I need an uneventful afternoon to recover from it.
Owhatanga Bay, Whangaroa
The entrance in Whangaroa is as described on every blog, fjord-like, no more white sand and friendly beaches, instead, when turning North towards lane cove, we’re transported in a very different atmosphere, more mystic, almost hostile, with murky water, abrupt hills, covered with lush green forest and dark grey rocks erected like Easter Island statues. Indiana Jones is hiding nearby, I’m sure. We motor around before deciding to stay the night in Owhatanga Bay for its calm, peace, and prolonged sun light.
Being anchored in Owhatanga bay next to Rainbow II was a real honour, as Azur solemnly declared when I read out loud this classic old lady’s curriculum and how, with multiple races won during her 50-year tenure on the water, she was an iconic figure of New Zealand boating history.
13 January: Whangaroa marina, Whangaroa
The rock’s too high for walking,
The view’s worth it though.
14 January: Whangaihe, Northland
What do you do when you spot an idyllic little bay tucked away and vacant, but you still have a little way to go to your next destination? You make a mental note and say, on our way back we’ll stop there. And if you’re lucky, sometimes you return indeed, to find the same little bay vacant all the same, waiting to be checked out and declared the greatest anchorage of the holidays (until dethroned by a new one).
15 January: Opito Bay, Bay of Islands
Tina for dinner,
What a treat, and an honour,
Joy, smiles, and laughter.
16 January: Paihia / Roberton Island, Bay of Islands
Deep Water Cove, Bay of Islands
Who said sailing was not a sport never practiced the art of acro-cooking, consisting in preparing dinner on Obelix sailing at 7 knots, leaning on a reasonable angle, wedged in the galley, legs spread wide against the cupboards so as to secure a standing position despite the jolts, rushing to get every handful of chopped veggies to the saucepan before they fly away everywhere, with a kitchen knife taking every opportunity to slide away on the other side of the workbench. My reward for practicing my sea legs with determination, if not poise, is a delicious meal followed by a gorgeous sunset.
17 January: Deep Water Cove to Kawau, sailing by night
Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, the menu of the morning is packed! We go onshore to stretch our legs on a portion of the Cape Brett track, until the kids decide it is enough, and we wrap up our Bay Of Islands visit with one last snorkeling session.
Then we’re off for our longest navigation to date on Obelix, an estimated 20 hours to cover 90-100 nautical miles and reach Kawau Island the next day at sunrise. Unless we change our mind and carry on to Tryphena despite the South-West announced for the rest of the week, which would make our return to Auckland a tad tricky. No, Kawau it is, or we can always decide later. The first part of the trip is quite exhilarating with 2 to 3 metre high swell and decent Northerly winds, the boat goes well, above 7 knots effortlessly. Clearing the Poor Knights on the East, we discover the hidden face of the island, which presents an intriguingly large black hole, like an open mouth in the rock, says Zephyr.
By then we’re heading straight towards fog and rain. We quickly close the cockpit to protect us from the elements and after a few showers with very poor visibility, it clears again and a magnificent rainbow forms behind us. The sun is slowly going down, time to get some supper, put the kids to bed, and start night watches. Thomas gets the first one. The conditions are not what you call comfortable, so unsurprisingly the boys struggle to fall asleep. Azur asks for a bucket just in case, and while Thomas gets a couple from the lazarette, (one for us too, just in case), I invite them to come back in the cockpit for a bit. I can hear from by bunk that Thomas treats them to a bedtime story in the dark wilderness. After which they settle more easily. The next morning when I ask them, they are enchanted by this experience and the opportunity to stay up late and navigate by night. According to Azur “It was really dark, and it was fun because we didn’t know where we were going”.
When my watch comes, it’s another story. I have barely closed an eye as it was so bumpy, I’m still exhausted from the day, in a bad mood and my stomach not quite as settled as I would like it to be. The wind has changed direction advises Thomas and we’re now sailing 5-6 knots upwind, which explains the creaking of the lines I heard when he trimmed the genoa. I quickly appreciate I’m not up for a couple of hours in these conditions on my own, so we agree to reduce the sail area, replacing the genoa by the stay sail, then putting the genoa back only a it furled, to manage our speed and stabilise the boat. He goes to bed and I’m trying to find a comfortable position to listen to podcasts (from the list recommended by Maria Popova in her post “9 podcasts for a fuller life”). I start with “The Secret History of Thoughts” and have to stop after a few minutes, as I realise that the gore images that run through my head, on hearing about someone’s dark and uncontrollable thoughts of stabbing his wife, are not going to help my unstable stomach. So I switch to one podcast on creativity, with interviews of Sting, Elisabeth Gilbert and Dame Gillian Lynn. It proves very inspiring, and I love listening to their life stories while staring at Orion’s belt outside, monitoring our course on the tablet from time to time. Nonetheless, the bucket in the corner of my eye is also trying to grab my attention and finally wins the battle. Fortunately I stay relatively operational. Azur wakes up at one point to go to the loo, undisturbed by the crazy movements of the boat, but he can’t fall back to sleep because of the croaking of the autopilot, so I take back the helm for an hour or so. Being at the helm by night doesn’t have the same calming effect as during daytime, I can’t see a thing, except black all around me, and white foam crashing against the hull, which is scarily hypnotic. I find it extremely difficult to focus, and at one point I get a fright looking at a light I hadn’t seen before, thinking it is a very close vessel, when it’s just a star, quite low on the horizon. And how paradoxical that I should deploy so much energy fighting the urge to doze off when on watch, and desperately trying to get some sleep when I’m off them. Still, each time I hear the sound of Thomas getting prepared down below, I celebrate in my head the imminent arrival of my saviour!
