Sun kissed for 31 days (part I)

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

Haiku #1

Southwest spiraling
Christmas feast with friends missing
Morning skateboard stunts

25 December: Carey Bay, Waiheke Island

Haiku #2

Three whanau tahi
Frolicking in sea and sand.
Best holiday vibes!

26 December: Port Jackson, Coromandel

Haiku #3

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:

Haiku #4

Smooth whale back bobs up
ahead. Swiftly bearing away.
Adrenaline rush

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

Haiku #5

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.

Haiku #6

Ochre, teal promise
Pizza, shower, swing, shop and mates,
Social oasis.

Haiku #7

A view, two, or three,
Take my mind and breathe away.
Magnificent sea.

Barefoot hike on burning ground

New Year’s Eve in Smokehouse Bay

Haiku #8

Bis repetita
Of the past year’s favourite bit,
Friends dancing on deck.

Haiku #9

French new year’s greetings
After a short night sleeping,
Splash, pancakes, sails up.

Obelix, Katherine Bay

1 January: Miners Bay, Great Barrier Island

Haiku #10

Secluded, abrupt
Bay, fine for spearfishing and
new year’s beach clean-up.

2 January: Burgess Island, Mokohinaus

Haiku #11

Boil-ups and pebbles,
Lighthouse keepers worst nightmare,
Remote, grand and bare.

2 January: Smugglers Bay, Whangarei Heads

Haiku #12

Anchored in the dark
Awesome morning paradise,
Crystal clear water.

Haiku #13

Look in the water
Once. And soon you’ll become a
Serial snorkeler.

3 January: Parua Bay, Whangarei

Haiku #14

Maddening sand banks
Navigating up river,
Pfew! Pub for dinner.

4 January: Ngunguru, Northland

Haiku #15

Surfing dream inlet,
Rolling all night, right and left,
Most popular beach.

5 January: Tutukaka harbour, Northland

Tutukaka, la tête en bas

6 January: Poor Knights, Tutukaka

Haiku #16

Majestic arches
Myriad fish nibbling my hands
Black echoing cave

6 January: Mimiwhangata, Northland

Haiku #17

Morning skinny dip
Harvest of tuatuas,
Familiar feeling.

7 January: Whangaruru, Northland

Haiku #18

Grey misty morning,
Crepes and back to the future,
Not dwelling longer.

Hammerhead shark, Whangaruru estuary

8 January: Whangamumu, Northland

Haiku #19

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.

Haiku #20

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

Haiku #21

Retreating at night
To a much quieter bay,
Tranquility found.

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!

Haiku #22

Back in paradise,
Diving, sunbathing, shooting
A glorious sunset.

La Obelix vida es un carnaval!

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).

Fare-whale decade!

Recipe for the best day of 2019

Ingredients

  • 1 handsome multi-talented man
  • 2 kind, fun, resilient boys
  • 1 sturdy sail boat
  • 1 pinch of wind (not too strong, not too light, and preferably in the right direction)
  • slight sea
  • 1 whale
  • 1 island (not too far, not too close, and preferably with an iconic bay)
  • friends (as many as required)

Directions

  1. Wake up at 5 a.m. and realise it is still pitch black
  2. Wait for some light and start the engine
  3. Raise anchor
  4. Celebrate the engine endurance (cf. Christmas in the engine room)
  5. Hoist sails
  6. Watch sunrise eating breakfast in the cockpit
  7. Greet young sailors as they wake up
  8. Check speed with engine on neutral
  9. Switch off engine
  10. Sail!
  11. Plug autopilot
  12. Help young sailors as they vomit their breakfast
  13. Lift their spirits inventing stupid knock-knock jokes
  14. Take pictures and videos
  15. Spot a whale squirt and flip fins
  16. Try to spot other marine animals
  17. Sail. Sail. Sail.
  18. Watch coastline getting closer
  19. Find iconic bay and anchor (e.g. Smokehouse Bay)
  20. Get a surprise spotting some friends bright yellow ‘Goldfinger’ boat
  21. Have lunch and soak in the feeling of achievement
  22. Get visit from Goldfinger’s crew and have drinks onboard Obelix
  23. Get interrupted by Zephyr all excited that someone is calling us on the radio
  24. Struggle with VHF poor reception to make plans with friends who were indeed calling us from another bay
  25. Jump on dinghy to go ashore
  26. Watch kids have fun on the swings and take hot shower
  27. Greet other friends as they’ve made it to Smokehouse Bay
  28. Go back to Obelix altogether
  29. Dress up
  30. Dance tango on deck
  31. Eat festive dinner (e.g. salmon toasts & cream cheese stuffed chili peppers for starters, duck confit and fried potatoes for main, and scorched almonds for dessert)
  32. Go back to beach and socialise
  33. Watch Thomas’ fire poi dance
  34. Retreat back to the boat well before midnight
  35. Snuggle under the blankets
  36. Hear the final countdown in the distance
  37. Smile
  38. Sleep

Reviews

Well worth throwing up breakfast for.

Zephyr

♫ This is gonna be the best day of my life, my li-i-i-i-i-ife ! ♪

Cover by Zephyr & Azur

Mum: Are you ok, Azur? What are you doing?
Azur: Yes I’m fine, I’m playing the best game ever…
Mum (intrigued): Oh, cool, what is it?
Azur: Spot the marine animals!