The New Zealand summer started wonderfully, with weather that lured us out sailing on many fine days. But now in the middle of what is usually the finest sailing time, a La Niña event which brings warmer ocean waters to the South Pacific, has brought a series of cyclonic lows tracking south with heavy rain and strong winds to ruin everyone’s sailing holiday plans, including ours. So it’s a good time to finally sit down and write this.
We have often been asked, why do so many cruising folks end up making New Zealand their homebase? Larry has one of his usual quick answers, “It’s downwind!”
I decided to look for a better answer and Thanksgiving gave me a perfect chance to do so. If we are at home in New Zealand we host a traditional sit down Thanksgiving dinner for American friends and their partners (plus local friends who love turkey.) Any of our cruising friends who happen to be around sail and in and join the crowd. This year 38 of us sat down to devour two very succulent turkeys (free range, organic, sage stuffing, roasted breast down for the first 2 hours, then turned and basted frequently.) Four days before the event, Alvah and Diana Simons had sailed in to New Zealand after a three-year circumnavigation of the Pacific on Roger Henry. John and Amanda Neal had sailed in from a voyage of the Pacific on Mahina a week earlier. Scottie and Marjorie Holmes (both in their 70’s) had been home from a circuit of the Tasman Sea for three weeks. Each of those couples consists of an American who is now partnered with a Kiwi. All but 8 the 38, had crossed oceans on small boats and chosen New Zealand as the place to settle. A perfect crowd to carry the discussion – why New Zealand?
The answers ranged widely: I love the more laid back attitude of the people, I love the mountains being so close to the sea, I like the outdoors opportunities. But after mulling over every ones comments the essence seems to be, being at sea on a small boat is sort of like living on an island. People who enjoy life afloat are therefore, are not inclined to like life in crowded places, nor being cut off from nature. New Zealand definitely is a lightly populated island so you can always find quiet places to be. Another theme that emerged was; with its limited population (4.2 million people in a country the size of England and Scotland) people tended to feel more dependant and responsible for each other. You can imagine how the evening seemed to evaporate as tales of cruising life intertwined with the natural desire to find a place for sailors’ home from the sea.
Many years ago, when we first settled here, our Kiwi friends suggested we get a camper van and explore the country. Both of us said the same thing, “Let’s save that for later, when we get older and less interested in setting off across oceans.” That was over 25 years ago. Until a few weeks ago we’d done very little Kiwiland exploring. “We’d better start seeing this country before later becomes never,” I said to Larry as the year drew to a close. We spent the Christmas holidays in the Bay of Islands with Doug and Helen Schmuck (he sailed here on his 28 footer 18 years ago, married a Kiwi lady and now has his own small boatyard in Opua [Click here to learn more about Doug].
Then we headed north almost 150 miles to see the famous light house on Cape Reinga where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. Being sailors, we had to explore the beautifully protected but very sparsely used inlets and bays that line the coastline north of the Bay of Islands. Then we reached the very tip of this long lean country to stand on the windswept headland and watch the swirling waters, tidal rips and overfalls that clearly showed the clash of two seas trying to meld into one. It reminded me of the Thanksgiving conversation, the cultural differences that were brought up by people from five different countries, the problems of being a new comer in a land that is highly familiar feeling but at the same time, with its Polynesian influence, quite exotic. Though we and many of our sailing friends have found this to be a comfortable and special place to settle, I can think of just as many voyagers who came here and did not find it fit their desires.
That’s the joy of voyaging on small boats, especially if you can avoid tight schedules. You can sail into each new place and take time to savor life there. You might find your voyaging experiences made you homesick for the land you left, or you might find they lead you to choose a new land to live in. Either way you will, unlike those who never took the big step, feel you ended up living where you do by choice, not just by chance.
Lin and Larry