18 January: Bon Accord, Kawau Island
The sun rises without me witnessing it the next morning and taking my last watch when it is already daytime comes as a relief. The strong breeze is building up again. We’re almost there. I attempt a tack on my own to enter Kawau Bay but it wakes Thomas who comes to the rescue. We finally reach Schoolhouse Bay around 10 am, and although poorly sheltered, we stay there for a nap, and a dinghy mission to the pub (think togs and rain jacket, knowing we’re going to get drenched with the waves crashing on our small inflatable) to get a lunch and take a professional video call.
18-20 January: Burgess Bay, Kawau Island
On hearing about our arrival on Kawau, our Calypsoian friends invite us to meet them in their newly found paradise, and Kawau’s best kept secret: Burgess Bay. We stay there three nights, finally taking some time off sailing to relax, explore the beach, take shelter from the occasional shower under rocky caves, miss the visiting dolphins while taking a nap, meet seasoned sailors and listen to their stories, surf, see a shark fin while being towed by Dan’s dinghy trying to surf, promptly request to be helped out of the water, have a blind taste of three types of fish caught by Dan and Thomas on a spearfishing mission (rock cod, butterfish and snapper). And on the last morning, be the only boat left in the bay. Yoga on deck, skinny dip, pancakes, sails up, weighing anchor with bare hands. Our Robinson’s dream at last.
21 January: Mullet Bay, Motutapu
Calypso have left early, concerned the wind would drop, whereas this is not on our radar, we’ve taken the morning easy, and on the contrary the wind seems to rise way beyond forecast. And indeed, when we look at the now casting, after a rushed lunch in sub-optimal anchorage off Tiritiri Matangi (Fisherman’s Bay), it reads 37 knots peak. It feels adventurous, yet comfortable. Azur is sleeping, Zephyr is wedged in my favorite spot just above the companion way. I’m at the helm while Thomas is having a rest, the music is pumping with my singalong playlist in shuffle, and I can barely believe my ears when it plays, out of 96 songs, these three one right after the other: “Wind of change”, “Wonderful life” (which first line goes “Here I go, out to sea again”), and “Le vent” (“The Wind”). Serendipity, I like the sound of you!
When we arrive in Mullet Bay, a little cove which doesn’t leave room for many boats, we try to sneak in and anchor between the beach and the other two or three boats already there, but switching the engine off leaves us unconvinced. The wind whirls down the hill, we don’t feel sheltered enough, and we look at the rocks on our left with skepticism. Azur then pops his head out to assess the situation, he asks “Mum, is it high tide or low tide?” I advise the water is nearly fully in, so he carries on “Mmmh, these rocks might be an issue when we’re at low tide”. And we can only agree with his wise words so we leave once again. heading to Waiheke, Let’s slowly reconnect with civilisation we both agree.
On departing Mullet Bay, Thomas announces we’ve lost our dinghy. I immediately feel guilty imagining a knot not tied properly, but nope, the line is still there very much attached to Obelix, however there is nothing on the other end except the stainless steel buckle usually attached to the dinghy. A quick call to the Coastguard provides hope, as we’re told a dinghy corresponding to our description has just been found by the maritime police. We then ring the police, and get through their call centre, who know nothing, and after a lengthy phone conversation and the feeling nothing will ever come out of it, we call back the coastguards who pass our number to the maritime police, who send us an email, we look at the pictures of our supposed dinghy, it’s loading, suspense, suspense… That’s not it, not even close, not even warranting us pretending it is ours. We definitely lost our dinghy somewhere between Kawau and Rakino (in a video shot before passing the Rakino channel, I can see the dinghy is already missing), probably drifting towards Great Barrier by now.
21-23 January: Oneroa, Waiheke
Where have the three nights we stayed on Waiheke gone, I still wonder. We spend them slowing down even more, reducing to a bare minimum the number of daily activities, as if to retain the passing of time which inevitably draws our holidays to an end. A couple of picnics and dinner with friends. A visit to the library. A movie, Back to the future III, the last of the trilogy and it’s Sunday morning, time to go.
24 January: Back to Bayswater Marina
After 31 days away, being back at the marina at exactly two to two on Sunday, ready to jump in the car to get up the road to Julian’s birthday at 2pm, that’s what I call a meticulous timing.
Now we’re grounded for the next foreseeable future. A diesel leak that worsened throughout the summer got Thomas busy watching countless YouTube videos in an attempt to fix it. But when everything was back together, the engine wouldn’t start and the mechanics who paid us a visit last Saturday advised it wasn’t worth spending more time, effort and money on repairing an engine that didn’t compress well anyway. After nearly 45 years, it looks like our Perkins 4108 did its time and needs to be replaced… With the new lockdown just announced, what a timing!
Memories of bliss times on the water slowly recede, while the tide brings back the daily routine of land-bound life. Let my heart not sink but stay buoyant, by recalling the vivid impressions of heightened senses, absence of commitments, and communion with nature.
500 miles, 34 anchorages, 12 islands, 7 hikes, 1 night navigation, 1 lost dinghy, and countless encounters with marine life, and human beings in an exquisite summer cruise along the Hauraki Gulf and Northland, celebrated in images, haikus and prose.
24 December: Owhanake Bay, Waiheke Island
Christmas feast with friends missing
Morning skateboard stunts
25 December: Carey Bay, Waiheke Island
Three whanau tahi
Frolicking in sea and sand.
Best holiday vibes!
26 December: Port Jackson, Coromandel
Obelix and crew
Claiming the long sandy beach
Until the wind rose.
