Date: 26th April 2005
Subject: The silent treatment
Place: Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Silent treatment & the learning sailing challenge
Day One of our learn to sail experience begins and with the complex childcare arrangements sorted, the learning begins. But it’s not as easy as it looks, at least for one of us, who expressed reservations anyway. And having been with the kids 24/7 for so long, it’s strange to be without them. And I begin to wonder if perhaps I have pushed things a bit too far…
“So Nadine… either we’ll bring them around to you or you can come and pick them up from us tomorrow morning and then we’ll go on to Opua somehow for our 9.30 start. Then in the evening we can work out some way of meeting up… perhaps we can come to you or maybe we can sail up to Kerikeri inlet and meet you there or if not maybe you could bring the kids to us or if they’re having a good time they could stay with you overnight. Does that sound OK? Best thing is to keep in touch by phone…. as long as we have cell coverage which I’m sure we probably will.”
That was as clear as it got but somehow I was confident it would all work out. Nadine was great with kids and the kids were really excited about their big adventure away from Mum and Dad after six months with us 24/7. I was pretty confident about the sailing too. I know Kirstie had some big reservations but I was sure we could work them through. Taking the children out of the equation for the two days of instruction could only help. Without them I reckoned we’d be able to gain enough knowledge, skills and confidence to do three days solo around the Bay of Islands. After all, if it was that difficult surely they wouldn’t offer a learn and sail charter like this. As a final concession I agreed if either of us didn’t feel we could hack it after the instruction we would just walk away. I knew I wouldn’t be walking but had my doubts about my mate’s sea legs.
Let’s start with a coffee..
We started the charter with a couple of child free lattes at a café in Opua. Our boat, Kakapo, looked small and cosy on the water, a bright yellow yacht with just a handful of ropes, winches and sails to master. She sat gently on the water, her mast rocking gently in the light breeze.
“This will be fun,” I said trying to convince a nervous Kirstie.
“We’ll see,” she replied withholding judgment, “I’m really going to miss the boys though.”
“Really?” I asked enjoying the peace of the moment and anticipation of learning something new.
Progress of a kind
Lunchtime on day one and we anchored in a small, sunny and sheltered bay near Russell. Kirstie looked dazed as Dave, our instructor, summarised the morning’s work, “You’ve done really well you know.. we’ve done setting off and motoring, rigging and hauling main and headsails, the six points of sailing, some basic manoeuvres and anchoring. Do you have any questions?”
Silence from the crew. “I know it may seem a lot,” he continued, “but we’ll go over it all again this afternoon. Let’s have some lunch now.”
My mind was buzzing and my bladder bursting. Instructor Dave sat outside in the cockpit keeping an eye on things, Kirstie sat motionless at the chart table in the cabin staring into space and I sat on the marine toilet in the middle of the tiny V shaped cabin at the bow hoping neither of them could see me. A patterned cotton curtain separated us. The silence and intimacy was a little unsettling.
I opened the curtain and shuffled a couple of feet forwards to sit opposite Kirstie, right next to the stove.
“Anyone for a cuppa?” I asked trying to get a little conversation going.
“No thanks,” said Dave.
“No” said Kirstie.
I put the kettle on anyway, opened a packet of salami, cut up some cheese and made a sandwich.
“Cheese and salami sandwich Kirst?” She took it and eat it in silence. I sensed things weren’t too well with her.
Which way does the wind blow?
While I found the morning challenging, I’d picked up a lot. For Kirstie it looked like a real struggle. First she spent hours sawing back and forth on the tiller, figuring out how to steer, then was thrown by the ever changing wind direction around the Bay, and finally was floored by confusing new yachty lingo.
“Now turn to starboard,” said Dave as Kirstie hacked at the tiller trying to get control of the boat as we headed towards a rocky Islet.
“Is that left or right?” she wondered out loud.
“Into the wind, to your right,” he replied.
“Which way is the wind coming?” asked Kirstie now worrying about that.
“From behind you, turn to your right,” said Dave ever helpful.
“Ok turn right… which way do I turn the rudder to go right and into the wind?”
“Away from you, away from you, on the tiller,” said ever helpful Dave reaching to guide her hand before we reached the islet.
Missing the kids
“I wonder how the boys are doing?” I said trying to engage Kirstie and draw her out of her trance.
She lay down on her seat and closed her eyes. As I sat there and she snoozed opposite I found it hard to imagine how we might be able to sail this boat solo with the kids in just 36 hours time. For the first time I wondered if this whole idea really was too ambitious an adventure for us.