Date: 29th April 2005
Subject: We are sailing
Place: Opunga Cove, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
We are sailing
Kakapo rocked gently back and forth, the only yacht in the cove, her bright yellow paint no match for the rising sun. A light wind rippled over the waters beyond the shelter of the headland. The air was chilly and I shivered a little as I pulled on the anchor chain to free us from our overnight mooring. Piles of chain clanked noisily onto the deck breaking the magical morning stillness. I hoped it wouldn’t wake the boys sleeping peacefully down below.
Kirstie appeared from the hatch wiping sleepy eyes. “Shall I start the motor?” she asked sensing what needed to be done next. I nodded, “Sure, take us into the wind and I’ll rig the sails.” As the motor spluttered and we left the quiet of the cove, the flapping sails swept skywards carving graceful arcs as they took their fill of wind. “OK, put her on a broad reach and cut the motor,” I called to Kirstie from the bow. She looked up at the wind direction indicator and froze. “Just pull the tiller towards you a little,” I explained softly, “until the little arrow is at ninety degrees.” “I know, I know,” she said as she figured it out for herself and nosed the boat slowly away from the wind. Kakapo leaned gently over and accelerated and Kirstie cut the motor. The silence returned and we were sailing.
We sat companionably in the cockpit eating a breakfast of bananas and dark chocolate, Kirstie at the helm while I trimmed the sails. It felt good to be handling the boat together, a real team effort. The keel hummed happily as we made our way out into the channel.
A very good morning
“Woof, woof,” came a voice from the cabin. A cheeky grinning face looked out at us from behind the patterned toilet curtain.
“Good Morning Cameron sweetheart,” I called.
“I’m not Cameron, I’m Clifford,” he replied, “Woof, woof.” The big red dog disappeared, the curtain twitched again and another smiling face appeared. Matthew.
“Hello Matthew, did you sleep well?”
He nodded, “Are we sailing Dad?” I nodded back.
“I’m hungry,” barked Clifford peeking out again at the chocolate on the cabin table.
“Me too,” said Matthew eyeing it up.
“Well, breakfast is on the table.” The boy and the dog crawled quickly out of bed, and toddled to the table.
“Kakapo is really leaning Dad, it’s really funny,” said Matthew laughing as he rolled his banana around the table.
“Woof, woof,” said Clifford happily as he munched on the chocolate.
As the boys devoured their bananas and chocolate, I joined them down below to give Matthew some juice, fill up Clifford’s water bowl and make some coffee, leaving Kirstie at the helm to pick a safe course along the channel.
“Oh my god. Quick, quick,” cried Kirstie, “Come up here Stuart. QUICK.”
I panicked thinking we must be about to hit a rock at the edge of the channel.
“I just need to turn the gas off. Boys don’t touch the kettle. Put your lifejackets on. I’m coming Kirst.” I shouted back unsure of what to do first.
“It’s dolphins… dolphins all around… oh my god,” she continued.
The boys beat me up onto deck while I gathered their lifejackets. Up on deck, the unmistakable splash of dolphins could be heard all around; some leaping high and fast in and out of the water, others cruising in synchronised trios, fins bobbing in and out of the sea in glorious slow motion.
“They’re everywhere Stu,” said Kirstie as I made it up on deck. “Just look.”
There were dolphins near and far, at every point of sailing. A childlike rush of excitement filled me, the same way it did when we first saw these extraordinary creatures in the wild way back on Doubtful Sound. But this time the show was just for us. There was no-one else around. Just Kakapo, her Captain and crew. The sun shone, the wind blew, the sails soared, the dolphins splashed, the kids squealed and Kirstie and I smiled the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen.
The dolphins stayed with us for half an hour or so, until we nearly hit the rock I thought we were upon earlier.
“We need to tack here everyone,” said Captain Kirstie to her crew.
“Ready about?” she asked.
“I’m ready,” shouted Matthew from the cabin below.
“Ready,” squeaked Cameron in his Clifford voice.
I wrapped a rope around a winch and locked it off in the cleat, “Ready.”
“Lee ho,” cried Kirstie as she nudged us into the wind. The sails flapped helplessly for a moment as we passed through the no go zone, then filled the other side. Kakapo leaned gently over again and accelerated onto her new course.
“Wasn’t that just the most amazing thing?” I said to Kirstie as the boat settled into its’ new rhythm.
She looked at me with a grin, “You know I think I could grow to love sailing.”