26 December: Colville channel
After the morning stillness which, determined to get to Great Barrier that day we had to disturb by the thrum of our engine, the breeze, although on the forecast, has taken us by surprise. Despite white caps proliferating on the water, our hair floating horizontally, and the impossibility to hear each other because of the whirling wind, we maintain our composure getting the dinghy back on deck to get away as soon as we can, taking two reefs in the main and opting for the stay sail. No sooner are we venturing in the open sea, that we hear the VHF calling ‘Obelix, Obelix, Obelix for Cirrus, we can see you!” What a pleasant surprise, and a relief. Someone knows we’re here, and the boat we distinguish in the distance, the only one, is sailed by friends and not pirates! I still look back regularly to make sure we take the untamed waves – that come crashing from behind – in a decent angle and don’t send the boat flip-flopping too much, but I’m afraid I miss a few times, and everything inside the cabin that can fall does so with a loud bang. No rest for my adrenal glands though, as if the wild waves were not enough, I soon find myself exclaiming “A whale!”, quickly followed by “Shit, a whale, what should I do?”. Which inspired the following haiku:
Smooth whale back bobs up
ahead. Swiftly bearing away.
No time to grab the camera, the boys just manage to pop their head in the cockpit to glimpse the shadow of the massive marine mammal swimming away on starboard. The rest of the trip is spent eyes glued to the tablet to monitor our speed which peaks above 9 knots at times, when I manage to get Obelix surfing the waves. An exhilarating feeling but tiring nonetheless. So much so that when we arrive in Whangaparapara, I formally request a break to flush the adrenaline from my system.
26 December: Whangaparapara, Great Barrier
No track, only tombs.
Winds can’t you give us a break
We deserve a rest.
27 December: Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island
Some things don’t change and just deliver on their promise, year after year. This is the case of Smokehouse Bay which Zephyr has been eagerly waiting for. We even manage to sneak in and secure the best anchorage, a stone’s throw from the beach.
Ochre, teal promise
Pizza, shower, swing, shop and mates,
A view, two, or three,
Take my mind and breathe away.
New Year’s Eve in Smokehouse Bay
Of the past year’s favourite bit,
Friends dancing on deck.
French new year’s greetings
After a short night sleeping,
Splash, pancakes, sails up.
1 January: Miners Bay, Great Barrier Island
Bay, fine for spearfishing and
new year’s beach clean-up.
2 January: Burgess Island, Mokohinaus
Boil-ups and pebbles,
Lighthouse keepers worst nightmare,
Remote, grand and bare.
2 January: Smugglers Bay, Whangarei Heads
Anchored in the dark
Awesome morning paradise,
Crystal clear water.
Look in the water
Once. And soon you’ll become a
3 January: Parua Bay, Whangarei
Maddening sand banks
Navigating up river,
Pfew! Pub for dinner.
4 January: Ngunguru, Northland
Surfing dream inlet,
Rolling all night, right and left,
Most popular beach.
5 January: Tutukaka harbour, Northland
6 January: Poor Knights, Tutukaka
Myriad fish nibbling my hands
Black echoing cave
6 January: Mimiwhangata, Northland
Morning skinny dip
Harvest of tuatuas,
7 January: Whangaruru, Northland
Grey misty morning,
Crepes and back to the future,
Not dwelling longer.
8 January: Whangamumu, Northland
Old whaling station,
Waterfall hike, bronze whaler,
Grilled fish for supper.
9 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands
We are so thrilled by the beauty of the scenery when we arrive in Okahu Passage that we immediately call our respective mums to share our delight, and show them the idyllic sandy beach which we have almost to ourselves, the crystal clear water, the glittering sun, the fish and stingrays that swim around the boat, and the boys getting dressed for yet another snorkeling session. We have left Whangamumu at dawn, as per usual before a long navigation, so that we can have a few hours of peace before the boys wake up, enjoy the sunrise a cup of tea warming our hands, and arrive early-ish to our next destination. It is just about breakfast time and we’ve already filled our stomachs with cake. Ready to jump in. A morning routine to be repeated ad lib.
Crystal clear water
I even see our anchor,
Puffer fish, stingrays.
9 January: Russell, Bay of Islands
What a welcoming committee when we arrive in Russell: We anchor next to Calypso, right before the start of the Tall Ship regatta, and just in time to have lunch with our friends Julia & Eric who are leaving Bay of Islands that day. And to top it off, we gather for dinner around a gigantic maori hāngi followed by a ball with live music, with hundreds of yachties, among whom we have the pleasure to count many friends, Bayswater school parents, ex-colleagues, ex-fellow Bulgarian choir singers, or people who helped us renovate Obelix back in Whangarei. Blessed serendipity. Highlights of that evening feature Zephyr standing up on Thomas shoulders, hands dyed purple, as he is picking mulberries from a tall tree, eating many in the process, distributing some to intrigued or skeptical people who are not sure they’re edible, and keeping the rest for the pavlova we’ve promised to have for dessert the next day, as a celebration of our arrival in Bay Of Islands.
10 January: Omakiwi Bay, Bay of Islands
Retreating at night
To a much quieter bay,
11 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands
What these three black dots at the surface of the water on the last picture? Thomas supervising the kids having a go at Dan’s “hubble-bubble”, a.k.a Hookah Diving System, which allows them to breath underwater without tanks. They loved it!
Back in paradise,
Diving, sunbathing, shooting
A glorious sunset.
Time to farewell 2020, a full-on year on so many accounts…
Despite unexpected global circumstances which culminated, in New Zealand, with a couple of lock-downs, near-closed borders, and ever changing game rules, we’ve managed to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, sail the Hauraki gulf quite extensively, get Obelix a new jib, staysail and lazybag making our cruising times even more enjoyable, install new batteries and solar panels able to power a fridge while sailing (yoohoo!), perform many other home improvement jobs, co-found a tree climbing club with fellow nature-enthusiasts Ines and Ann, celebrate Zephyr’s 10th birthday, see Azur & Zephyr’s first dance show with Pockets Rockets, learn some new Cuban salsa (rueda to be precise) moves with Thomas, and even, for me, start kizomba, take my girlfriends sailing, change jobs and qualify as a Waterwise instructor.
