Date: 1st May 2005
Subject: What shall we do with the drunken sailors?
Place: Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
What shall we do with the drunken sailors?
After five days on a sailboat what better way to celebrate than with a party on another sailboat. One that we had history with. Where we first realised how it was possible to combine a family life with a life of adventurous travel and experiences.
Into a familiar darkness
The children sat on wet rocks in the pitch black, chattering excitedly.
“Could anyone help my pregnant wife down the cliff in the dark?” Stuart joked, as I hauled myself down the unseen rocks with a pressure cooker full of warm rice in my arms.
Ahead of us, Nadine untied the small rowing boat that would take us out to Nanu, the eighty four foot yacht where we first met the Kuczera family some five years ago.
It was this family that started us on our family adventures, showing us close up how you could still have children and an adventurous lifestyle. Back then, they were sailing around the world while we were on our cycling honeymoon in Patagonia. Now we were adventuring with our own two boys while they were reconfiguring their lives. Nadine and Bernard had separated, Nanu was up for sale, and their kids were living a normal life. But the family and their friends still gathered together on Nanu; it was still the party boat, and we were about to be reunited with it.
Another magic boat
“Is everyone ok?” Nadine asked. “Are you ok boys?”
Stuart shone his head torch into the boat, while Nadine loaded up the children and a huge Tupperware box of food, then took the oars and threw herself down in the seat at the back, her black hair tumbling around the pressure cooker she had jammed beside her. The little dinghy rocked and tipped, but she held firm to the oars, while Matthew and Cameron clung on to the edge of their damp seat like limpets.
“Now, look what happens when I splash,” whispered Nadine, “magic fairydust in the water.”
The children gasped as a circle of phosphorescence rippled around the oars. The edges of the small boat began to shimmer and sparkle in the warm night, and further out into the charcoal bay magic pools appeared where fish were dancing and hunting in the enchanted light.
“Nanu is a magic boat you know Matthew,” I heard Nadine say as they disappeared into the night towards a pinprick of light on the horizon, leaving traces of fading fairydust in their wake.
On the boat, the party was in full swing. Toddlers scampered around, adults drank wine from pewter goblets and the smell of French onion soup simmered on the hob. Nadine and Bernard’s son, eleven year old Sylvan, for years the youngest on the boat, now supervised the children.
“Wow, I’d forgotten how beautiful this boat is,” I said, stepping down wooden steps into the massive wood panelled bedroom area, lined with crew bunks and mattresses.
“And there’s our honeymoon suite,” Stuart laughed, pointing out a tiny triangular cabin at the bow; our bed for a week all those years ago.
I sat in the beautifully carved bow and was immediately back in those pale blue Patagonian fjords, with Stuart and without children, recalling dreamy memories of an idyllic week relaxing, exploring, kayaking and partying with the Kuczera’s on their family home. I wandered around the boat, oblivious to the noise around me and took in the silent atmosphere of the huge deck, and the towering mast cutting through the starry sky. Up the mast, an agile seven year old Sylvan, climbed like a monkey, then launched himself into the icy fjords below, calling for his flippers.
Perhaps I am more of a sailor than I thought
This boat was an enigma to me five years ago. Bernard had designed and built it, shaping its’ steel hull, rigging its’ masts and sails, fitting a warm wooden interior to make a roomy and much loved family home. Back then I watched him check his charts, set the sails and steer the huge yacht around the Chilean bays, but had little involvement in the sailing and no idea how it all worked. I had no interest in learning the bowline Sylvan tried to teach me, being much more interested in the Polynesian dances eleven year old Sofia demonstrated daily. But now, after a week on Kakapo, I found myself surprisingly familiar with some of Nanu’s sailing nuts and bolts; the headsail, mainsail, winches, cleats, sheets and halyards. Nanu was just a great big Kakapo. I thought back to my first day of instruction when I felt so lost, so stupid, so clumsy and I smiled.
A personal transformation
My transformation from non sailor to passable crew started on day two when I reached a tiny plateaux on my steep learning curve. While the mention of a beam reach still gave me panic attacks, I suddenly got the hang of the little arrow, and somehow the rest fell into place.
“If I push the stick away from me then I’m nosing into the wind. So I find a point on the horizon, set the sails and check the arrow hasn’t gone into the dead zone. Stuart…I’m doing it! I think. I’m tacking. Aren’t I?” But my confidence in doing it with kids was still zero. By the end of day two I reluctantly allowed the children to come aboard but lay awake all night worrying about how we would all cope. In the morning I briefed Terry, the owner of the boat, that we’d probably be back by lunchtime. “Let’s be conservative with our plans.” I told Stuart firmly. “No further down the coast than Paihia for the first day. And if we feel like it we can motor there. There’s no need to put up the sails at all really. OK?” But once we were left to our own devices, and there was no one watching me watching the arrow, I began to relax, and to figure out things for myself. We motored out that first day, and together worked out how to get the sails up. We steered the boat into the open seas, over into a sheltered bay, and miraculously managed to anchor. Stuart skippered and I crewed, hauling up sails, starting motors, trimming sheets and steering the boat without the trusted hair flicking technique. I even developed a worrying fondness for watching the arrow and manoeuvring the boat accordingly. In the evening Stuart and I lay in our coffins, wrapped up in our sleeping bags, and made up a song for the kids about Kakapo. “We sailed on Kakapo, she’s a magic yellow boat you know We sailed on Kakapo, the boat that smells of wee.” The boys giggled from the their toilet cabin.
A boat that feels like home
“Stuart,” I said later that evening as we cuddled up for the night below deck, “Isn’t this better than a coffin in a poo potty?” “I was getting quite fond of my coffin,” said Stuart, his breath heavy with the scent of one glass too many. “Next time we go sailing, let’s do it on a boat like this,” I said. “Last time we did it on a boat like this, we ended up starting a family,” slurred Stuart rolling over drowsily. “Will we go sailing again mummy?” asked Matthew pushing Stuart back onto his own side of the family sized bunk. “I’m sure we will Matt,” I replied, “but not until this drunken sailor sobers up.”