Pfew! Exhausting just thinking about it. Luckily we’ve got a whole month cruising to reset before attacking 2021.
But before turning the page, I want to share one of the highlights of my year, which would have deserved a post right there and then, had I dedicated more time to writing; a moment precious in its precariousness, as it would never have happened without a good dose of serendipity, and stands out like a desperate cry to remind me that I was born under a lucky star.
Imagine a grey Saturday, with occasional showers on the forecast and a storm coming later in the evening, and a tired crew waking up early at the marina, and deciding nonetheless to head towards Waiheke where our friends Ines, Raul & Co are spending the week-end on U Choose. We could have done many other things but we feel like honoring our friendship with a meeting on the water, and the decision is strongly seconded by Zephyr and Azur who not only go to school but are best buddies with Ines and Raul’s children Julian and Marco. So we set sails, and anchor in Blackpool around 2pm after finally spotting our friends’ boat but not them (they’re out walking), casually enjoy a late lunch waiting for them, and witness what appears to be the tight finish of a sailing race. A quick check on my phone confirms it is the Around Waiheke Island race, which, guess what, our other friends Tito and Rowena are taking part in. I send them a line to see if we could catch up with them too. Without waiting for an answer, we go ashore to stretch our legs (leaving the phone behind), as Ines family is back, and the kids are too happy to be reunited and play under the upside down dinghies on the beach. We spot a magnificent Pohotukawa tree waiting to be climbed on, only to realise that right under it is a tent, next to which is a bike, indicating someone is home. And indeed, almost instantly, a man comes out of the tent. He is rather short, tanned, with long black lustrous loose hair, dark eyes, wearing a turquoise blue indian kurta, wooden beads bracelets, and a wide smile, beaming as if he is wearing happiness as his main attire. We exchange greetings, his name is Somen, “So-many-men” he says for us to understand. He politely enquires about us, before we ask about the bike and the tent. That’s when we learn he has been travelling the world by bike since 2012, visited 150 odd countries, and is on a mission to raise awareness about AIDS, but has gotten stuck with Covid, unable to obtain a visa for his next destination (Fiji if I recall correctly) and complete the thirty or so countries he has left on his list. As we grow curious about his adventures, he shows us his portfolio of pictures in different parts of the planets and next to various politicians. The conversation carries on as we finally give in our urge to climb the Pohotukawa tree (Ines, Leo and myself that is), us from above in the tree, Somen from below. A shower barely distracts us, as we just take shelter under the tree or the upside down dinghy. I finally kayak back to the boat to start cooking dinner, and find a message from Tito and Rowena saying they are literally in the bay next ‘door’, and could come over to say Hi. So when Thomas and the kids retreat back too, and Thomas has convinced Somen to come fill his water bottles from Obelix’ voluminous tanks, there is already a party going on, with Tito and Rowena sharing their excitement of having won the race on Champosa, beating the record in the process. The music is on, salsa of course, and that’s when we decide we need to dance. So here we are, Thomas, Tito, Rowena and I, dancing on Obelix fore-deck on La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz, trying not to trip on hatches and ropes, and Somen captures the moment on Rowena’s phone. Shortly after oir guests leave while Ines’ family joins us for dinner which we wrap up with lotw of laughter during a game of mafia briliantly led by Leo. An oddity in this crazy year, with friends and strangers gathered on a boat, dancing close, sharing food, celebrating freedom, coincidence and spontaneity.
Video of us dancing : https://youtu.be/IpLYcblKDlw
To more moments like that in 2021! (Spoiler alert, being the 10th January when I write this, I can tell you we’ve been blessed with quite a few already).
Sometimes the stars align, and all you need is to be outside to witness it. Like spontaneously casting the lines after work on a Friday, to honor the gentle breeze, still water and clear skies, with no other reward in mind than, trying our new jib, leaving the hustle and bustle of the week behind, and escaping the craziness of the world. And yet, a couple of hours later, the sunset astounds you when it paints the sky with remarkable shades of fluorescent pink, and almost simultaneously, a glowing amber crescent spotted on the horizon turns out to be the full moon beginning its ascend. The kids, who are called immediately on deck to have a look, are as ecstatic as me in front of the natural spectacle, Azur insisting on taking the ‘perfect’ picture, despite the swaying of the boat, and dusk dim visibility.
Realising that we’d anchor by night, even if stopping at the closest bay (Islington Bay), we have decided earlier, with Thomas, to take watches (for the first time) and push to Man O’ War, on the Eastern end of Waiheke Island, taking all the wind we could while it lasted, instead of motoring the next day when it was forecasted to have died off, and I smile, pleased that the Universe has for once agreed with our impromptu plans, offering us full visibility under the stars.
And so we sail, slowly but surely, alternating between helm and berth. On my watch, I feel the utter importance of the three souls I am responsible for, balanced by the calm, silence and peace that engulfs us all. At times the GPS is not detecting any movement and although we’re not making any progress, nothing would make me break the spell of this idyllic night.
When off duty, I relish the warmth of the blankets, the clement rocking of the boat, and the soothing sound of the water caressing the hull, yet I’m caught up in a constant battle, trying to slow down the gush of thoughts that assail my brain, to no avail. I’m still no good at finding sleep on a moving vessel.
By 2:30 am it is my turn again to extricate myself from the comfort of my bed. During his debrief, Thomas mentions a tide about to turn against us in the middle of a narrow channel with little to no wind and the need to anchor soon. A quick look at the chart shows we’re only a couple of nautical miles away from Man O’ War, so we finally turn on the engine to finish off the first leg of our circumnavigation of Waiheke in a rumble. By 4am we’re finally sound asleep in Man O’ War where half a dozen boats are also anchored.
The next day, after an early rise at 7am, the kids agree to prepare crepes, which Thomas cooks with Zephyr, while we have a quick kayak and yoga-on-the-beach adventure with Azur. When we think life cannot get better, we receive a call from our friends Mathieu and Elodie interested in our whereabouts, as they’re on the water looking for a worthy destination. It takes them less than an hour to zoom to Man O’ War on their 160HP power boat and join us for tea and coffee. We spend the afternoon together, visiting a nearby private sandy beach, and going fishing on Te Kakahi (though the fish are smarter than us).
Such a summery vibe has to be extended to the Sunday, and Te Kakahi crew decides to come back, only earlier, and with more friends, so we end up being six adults and five kids. The more the merrier. After a brave ladies swim in the icy cold water, we indulge ourselves with a leisurely lunch at the local winery, followed by tea and coffee right on the beach, courtesy of Thomas who even thought of bringing sugar and biscuits. Kids are having fun while adults digest, soak in the sun and wrap up the day with a game of Molki. When our ‘guests’ depart, Thomas and the kids try their luck going fishing at the mussel farm once more, but all they catch is a starfish. Regardless, dinner is ready (our very own Mediterranean platter, directly inspired by the winery menu). What a week-end!
The Safety at Sea rep I called, to enquire about our life raft, nearly choked when I advised him when it was manufactured (1976) and last serviced (1991). He confirmed my suspicions they didn’t service life rafts that old, and with that information, I finally convinced Thomas it was time to part with our dodgy safety piece of equipment. But not before giving it a fair try on the water.
So, on Sunday morning, as the sun was shining, the water glittering, and the sky still bright blue and fairly non-threatening (we got rinsed shortly after our mission had completed), we took our venerable life raft for a tour at the beach nearby to inflate it one last time (if not the only one), for education and entertainment purposes, as well as offering it a decent end of life.
This life raft will be remembered for the successful morning full of suspense, surprises, and laughter it provided the whole family (and possibly some Sunday strollers too).
Then, we brought it (albeit very reluctantly) to the dumpster, and had a celebration lunch at Corelli’s in Devonport.
Now we need a new life raft!
“Individually, we are a drop. Together, we are an ocean.”Ryunosuke Satoro (or so says Google)
What if I took some girlfriends sailing with me on Obelix one day? A harmless idea. Probably spurred by vanity (to earn bragging rights), lunacy (I was clearly oblivious of the responsibility such an undertaking represented) and the desire to write a post I had an apt title for already.
A harmless idea, that could have settled and join the myriads of other silly ideas flooding my brain on a millisecondly basis. But one I started obsessing over instead. Pondering what it would take, whether Thomas would trust me enough, and when I’d know I was ready. This idea wouldn’t let me go until I had set a plan in motion.
Meet the crew
I knew I wanted Rocio onboard as my first mate. With a boat builder as a dad, sailing experience from her earliest childhood, multiple crossing of the Atlantic and half a circumnavigation under her belt, a boat designer herself, still managing to be the most humble and coolest person I know, she had to be my 2IC in this enterprise. I also wanted Marion to be with us. She too had sailed all the way from France to New Zealand, despite massive (justified) fears of anything that can possibly wrong at sea, plus we had sailed together over Christmas, and I felt confident in her innate ability to tell us when something didn’t feel right.
Fortunately they didn’t take much convincing and their enthusiasm doubled down on my certitude we could do it.
Then I wished to welcome onboard all the Wonder Women who had helped us in the past year. Not everyone could make it, and the absentees were missed, but I was very fortunate to be surrounded by Claire, third half-circumnavigator of the crew, organisation extraordinary, 24/7 Perkins phone assistance during Christmas, mum of three including a seven month-old baby, and my friend for ten years, Petra, a grounded, positive, and growth-minded earth-lover, outdoors creature, and fellow bulgarian melodies singer, and Ines, a quiet Bayswater community luminary, yoga teacher, mother of Zephyr’s best mate, and generous soul who let us stay at her place for three weeks while Obelix was on the hard getting repaired last February.
The epic day
Skip the planning phase, and the multiple delays due to lock-down, here we are, Sunday 14 September, and my crew of five has committed to leaving their families behind for the day to cruise with me, knowing pertinently I have hit the rocks once, never skippered a boat before, and let alone taken Obelix out on my own. How wrong can it go, I told my friend Claire when she confided in me she was a bit nervous not to remember how to sail, worst case scenario I sink my home! Spoiler alert: I haven’t.
9:15, Time we had convene to meet. Still no one on the horizon, I am walking up the pier nervously as I’ve heard the wind blowing most of the night and the Coastguard App nowcasting reports 16 knots gusting 21 (SW 225) at Bean Rock. I had told myself if it was over 20, I’d call it off. Decision time.
9:20, I see Ines parking her bike and Rocio not too far away. We can discuss wind conditions, taking refuge under the gate shelter, which is to say it was a bit breezy. Rocio, unconcerned, tries different combinations on her bike lock which finally gives in. It looks like we’re going.
9:25, Claire now joins us, masked, on her bike, followed by Petra. They were both on the ferry but didn’t know each other. I call Marion who confirms she’ll be here in a few minutes.
9:45, Everyone gets onboard, puts their belongings away, or at close reach, I go over my not-so-well-rehearsed safety briefing, and we talk through steps and roles to get out of the marina berth.
10:00, We’re ready to cast the lines, we’re reversing slowly out of the berth, everything is well, until I notice Obelix’ butt sticking out the wrong way. Too late, all lines have been dropped, nothing to help us pivot. Putting more gas doesn’t change a thing I am definitely reversing the wrong way. I initially think of entering an empty berth on the opposite pier, but finally decide to go forward a bit and reverse back in mine to turn. And with some help from a nice guy, who I thought was annoyed because we were blocking his way, but not at all, he simply wanted to help and give us a bit of a push with his dinghy, we manage to safely operate the 360 maneuver and finally leave the marina nose first.
10:30, We’re well out of the marina, sailing. One reef in the main, the jib furled a tad. Direction the harbour bridge. Better to get upwind first, grab a mooring in Chelsea bay for lunch, and have an easy sail back, we all agree.
11:00, After a few tacks, we’re about to go under the bridge. Someone casually asks how tall my mast is. To which I reply, as casually, 14 metres. Claire wants to be sure it is not any higher. I explain at length that it is indeed 14 metres and so the tip of the mast would be approximately 15 metres above the waterline not understanding all these leading questions. Until I notice the pile we’re about to leave at starboard has a big bold 16.7m written on it. I am guessing this is what it was all about, and 16.7m is the clearance under that side of the bridge, not realising until then we were not going under the tallest section. We hear cheering from above (bungy jumpers I assume) but don’t celebrate too fast as we also need monitor that starboard pile towards which we’re drifting. Pfew, we’re clear!
11:30, We’re passing Chelsea Bay still going nice and strong upwind. I can see Rocio is in her element, winching away like crazy on (almost) each tack and eager to carry on for a few more before we stop for lunch. The maneuvers are smooth and easy, I have total confidence in the competence of the crew. Sailing is so liberating.
12:30, We’ve now retreated back to Chelsea Bay, surfing downwind for a bit, we furl the jib, drop the main, start the engine and get closer in to find a free mooring. I’m explaining which I’m targeting, two girls are at the bow armed with a boat hook each to catch it. I’m monitoring the depth sounder until we’re so close to the buoy that my whole attention turns towards the girls to get any signal from them as to how far I am. They’ve caught it, job done I congratulate myself. But they seem to fail to bring the buoy onboard, leaning more and more over the lines. I put a bit more gas to help them, thinking the wind is too strong and pushes the boat away. But nothing happens except the water becoming very muddy. We’re stuck in the muck. A quick glance at the depth sounder: oscillating between 1.1m and 1.0m. Oops. I freak out. Not twice. I can’t be running aground twice. In the same year! I enter panic mode thinking the Universe is warning me I’m not cut for sailing. But mama Claire, who is a model of composure, reassures me that we’re not in an emergency situation, we have time to think and form a plan, I should eat something. She hands me a biscuit, I keep it in my hand and continue to talk, she renews her injunction to eat the biscuit, I munch a few bites after which my hand refuses to bring it to my mouth and just wants to reduce it to crumbs. Claire lays down some options. The tide is coming in and will unstuck us eventually. The question is more to know whether we want to try to fix the situation there and then, or are ok to wait. The boat seems to have the hiccup, with the emergency tiller fitting that keeps bobbing up and down and I’m worried we’re damaging the rudder. No one screams or panics, except me a few minutes ago, but I’m no longer panicking. I just have a rush of adrenaline and need to focus hard to think. I call Thomas to draw him a picture of the situation. He seems ok, trying to get all the elements and, like us, balances the pros and cons of trying to get out of the situation immediately, or wait. I finally make the call to wait. During all this hullabaloo, the depth sounder has gone up a bit and the hiccup has come to a halt. We will have our well deserved shared lunch. The risk to drift is very slim. Claire is keeping a close watch on our position, and with some food in our stomach we’ll think clearer and have more energy to tackle the situation.
1:30, The lunch buffet is abundant, varied and colorful with pumpkin and kumara soup, focaccia, sushi, Casablanca hummus and taramasalata, cheese from Mahoe Cheese, thai coconut curry and delicious mushrooms & buckwheat balls with Italian herbs pesto. I’m happy to see everyone eating with appetite and resume conversation as if nothing had happened. I am not so hungry with all these butterflies in my stomach, but manage to eat a few bites (half a bowl of soup, one sushi, a buckwheat ball and a few spoons of rice and curry). Obelix is finally floating free of the mud and the depth sounder has made it to 2m, to our great delight. We call our shore support crew to share the good news and let them know when to expect us at the marina.
2:00, Tidy up and engine’s on, off we go again, direction Bayswater. However on hoisting the main, we notice the halyard is caught in the mast steps. I give the helm to Marion and volunteer to climb up and release it. In the precipitation I’m not wearing a harness but the issue is just above the first spreader. I am not as nimble as Zephyr but manage without difficulty. From then on it is smooth sailing downwind, carefully passing in the middle of the bridge this time. We put in a few jibes towards the end just for fun.
2:30, Approaching the marina channel, we’re ready to drop the sails, I turn the key to start the engine. Nothing happens. Turn the key again. Nothing. Pivot head to the right (poker face), check the kill switch, it’s up, push it down, start the engine, it’s humming. It all happens so fast I’m not sure anyone has noticed, except Marion maybe, whose alertness doesn’t falter.
3:00, We’re approaching the marina preparing the fenders, and see Thomas and Gaspar at the end of the fueling dock waving at us and taking pictures. I think everyone on board is proud, happy and a bit more relaxed we made it back in one piece. Ines asks me gently what is more difficult between getting in and out of the marina. I explain to her that usually getting in is trickier but with our welcome committee we should be sweet. And we are. Easy peasy, fingers in the nose, thanks to Thomas’ instructions (hand gestures) and everyone knowing exactly what to do by now, the parking is a breeze. I am crying with emotion and renewed gratitude for these ladies who have made my dream (one of many) come true.
3:30, We wrap up the day around a warm cup of “Confidence” herbal tea, all snug in the cockpit, passing around the team’s mascot, a.k.a, Unai (Rocio & Gaspar’s baby). And now the adrenaline has subsided, I welcome the accompanying biscuits in my mouth rather than crushing them with bare hands.
4:00, The Wonder Women leave, I take Claire home as the ferry service is very limited on Sundays and her bike doesn’t fit in Marion’s car.
5:30, Back home, Thomas has worked his magic, the boat is all tidied up, the smell of pumpkin soup leftovers fills the air. We have an early dinner, watch the pictures of my men’s outing in Rotorua with the two parts of the monumental sculpture being lifted by a special chopper, and I go to bed at 7pm, cold, depleted of energy, but with a satisfied smile on my face.
Back to the preparation of that memorable day. First I needed to find something to do for my men while they would be deprived of their home for an entire day. Coincidentally, Thomas wanted to go to Rotorua on Saturday to witness the installation of Te Ahi Tupua, the long-awaited and controversial Hemo roundabout sculpture, a project for which his company had done the engineering. So I just asked him to extend his trip with the boys.
Besides, it involved:
- lots of watching Thomas perform the different maneuvers while I was at the helm during our last sailing trips,
- asking questions to make sure I knew how to take a reef, and perform all the other maneuvers Thomas usually carries out
- monitoring the weather forecast every day the week before,
- remembering how to do a safety briefing from my volunteering experience on the Spirit of New Zealand ten(!) years ago,
- thinking hard about what I would have liked to be told when I was a wannabee-sailor on other people’s boat,
- a visit to Wildwheat the day before to get some bread to go with the pumpkin soup I would cook for everyone that night,
- turning in my bed not getting to sleep, listening to the wind, listing the things to do in the morning, considering the different scenarios,
- waking up at 7:30 (alarm clock set to 8am) to put the dishes away, empty the rubbish and recycling, remember to transfer the laundry from washer to dryer, unplug the power lead, put the dehumidifier and all other power cords away, boil a kettle of water to fill our mammoth thermos, open the cockpit removing the awning’s sides, fit the horseshoe buoys at the back of the boat, secure all the drawers, lift the v-berth mattresses to access the chain locker in case we needed to use the anchor, check the weather forecast again, and actually install the coastguard app, get dressed, eat breakfast not to leave on an empty stomach, prepare a basket of fruits and snacks in the galley, put away the ladder – that had snapped part of the rail the previous weekend, untie the jib furler line, fill a drinking water bottle, check everything again and again. The rest is history.
What a day! Packed with adventures, drama, adrenaline, very wholesome lunch and happy ending. Together we were the ocean, and if I had to resume the magic formula for this epic day, I would say preparation, respect, trust, composure, communication and Wonder Women!
As lock-down 2.0 was announced on August 13th, Auckland schools closed, and we retreated back to our bubbles, we decided not to add any complexity to the ever changing and (sometimes) absurd rules that governed our strange world, and let our children be free-range. No virtual hui. No homework. No schedule. No pressure. Except to let us work in (relative) peace, and help with the daily chores. And so they were left to their own device, although mainly off device*, free to explore being alive, get bored, and find things to do. Play outside, play inside, play some music, make huts, play Pokemon battles, climb, jump, run, row, swim, cook, bake, draw, write, read. They’ve really impressed us by demonstrating initiative and being totally able to entertain themselves (involving neighbouring kids and parents at times), while consolidating knowledge and learning new stuff in the process. Proud moment.
The bubble expands
We were also fortunate to be offered to stay at our friends’ house, while they were away from Auckland, enjoying freedom at the mountain. So, still in Bayswater, we became landlubbers for a few days, and indulged the luxury of space, a human-sized fridge with freezer (and even a mini door-in-the-door leading to the dairy compartment), a bath, a desk each, a trampoline, a veggie patch with abundance of fresh greens, a near home-cinema set-up, games galore for kids and adult alike, a view on Auckland skyline, and no need to bend to get to the kids room, with the risk of bumping a limb or our head! A very enjoyable stay overall, even though I must stay I struggled to get a decent night’s sleep away from my trapezoidal bed, the gentle rocking of the boat, and the sweet sounds of marine life popping underneath.
And finally, I took advantage of the whole family being away from the boat to undertake another paint job with Azur who relished the opportunity to assist me. We did a good job at lightening up the saloon with some more white (#cestmieuxenblanc). And back to the boat, every idle time was spent cleaning, polishing, or varnishing something, to slowly restore Obelix to her former glory, as they say. A never-ending task, but showing visible progress nonetheless with tidy bathroom cupboards, a leak-proof prism, a brand new emergency tiller, shiny brass fair-leads, and a vintage Sestrel compass promising to bring some cachet to our cockpit.
All in all we did our best to make our bubble great again, but let’s admit that this second time round wasn’t as pleasant as the first. The weather didn’t play ball, and the whole thing had a bitter taste of dejavu.
*However Thomas kindly reminded me that they actually spent a couple of very miserable days in the marina lounge with him, each on a screen, drawing on Paint 3D, watching scientific videos from NASA engineers, and, yes, playing video games. And now that I think of it, Azur even remarked that this second lock-down was way better for them because they were allowed to play Farmville 2, which he vouched was teaching them ‘stuff’.
After a full week-end saving lives, I am exhausted! Ok, this was all pretend play, but I swear that NZ Coastguard /MedAire coastal medic course is not for the faint-hearted. Between gore pictures and videos of a femoral artery gushing blood (albeit very pixelated, thank God), de-gloving fingers (I learnt a new word), or wounds with protruding guts to name but a few, and dramatic scenarios to role-play as practice exercises, I wondered whether the true purpose of the course was, like the advanced sea survival one, not to put anyone off boating altogether. It certainly challenged my thirst for adventures and questioned whether I would not be better off staying home, comfortably binge-watching movies or series on Netflix, curled up under a fluffy blanket, and pecking pop-corn for the rest of my life!
Thankfully, our instructor, a former ICU nurse and sailor herself, was highly engaging, fun and capable of getting a laugh out of us while discussing the most tragic of circumstances. She was also excellent at explaining the why behind any recommended action or treatment. As a result, I learnt how the heart worked, and even understood the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. The former due to constricted coronary arteries, the latter being caused by an electrical dysfunction of the sinoatrial (SA) node, which I like to remember as the heart spark plugs, an analogy that didn’t convince all my fellow trainees but that a quick online search corroborated.
Meanwhile, Thomas and the kids were casually getting on with their life (think DIY, swinging off the mast, playing in the mud, visiting friends, eating crêpes), as if none of the above would ever happen to them. And that’s precisely what I wish.
“Eew! It takes a special kind of person to do all that stuff” commented my workmate Josh when I told him about my week-end. Yes, maybe, I don’t know. It is a Cat 1 requirement for one, and, anyway, I wanted to gain confidence and feel equipped to deal with different trauma and medical situations were they to occur on land or at sea. And what I thought during the week-end was, it takes a special kind of person to deliver these trainings day in day out!
That being said, next week-end I’m getting one step further with the offshore part of the course, hoping that my newly acquired knowledge will never have to be put to practical use.
Imagine paying a visit to your old neighbourhood, meeting long-time-no-see friends, and doing a bit of treat-shopping… by boat. That’s what we just did last week-end, taking Obelix for the first time to Saint Heliers Bay!
Not as exotic as many places in the Hauraki Gulf, for sure, but an idea that kept nagging me, seeming both simple, and yet unreachable. Indeed, with too many other destinations for casting off, anchoring in St Heliers never quite competed, or, just as the previous week-end, the universe did not agree to our plans.
But with a bit of perseverance (and me vindicating it was dear to my heart), we got there. The trip was well worth it too. Perfect conditions: sun, clear sky, and southerlies propelling us to the bay in less than an hour, not to mention Zampa who joined the party and raft up with us, having made her way from the opposite direction, out of the Tamaki River.
Kids could talk and play Pokemon while the dads motivated each other, in a manly demonstration of bravado, to dive in the icy-cold water in order to attend to beardy propeller and such, and we had lunch on the foredeck, before a trip to shore to stretch our legs and meet with the rest of Zampa’s family and our old next-door neighbours.
Apart from a slight hiccup with a wave setting the two boats in motion in opposite phase, which resulted in a snapped fitting where the lines were attached, no big drama. I even surreptitiously disappeared for a while to collect a well-deserved booty of bargained french, spanish and italian products (50-cm long chorizo, sourdough bread, fluffy brioche, 2kg olives, 4 jars of jam, biscuits, and cheese, you know) from our beloved Fruit Delicatessen. So that we had a glorious afternoon tea of brioche and quince jelly while motoring back to Bayswater.
A well rounded trip, topped up by an aced slow-mo mooring at the marina. That completely made up for the failed attempt of the previous weekend (and somewhat anti-climatic celebration of end of lockdown).
Happy level 2!
Oblivious to the world’s turmoil, Obelix is soaking in the peace and quiet of the marina. Silence, and stillness, with the reduced traffic on the motorway, and the absence of wind and ferry wash.
Every now and then, some boatie walks up and down the pier, smartphone in hand, discussing the current lock-down situation and its alarming implications on their business or lives, illustrating what seems to be our modern rallying cry “I communicate therefore I am”.
And it is hard indeed to resist the urge to reach out to relatives and friends, or keep up with the influx of information pushed from all directions, make sense of it all, and prevent the brain’s cogs to get out of control. Yet, I try hard not to get distracted by the outside virtual noise, and draw inspiration from one of the ‘growth mindset mantras’ pinned to our bathroom bulkhead: “I am safe. I am calm. I can handle this.” as a counterpart to the government’s message “Be kind. Stay home. Save lives.”
But I admit that I never thought a trip to the supermarket would be a high risk activity for which you’d need to queue to wait for your turn as if you were about to bungy jump, and, when, going for the daily walk or bike ride, we meet other people in the street, people we might know, I have this surreal feeling of being like a dog, held on an invisible leash, unable to get too close to them, or stop for too long to exchange greetings and make small or philosophical talk.
So, to relax after a day split between working, home-schooling, and tempering dark thoughts, I do some reading. The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood. Not sure it is wise to escape a dystopian reality by reading a dystopian novel, but it put things in perspective. And I can’t help thinking: at least we can still wear what we want, read, write, play and listen to music, dance, prepare food we like, talk to each other freely and relish our creativity.
And actually, life in lock-down is very different, yes, but we also take notice of all the positive changes it forced, or decided, us to make:
- Waking up with the sun (or upon kids stompy footsteps) – no alarm clock
- Yoga on the deck (almost) every morning with Thomas (and sometimes Azur)
- Less time working + less time escaping to the fragmented bubbles of my life = More focus and mindful parenting
- Zephyr mentors Azur and teaches him maths, origami and spelling
- More frequent video calls with our family and friends in France
- More french spoken by the kids!!!
- New yummy cooking & baking experiments
- More family discussions around the table, as we eat all meals together
- Kids taking turn to do the dishes
- More DIY tasks getting ticked off, and providing knowledge sharing opportunities (I taught Zephyr how to divide big numbers, while working on a pattern for a bbq cover)
- New activities on or around the boat: swimming at the local tiny beach (high tide only), climbing or swinging around the mast, laps walking around the boat on the rub rail while holding onto the life lines, dinghy fishing trips at sunset, and even putting on a talent show to compete with our friends on Calypso…
And nearly a week on, we even have some good news: our pier neighbours have kindly agreed for us to use their boat Mahanui’s cockpit as our home-office, we’ve received the Wifi repeater and (most of the time) can connect from within our lovely submarine, and the marina ablution blocks have re-opened which means we could treat ourselves to a real shower!
What if we enjoyed our time confined as a family?